I too started out in the days of acetate and tape, and I remember when we got our first PCB CAD system - but dedicated PCB designers did the work under the guidance of the design EE. It's been quite a number of years since I've worked in a company that had actual PCB designers, and I think that's wrong.
CAD companies have for years promoted their software on the basis that one person can do schematic capture and pcb layout in one integrated tool, and companies have bought into this as a way to save headcount. Design engineers now have to spend time laying out boards instead of creating innovative new circuit designs and this is not an efficient way to run a product development group.
I'm not implying that PCB design isn't creative in it's own way, and a talented pcb designer is worth his weight in gold, but as a manager I want my EEs designing circuits for new products, not spending time laying out a board.
Having one person design the circuits then lay out the board is inefficent, and it's a myth promulgated by the CAD software companies.
I completely agree with this post. I'm a 30 years-old Electrical engineer working as PCB designer for 5 years now. I've never met or worked with a designer as young as me. With all the respect, most of my coworkers has been much older than me.
This is no a problem in itself but It's a sign that the PCB industry needs a fresh air. (A lot!)
The workflow, some CADs and mainly the accessibility of the knowledge are old-fashioned.
Some companies are doing really well trying to create a PCB Industry 2.0 (let me use this).
Altium are improving the usability of their CAD (Remember, usability = productivity). Have you checked the Altium documentation? At last, a clear and useful documentation. And the interface is just clean. It just works like the PCB Designer expects. Hats off.
New communities like Arduino or Raspberry Pi are creating good environments for learning and sharing knowledge. A lot of newbies (coming from software environments) asking how to create their first PCB for extending the functionality of these platforms.
But what I consider the most important is the accessibility to the knowledge.
How is possible that the IPC standtard IPC 2222 cost 114 dollars?? I just ridiculous! The most basic and important standard for a PCB Design costs 114 dollars. Are the IPC trying to standardise the industry or just make money? I bet the second.
In humble my opinion these basics standards should be accessible for everyone (yes, free). This would create a more mature industry and allow to create better designs and PCBs.
What about the courses? 1000 pounds for one day course about basic PCB design. I just finished a 8 weeks free online course about Python in Coursera. How many course about PCB design in Coursera? Zero.
The more accessible is the knowledge the more engineers will go into the PCB Design Industry.
@THinking_J And why the schematic shouldn't tell the pcb designer ...where to place de-coupling caps. A good pcb designer should already know.
Very true; but there is no guarantee that the layout designer assigned to your project is a good one. Ever since CAD netlists and rats' nest displays encouraged a "connect the dots" methodology many (mainly management types) think PCB layout is easy and are not aware of the additional skills and experience that are still needed.
Forced placement of bypass caps as a result of the schematic can prevent nasty surprises later.
@bpoda: Firstly, when I hear 'connect the dots', then I know the topic of discussion is NOT PCB Layout Designers.
I think the person who used the term "connect the dots" is actually on your side -- he/she said "Sure, anyone CAN connect dots...." but then went on to say that PCB layoud designers do far more than that.
Firstly, when I hear 'connect the dots', then I know the topic of discussion is NOT PCB Layout Designers. That mentality can only refer to someone who is NOT a designer. You might as well just use an autorouter if you think that way. A good PCB Layout Designer actually DESIGNS the board, and in the process applies device and technology rules, fabrication rules, assembly rules and, due the the fact that we ARE ageing, a lot of experience. Actually making the connections is not an issue, never really has been if you understand the design process properly. Routing the traces is simply a process, albeit time consuming, but it should not be excessively difficult. It is really just the process of placing copper connections where you ALREADY know they will go. The real design aspect of any PCB design is PLACEMENT and adherence to fab and assembly rules for manufacturability. If the design is correctly placed then the fanout and route process should not be, and rarely is, a difficult task, it is simply a time consuming process.
Now there is a suggestion that the toolsets are becoming more engineer friendly. Well, I have had to do designs where engineers have been heavily involved in the placement stage, some even want to do the detail placement around the chips, some even try to do the 'critical' routes!. I have never yet seen a usable database come from an engineer. I usually end up telling them that it actually increases the cost and time to do the board because I first need to remove everything they did so I can start clean and do it properly.
Tools should evove to make usage more efficient for any user, not 'for engineers'. I have used at least 6 different CAD tools over a 30 year period and have seen a significant evolution in the tools. Some have evolved considerably while others are essentially the same as they were 10 years ago, with window dressing added. The main tool I use now is about to recieve a significant update and from what I have already seen, it is a huge step forward in usability, this is the progress we need. Good quality tools are expensive though, and we need to recognize and expect this. There are not as many PCB designers as there are word processors, and the tools are a lot more complex. We should expect that they are expensive, it costs money to produce quality software and to keep improving it. the tools we have available for just a few thousand dollars are NOT suitable for today's and tomorrow's highly complex tasks, they might like to say they are, but if you use them you will soon see beyond the window dressing and be left wanting better tools.
An engineer typically has little or no regard for fabrication and assembly rules, and nor should they. This is not their concern, they need to engineer the design and work closely with someone who does fully understand the physical implementation part of the process, the PCB Designer.
The problem is, where are the next generation of true PCB designers coming from? There is little or no training for such. We all recognise that this task is becoming more and more technical and engineering oriented. PCB designers do need to have a good understanding of electronics and circuit theory, but they do not need to be degreed engineers, there are many other courses that can provide the knowledge required, diploma level courses are certainly plenty. The main knowledge, as with engineering itself, comes from experience of practical problem solving situations, on the job. It takes a minimum of five years to become even a capable PCB designer, and you don't get to be a qualified senior designer till much longer than that. I have believed for a while now that the 'pcb design' portion, often an 'elective' of engineering and diploma courses, should actually be a subject in it's own right and be set up as a minimum one year unit in these courses. This should require the student to undertake all CAD library development for a complex design, all schematic entry, mechanical definition, stackup design, rules entry, placement, routing, power and ground planes design, rules checking and verification and all manufacturing output generation for a serious complex design. Instead, what I have seen in the past is a two or four week, 3 to 5 hours a week, 'PCB design topic' in these courses. The lowest cost or even free tools are often used, a 'nothing' design is usually done, pre prepared libraries are used, placement is trivial because the design is so non critical, and auto routers are used for the routing. No fab or assembly rules are considered, and usually no electrical constraints are considered because the trivial 'canned' design they do does not require them. And we wonder why we do not see any PCB designers coming in to the industry !!.
It's high time we recognize that PCB design IS a career path and a very valuable and important one at that. If vendors want more exposure and more people using their tools, then they need to make these tools available to educational institutions at no cost, and full design suites at that - not cut down versions. Courses need to be written that would provide a minimum of one, preferrably two years of real training for young people who could then go on and become useful designers in this evovling industry.
The question should not be 'Are PCB Designers becoming obsolete', it should be 'Why are we not, and how can we be, producing new young high quality PCB designers'.
There is definitely a place for engineers in the PCB design process, and will be more and more so as technology becomes faster and faster, but there will always be, in my opinion, an equally important place for a good PCB Designer to work alongside those engineers.
I did learn my trade in college, not a trade school, back in the day. Hand taping with a xacto knife.
About engineers, can not see them designing a board in a reasonable amount of time or to manufacturing guidelines. Have tried to complete designs started by engineers, have had to start with a new database and go from there.
This article actually does a good job of presenting WHY we are endangered! The article focuses on PCB design tools, and connecting the dots. That is the same focus for the people who make the personnel decisions: Design Engineers are smart people, they can learn tools. Tools are getting smarter, they can replace experience. Anyone can connect dots.
The tools are the easiest part of my job. Almost anyone can learn enough to connect dots rather quickly. Of course, a dedicated PCB designer will know the tool in depth and will be more efficient.
Sure, anyone CAN connect dots. Of course, a dedicated PCB designer with more experience will be more efficient.
But without the dedicated PCB designer, the product manager will still get a PCB into his product. With one less salary to pay. He may not know the board took longer to design and is more expensive to produce, He does not know that there were 2 extra design cycles to address concerns from the fabricator and assembler, that might have been avoided. This is how it's been done, this is how much a board costs.
If he never sees the results of a board designed with a thorough knowledge of EMI. SI, DFM, DFT, etc., with the long term cost savings that exceed the extra salary, he will ever see the need to hire a PCB designer.
That's how a species becomes extinct. If he never hires a PCB designer, he will never learn why he needs one. As less PCB designers are hired in more companies, there is less justification for us. Soon, no one sees the value.
Fewer companies are hiring PCB designers, so it's not a field a lot of young people will see as a career choice. Which means that even the companies that currently have good PCB designers, and see that value, can't hire a good PCB designer to replace the one that just retired.
Thus, the evolutionary cycle continues. But in this case, it's extinction of the fittest. Will PCBs still exist long after I have waded into the tar pit? Of course. They will just be far less efficient. And no one will know.
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