The question is broad, and I am sure that there is more than one way, but the generic sequence should follow a common pattern, and that's what I am looking for.

I basically would like to move from prototype to a board, designed to fit the components that I need (chips and IC on single boards on my prototype).

So I need some knowledge about who actually does the translation from proto board (bunch of wires, Chinese breakout boards, on a proto board) to a printed circuit

Could anyone give me some advices about where to start? Is there a specific category of worker that does this job? I assume "Electronic Engineers", but it is a field that I do not know, since I am a SW Engineer.


closed as too broad by PlasmaHH, Andy aka, PeterJ, Dmitry Grigoryev, Daniel Grillo May 3 '16 at 11:36

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is a really bad fit for this site - ask specific questions and don't solicit opinions. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka May 3 '16 at 8:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most 'Electronics Engineers' would be able to translate what you have into a circuit schematic. If you have a circuit schematic, what you're looking for is a 'PCB Design Engineer', they're the guys you would need to see to get the schematic mapped onto PCB \$\endgroup\$ – Doodle May 3 '16 at 8:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka While I agree that the question is a bad fit for the WRITTEN expressed purpose of the site, in fact you can expect some useful answers that would be a very good guide to others wanting to follow this path. There are MANY people who want to know more or less exactly this "question". -> How do I get there from here. The prime directive is ~~~~= "Make search engine findable quality answers that don't date, that attract people in droves and make big bikkies for the site's owner.". I wot that this question ca easily quality if answere d dwell by a few keen people. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon May 3 '16 at 8:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hayman I'd suggest really a level up - electronic designer or production designer etc. The PCB designer may not have stood back and checked rightness of design, components used, sourcing, obsolesence, suitability for overall purpose, pricing ... . So while a PCB designer may accept the sub-task it may not be the task he really wants done. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon May 3 '16 at 8:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Generally speaking what you're probably looking for is called a "turnkey contract manufacturing service" -- fire up your favorite search engine, put in that phrase, and you'll get a list of companies that you can contact for sales quotes. Often PCB manufacturers offer turnkey contract manufacturing services, where their in-house engineers (for a premium fee) can implement design details, purchase components, assemble and test the finished units. This effectively takes the place of the CAD layout and design engineering resources if your company is too small to have that resource in-house. \$\endgroup\$ – MarkU May 3 '16 at 8:51

Very hard long question put that way. Will probably get closed by the kneecappers as 'too broad'. Don't let that put you off - just try to focus in in chunks.

Note: I have no $ or similar relationship with any persons or companies mentioned herein.

There is a very major implicit assumption that makes a vast difference.

  • You say "I basically would like to move from prototype to a board, designed to fit the components that I need (chips and IC on single boards on my prototype),"

Please note that the following is NOT a complaint or criticism but as a "red flag" (looks reddish anyway):

There is an assumption set that you know what you are doing, that you know that the prototype does what you want, that the board layout is not so critical that it will change the functionality, that you know what actual volume components that you want to use (as opposed to one off prototype ones), that you have costed and sourced these and are not accidentally specifying inappropriate parts based on price or availability or characteristics etc.

It's a reasonable assumption that if you do not know the general nature of the answer to your current question then you are even more unaccustomed to some, much or all of the above. These are part of the role of a design engineer. You are completely welcome to pursue the path of becoming one yourself, but starting on something that needs 100 or 1000 products may be a more expensive and time consuming way of gaining experience in being one. It is quite likely that at this stage you would be wise to acquire the services of a suitable underpaid "hardware design engineer" (maybe qualified by RF/analog/digital lowish speed/digital GHZ ....) with more experience and learn as much as you can by looking over his/her shoulder (as it were).

BUT, as a guide:

If your circuit is wellishly well defined, not too liable to be affected by PCBerizing, if you know the components that you want to use, have full specifications for them (ratings, physical dimensions, mounting requirements, cleaning cautions, solderability and suitable solder systems ...... .... .. . .
THEN there are people who will lay out PCB designs from what you have got. If they are in the US they will charge from minimum wage (or less) up to too much for you (probably) per hour. People that match the whole range are on this list. I can recommend offlist a man who, if still accepting work of this sort would make as good a job as you'd hope for at a price that is extremely good value by any standards. That's not allowed on list - in due course I can advise if we get that far. People in India or China will often do this work for much less than in the US and it may be very good indeed. Or not. (The man mentioned above is not in the US or India or China ). You can use (I understand) Craiglist and other US and international organisations that I have not had experience of to farm such work out. You will often get MORE than you pay for from such - but not always.

Once you have a PCB layout you can find manufacturers / assemblers who will make small runs. Some will source components. Some will ask you to provide them. It is usually useful top be able to specify exact source and part number etc. Digikey is not too bad for this - not as cheap by far as Asia in many cases but very competitive against most other US sources.

Chinese companies will often provide free design services if volumes are high enough. A 1000 run may be enough for some but not many to get PCB layout, & component sourcing "free". They would source components and any profit they make there would be part of the overall cost.

If the design is good, the components all fully specified and sourced etc then if 100 are OK the per item price for 1000 would be "somewhat less" than in 100 volume.

I'll stop there and say more if it seems useful based on comments.

You need to explain what you mean by "prototype" (copper etched board, plug in board, ...?), type of circuit (RF, digital, analog, ....?) degree of complexity, approximate functionality, as much as you can.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the reply, Russel. I have very limited knowledge, which is why I feel hard to explain things. Basically, should I contact who? Hardware engineers? Is there even a "type of worker" that take prototypes and figure out how to arrange componets on a board, so he can design it? I believe that this is the first step that I have to do, following your suggestion. I do know what to do, as far as what components I am using, but it is a bunch of wires and Chinese breakout boards; I can tell connections and usage, but I have no idea how to translate it to a circuit board with traces \$\endgroup\$ – rataplan May 3 '16 at 8:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @newbiez If you were able to and wanted to provide some more detail offlist as to specifics (or more specifics) I'd be happy to provide further comment. You don't get a formal NDA from me (nobody does to the extent that I can avoid them)(sometimes you can't) but you can be sure any information stays private and your ideas do not go anywhere else (highest bidder or other :-) ). How trustable I am is your choice to make. 1f you look at my answer3ed questions you can get some idea if I canhelp, if I'm in the design stealing business (or if I have any need to be :-) ). \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon May 3 '16 at 8:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @newbiez ... Contact details in my profile. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon May 3 '16 at 8:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for expanding your response. This is my first project; I am used to work with breakout boards; so I can't say how good my design is. I did connect the wires; based on how the chip mounted on the breakout board is used (I did read the data sheet), but if you ask me why or if it has pull up resistors or Vregulators, or if they made these boards well, I can't really say. The wired prototype works; which is why I assumed that I am "good to go" to the next step, but boy...there is a ton to still check. \$\endgroup\$ – rataplan May 3 '16 at 9:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that I am in the stage where I need some design help, and I appreciate the ton of info that you gave. As far as my project; I have an arduino clone (Cortex M0), a bluetooth to serial chip (Nordic nRF51822) and a multiplexer (TCA9548A ). I am making a multi-purpose device that can read and process values from multiple I2C devices, and so far my wired prototype works pretty well. \$\endgroup\$ – rataplan May 3 '16 at 9:21

It is clear that although you apparently know what you want to get as a finished product, you are very unclear as to how to go about it, as Russell notes.

Even though this is an incredibly broad question, I will give you a rough guide which hopefully will show you that this task is not a simple matter of looking at a bunch of break-out boards and amalgamating the functions from simply looking at them.

The design of a PCB starts with a set of requirements (at system level is best). It is critical that this is done properly; after all, if the requirements of your PCB are not clear, nobody can realise a reasonable result. Note that this can take a long time to be done properly.

The requirements include specifically what function(s) the PCB must provide, and can also have a requirement that the PCB is powered by some particular voltage(s). This is a very simplistic overview of quite a complex process.

At that point, if you intend to copy the result you have from breakout boards, you can try and define the IC(s) used for each breakout board function; you may run into significant difficulty here as many Chinese breakout boards have cheap knock-off devices with indecipherable part numbers - in that case, you need someone experienced in the design of those function(s).

This leads to a system or architectural diagram that clearly shows what is going on at a reasonably high level, but can guide a designer to choosing the correct devices to achieve that result.

The next step (assuming you have chosen appropriate and available devices) is schematic capture; this can take quite a bit of time, depending on the complexity of the design.

If your PCB is very complex, then pre-layout simulation may well be prudent. Depending on the complexities involved, you have a range of tools available ranging in cost from free to many thousands of dollars (or pounds for that matter).

Once you have a PCB form factor defined, you can move to PCB layout; once more, depending on the complexities involved, this can be a time consuming activity. The layout of a PCB is part of the hidden schematic (there are electrical effects that may not be apparent from the actual schematic design). Post-layout simulation may be appropriate (which can lead to changing the layout). There are numerous simulation tools and some support both pre- and post-layout functionality.

Note that PCB layout designers are not necessarily electrical designers; Although a lot of electronics designers can drive layout tools, the opposite is not as true.

At the end of this stage, you will have a set of gerber files or perhaps an ODB++ database. This is what you can send to a PCB fabricator.

Once you have these in your hand, you could engage a PCB assembly contract manufacturer to actually put the parts on the board for you and perhaps do a functional test (that needs to be defined by you or whoever you get to actually do the tasks above).

I have left large holes in this (such as independent reviews - we can all make mistakes), but hopefully you get the idea this is not a simple set of tasks.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Indeed it is not simple, and much more involved than what I thought (put together a prototype with wires, copy the design of the chip boards from the Chinese breakout boards and replace wires with traces). Got plenty to investigate here, and thank you for all the info! \$\endgroup\$ – rataplan May 3 '16 at 9:09

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