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I an an electrical engineer with some 10 years of experience in software development. Lately I have got a chance to design my first PCB but I am not sure what type of resource I need to master before I can design and deliver one (all by myself).

  1. First I know i need to get hold of PCB Software. I have followed Eagle Cad and Altium and I think have got a fair amount of hold of it.

  2. Before I can design my PCB, I need to draw schematic. For schematic I need to understand microcontroller really well. Does that means I need to fully understand all part of datasheet that I will be using in my design (for ADC, RTCC, etc)

  3. I am confused about learning curve, what should I do first. How long will it take.

Can someone guide me what I need to master before I can deliver a PCB, all by myself. Lets start with a simple project of setting up a clock and display it on COG display.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If you've never done this before, I suggest you do two things. First, get a couple books on PC board layout and design. Far too much to answer here. And second, get hold of some surplus or scrap PC boards and scrutinize how different designers did things. \$\endgroup\$
    – AlmostDone
    May 27, 2018 at 2:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Look at a LOT of boards and their layouts. Don't trust the auto-router because in mixed analog/digital boards, and analog in general, it is lost. Notice that all major grounds and power feeds lead back to the power connector. Learn the reasons for that. \$\endgroup\$
    – user105652
    May 27, 2018 at 3:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @engineer Yes, one must understand the components that are going into the schematic in order to create the schematic. \$\endgroup\$
    – AlmostDone
    May 27, 2018 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ How does one master any profession? \$\endgroup\$ May 27, 2018 at 8:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pipe: If that was sarcasm then +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – JRE
    May 27, 2018 at 8:25

2 Answers 2

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In order to draw a schematic that works, you need to fully understand any and all hardware requirements for every single pin of every single component including the microcontroller. You also need to make sure that everything you draw complies with these requirements. This sounds daunting, but for the vast majority of them it will be very simple.

There is a huge amount to master in the process you have described, but you do not necessarily need to master everything in order to get a working design. This is because there is more than one definition of working. For example, there are many mistakes you can make with a layout that do not matter if you do not need your device to comply with EMC regulations, or if your ADC noise and accuracy requirements are relaxed, or if you do not require high speed signalling.

The same is true of the schematic design. Do you care about performance over temperature? Protection from surges? Protection from users plugging in the wrong power source or signaling cables? If your definition of "working" is very relaxed you can tolerate many errors.

I suggest you buy an eval board for the micro you want to use, as well as a solderless breadboard and some compatible components and have a go at putting the circuit together. study the schematic for the eval kit (and eventually copy it). Test everything you do using the hardware before drawing it in the schematic. Make sure what you draw is exactly the same as your breadboard prototype. Dont ignore the power supply or jtag connections - either copy them exactly from the dev kit or test your implementation before committing it to your design.

Have fun!

Edit: you have specifically asked how long it will take to learn to do this. This is an unanswerable question! If your design is simple, I would expect a good EE graduate from a degree which has elements of this work in the degree programme to be able to do this in a month or 2 (to commercial standards, with guidance from seniors). If the requirements are complex further training may be required (up to 6 years?). If only a hobbyist level of working is required, a person with tinkering experience could learn this in less than 6 months maybe? So the answer is between a few months and 10 years.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for explaining very well, particularly "you need to fully understand any and all hardware requirements" \$\endgroup\$
    – engineer
    May 28, 2018 at 5:40
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Start simple, do some ready made projects first and add more of your own effort into the design chain each time.

  • First use ready board layout (learn PCB fabrication or ordering)

  • Then ready schematic (learn PCB layout)

  • Then ready idea (learn schematic capture)

  • Then all your own (learn about data-sheets).

    Learn a new tool each time.

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