How To Become A PCB Designer (With Essential Job Skills)

Updated 26 January 2023

Printed circuit board (PCB) designers are technical professionals who use computer software programs to design the layout for electronic circuit boards. Their job requires them to work closely with engineers to create 3D models of circuit boards. Knowing more about this career path can help you determine if this is a suitable career choice for you. In this article, we discuss how to become a PCB designer, along with the essential skills required to succeed in this job role.

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What Is A PCB Designer?

A printed circuit board (PCB) designer uses layout software to help bring electronic circuits into a physical form. These professionals combine component placement and routeing to define electrical connectivity on manufactured circuit boards. They also develop PCB design guidelines for manufacturers and devise plans to include the schematics, assembly and fabrication of drawings for the circuit board. PCB designers locate and resolve mechanical design issues and draft layouts for various types of boards, including hi-speed and multilayer boards.

These professionals also perform revisions based on customer inputs, specifications, and engineers' feedback to ensure high-quality designs. Many skilled PCB designers do not require an advanced or specific degree to perform their job effectively. They benefit from skill-based training through various courses and online certifications to equip them in drafting, designing and managing board work.

Related: How To Become An Electrical Design Engineer: Complete Guide

How To Become A PCB Designer?

Follow these steps if you are not sure how to become a PCB designer:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Earning a bachelor's degree can enhance your knowledge and skills-based learning in your chosen area of expertise, even though it is not a prerequisite to working as a PCB designer. While you can enrol in any degree course that allows you to study drafting, computer-aided design, electronic design or printed circuit board work, a BTech or a BSc in electronics or telecommunications engineering is preferable. The admission process may vary depending on the specialisation, course and university you choose.

Related: How To Become A Computer Hardware Engineer: A Complete Guide

2. Get additional certifications

As an aspiring PCB designer, your education can be a valuable tool in helping you secure the right opportunities for your career growth. Enrol in additional certifications or learning courses that can help you enhance your knowledge in PCB designs and provide specialised training in areas, including packaging, design rules, PCB tools and technology trends. Depending on your course and professional requirements, you can get certifications from popular online course providers, or you can register with authorised institutes to upskill your learning process.

3. Gain relevant experience

After acquiring relevant educational experience, it can help to gain some work experience in designing circuit boards by working with manufacturers or engineers. Having practical training can set you apart from other aspiring designers who only have the educational experience but no portfolio of work to show to potential employers. You can also apply for internships at organisations you want to work with or reach out to specific individuals and assist them in designing circuit boards.

Related: 11 Skills For An Electrical Engineer With Tips For Improving

4. Apply to jobs

Begin looking for jobs in your professional network and apply to opportunities you think might be a good fit for you. You can also search for jobs on popular job portals or sites and customise your CV to send to potential employers. During job applications, regularly check your email and primary contact for all communication and updates while networking with other professionals. Networking is a career-defining skill that can enhance your chances of getting noticed and hired by suitable employers.

Related: Types Of 3D Modelling Jobs (Career Tips, Skills And Salary)

Eight Essential Job Skills For PCB Designers

Eight critical job skills for PCB designers are:

1. Basic electronics

Basic knowledge of electronic components and their interfaces is the primary skill required to become a PCB designer. For example, if you want to develop your skills in designing embedded firmware software, knowledge of debugging tools, microprocessors and programming languages can help you perform your tasks better. Irrespective of the specialisation you choose as a PCB designer, basic electronics knowledge can simplify your job and help you follow a systemic structure when creating designs.

2. PCB knowledge

Having essential PCB knowledge means knowing about the terminologies that comprise a PCB, the tools and technology used to create these boards and basic design principles. Understanding how PCB acts as a component in electronic design and how tracks, pads and power planes work can help them perform their job more efficiently. A clear understanding of PCB concepts can also help designers assess and implement the design as per the rules, manufacturing process and the physical nature of PCB.

3. PCB design software

PCB designers use various types of design software, such as EAGLE, Altium and Protel. Having expert knowledge of at least one design software can help them perform their daily duties effectively. Different companies may use different types of design software depending on the type of circuit they are designing. If you are yet to work with design software and are looking to enhance your software knowledge, consider studying popular design software used by businesses and designers to educate yourself.

Related: Top 30 Electrical Engineering Interview Questions With Tips

4. PCB layer stack-up

PCB designers have expert knowledge of PCB layer stack-up and the principles to arrange copper and insulating layers on the board. This knowledge, combined with design concepts like external noise reduction and radiation minimisation, is vital for designing effective multilayer PCBs. Knowing how to create a PCB layer stack-up is also crucial for designers because it can help them balance their need for lower-cost and efficient manufacturing methods, without worrying about signal integrity issues.

5. PCB design rules

Some standard rules of PCB design are central to all design organisations and manufacturers, including concepts like thermal integrity, power integrity and testing and manufacturing processes. Following these design rules and guidelines is essential for designers because it allows them to develop the right circuit board for their clients or manufacturers without missing out on relevant details. The rules vary for the type of circuit you are designing, whether short or large, but knowledge of these design rules and layout best practices can help designers customise their circuits as per specific project requirements.

Related: What Is Design In Mechanical Engineering? (With Types)

6. Mechanical design

PCB designers work to develop 3D or mechanical models of electronic circuit boards. Hence, knowledge of mechanical design, including its scientific and technical aspects, is important for them. Apart from the manual model, knowing how to create a PCB design on software and viewing its physical version in a digital format is essential because it helps them identify errors and improve upon them. This skill can also help them save time and money because they can fix mistakes before developing a circuit board.

7. Design review process

PCB designers follow a detailed design review process to ensure high-quality designs for any manufacturer or organisation to check the layout for faults and areas of improvement to ensure it meets the design objectives. It is usually a three-step process where designers carry out the first review, followed by a joint or individual review by hardware engineers and a final evaluation by a qualified consultant or engineer. This process ensures that the design complies with the aesthetic and documentation guidelines before commercially using it.

8. Communication skills

PCB designers are excellent communicators who work with a team of other designers and engineers to perform their duties successfully. Their job often requires them to communicate a project's requirements or discuss strategies to improve their current model. They also communicate with manufacturers and their clients to ensure that the design meets their needs and guidelines perfectly. Both written and verbal communication skills are important for PCB designers when they receive feedback from their immediate mentors and write design reports for stakeholders.

Related: Verbal Communication Examples In The Workplace (With Tips)

Is PCB Design A Worthy Career?

PCB designing is a growing field with many opportunities for skilled talent in terms of career opportunities. With rising advancements in technology, communications and computing, the need for professional PCB designers continues to grow. PCB designers can work in various industries, including electronics, communication and manufacturing.

The expansion of the Internet of things (IoT) industry and competitive growth in consumer electronics and automotive sectors show a positive change and demand for aspiring designers. The number of products with innovative features is rising, and for all these products, designing circuits is necessary to ensure their functionality. As long as there is an increasing need for electronic products, there are always enough career opportunities for talented PCB designers.

Related: 8 PCB Design Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.

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