Wearing a whole shop of hats (SW ... semiconductor physical design) and having finished 2 PCB designs today (only the "consulting/support portion - the PCB layout designer was sitting 2xx km away - remotely controlled via phone):
Functional layout requires the circuit designer sitting next to the layout designer as most "pure" layout designers I learned to know in the past 2 decades did not fully comprehend the functional restrictions of the circuits they were laying out. This typically results in unwanted crosstalk and other cruelties.
Layout topics like power supply layout, EMC/EMI robustness and the like are better addressed by people who do this on a regular basis (> 4 times/year) and who do also understand the impact of layout tradeoffs etc. - especially in terms of emissions.
AND: manufacturability topics etc. require regular and frequent feedback from production - typically not addressed to the circuit designer.
Even the singular topic "copper placement" requires quite a number of hats. Some of them can be worn by a PCB layouter, some hardly. Good layouts tend to be the result of a team - including the guy doing the "lowly work". And yes: paid in peanuts :)
Great insight!! I wasn't around pre-CAD days so it's always interesting for me to learn and appreciate how things were done.
As one of commenters mentioned earlier, I think that it depends on the environment. I work at a small design house. I am expected to wear many hats ranging from circuit design to FPGA, SW, mechanical, and sometimes layout. And I love it!!
However, the typical 'flow' in our company has you at schematic entry or board-bring up for one design, while supporting the layout designer on a previous schematic that you worked on. This flow keeps engineers in the design and test phases, while the layout designers complete the layouts at a very high efficiency.
Looking at it from another perspective, designs are becoming more complex. Materials are becoming more complex. And manufacturing processes, well they will have to follow. I think, and this is just an opinion, that as the tools get better, the layout designers will spend less time routing, and more time understanding and dealing with the manufacturing process. This might create an opprutunity for layout designers to become more integrated in the product development phase than before.
So I think that the layout designer will be arround for quite sometime. The role and scope of work might change. Didn't we think that they would disappear with the auto-router?? :)
Was working as an engineer at my first real job at a small oem. You did the circuit design and taped the PCB layout ( 4X size!) then had it photo reduced to send to the PCB fab house. Of course designs were mostly .3" dips with a few larger for the CPU and peripheral controllers and usually not a high parts count AND only 2 layers. It was just expected that you would do both jobs. Made you appreciate the early CAD programs. I still remember using VAMP on the Mac in the early 80's in greyscale colors. And my first real PCB layout software was GE Calma running on an Apollo workstation.
Everyone has heard the stories of handing a design off to a layout person and getting the board layout back with all the bypass caps grouped together in one corner...
I wonder if anyone on thsi thread can categorically say they've actually seen this...
Stems from the engineering habit of guessing how many bypass caps will be needed and placing them all in parallel on a single schematic page. A good way around this is to place a 1 ohm resistor in series with each IC power pin (assuming your schematic symbols are designed to let you do this), followed by the decoupling cap.
Even then things can go wrong. Make sure the layout person understands that the caps have to be physically located right at the power pins and that each cap must have a very short trace to the ground plane via. Running several long traces to a shared via ground (to minimize the cost of drilling) is absolutely forbidden - one has just taken a SMT chip capacitor and turned it into a leaded component with drastically lowered SRF.
If the layout person cannot compregend the rules then it is best for the circuit designer to lay out the PCB hirself, or at least sit side-by-side with the layout person and micro-direct.
@Ducksoup: ...With the expertise of the PCB designer and his use of industry standard techniques, the assembly was cut to 90 min...
It's this sort of expertise that you can't "bottle" (unfortunately) -- this is why people who do dry walls for a living can do it so much better and faster than people who don't -- similarly for plastering walls or laying tiles or whatever.
Of course this is also why we don't let the layout designers design the circuits in the first place LOL
@Thinking: I don't see a single solution/process for all companies, because I don't see a 'one size fits all' engineering talent pool. So, pcb designers will be around for awhile yet.
I think their prospects are better than "will be around for a while yet" ... the way electronic designs are moving, I think that really good layout designers will be recognized as the artists and experts they are, and they will be worth their weight in gold (although they will continue to be paid in peanuts as is traditional LOL)
@Carl: I don't see layout designers losing their jobs.
I didn't say anything about layout designers losing their jobs -- my point is that a lot of the older ones are moving toward retirement and there's no formal path (or seeming desire) for younger folks to enter this arena
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