Is it your fiduciary duty to use fiducials?

We don't require fiducials here. It's not mandatory. That's because we live in a prototype world and in that world, theory doesn't always match up with reality. That being said, there are things we can do and things we would prefer to do. Personally, I would prefer to get some ice cream, but my belt suggests otherwise.

So we do like fudicials, which begs the question: "how do we like them?" Well, the objective of a fiducial is to make machine registration of your PCB easy. That means the pattern should not be reversible. It should only have one correct orientation. Use three of them separated as far apart from each other on the board as you can. But don't put them any closer than 4.75mm from the edge. Ideally, it would be a 1mm copper area centered in a 3mm circle with no solder mask. Oh, and all of the fiducials on the board should look the same and be the same size.

Duane Benson
Over easy, yolk not broken.

Ambiguity

P3281577 smIt's pretty important to have unambiguous polarity markings and pin one markings printed on your PCB. In theory, for SMT parts, it really shouldn't matter; the centroid would take care of the placement orientation. But, you may have noticed that it's not a perfect world. It took me a while to figure that out, but I have finally concluded such.

It's not uncommon for the CAD library part to have the wrong zero degree rotation orientation The IPC specified location for pin one orientation Quad and BGA for square chips like QFPs, QFNs and BGAs is either the upper left or middle top. Check out our Centroid guide for more detail. If it's wrong in CAD, the centroid will be wrong as will everything downstream. That's why markings on the board are still important.

What do you do if your part is ambiguous though? This particular chip has three markings that could be interpreted as pin one indicators. At first glance, I'd assume it's the dot in the center top. It would match with the text. However, there is a white dot in the lower left that could be pin one indicator which would mean, in this case, the CAD library component had the incorrect zero rotation orientation.

Datasheets aren't always easy to find. This one is behind a registration wall. If you have a part like this, it's really helpful if you include some documentation (in electronic form) clarifying. I found the datasheet for this particular part and was able to confirm that it is correct as placed with pin one down in the lower left (90 degrees).

Duane Benson
Via via in the board,
what's the top on my PCB?

More CAD footprint woes

AT this point, I really shouldn't call them "woes." More like business as usual. I'm talking about the need to make custom footprints, or at leas modify footprints. Back in the old days, the only thing needed to make footprints was some copper pds, maybe plated through, maybe not. It was pretty rare to even need to make a custom footprint. Other than the occasional odd switch or relay, it was all done.

I really need to just get over it though. On the one hand, it seems like none-productive time; like I should be able to get right to schematicing and layouting. On the other hand, It's so common, I just need to see it as no different than any other routing task.

Starting at the top of my BOM, I have:

  • An MCU in QFN format - I modified a symbol and added a custom paste layer to the copper land
  • Two SOIC Mosfet drivers - I modified the symbol on an existing footprint
  • Some Mosfets in a PowerQFN package - Made a complete custom footprint
  • A Mosfet in SOT-23 package - Who hoo! I found a workable part in the library
  • Some Power Schottky diodes - custom copper land

Custom footprints

I have another Schottky, some TVS diodes, LEDs and a bunch of passives that came straight out of the library. It's certainly not everything that needs footprint work, but with so many variations of the more complex parts these days, it safe to assume that any SMT project will require a fair amount of library work. It's just the way it is.

Duane Benson
It's a pain but at least it's not as bad as 11811 has it

Shrouded vs. non-shrouded

Notch down bp purpleA connector isn't a connector isn't a connector. In this photo, the original PC board was designed to have an unshrouded break-away header, as shown in the inset on the right. I measured it. The entire header fits within the silkscreen outline.

However, as you can see, a shrouded header was used in that spot. While as designed, there was plenty of clearance between the header and the two capacitors and resister, the shroud for the substituted header covers all of the resistor and half of the capacitors.

You can prototype it this way, but it will never fly in production.

Duane Benson
Find the ghosts of Dawnstar

QFN Solder Paste Layer

LBDCminiI've got the fab order placed with Sunstone.com for my next demo project. The little board is represented here at pretty close to actual size on screen - provided you have a 22" monitor set at 1680 pixel horizontal resolution. Give that, you might want to click on it to pop up a bigger representation of it. That makes it about 4 X life size.

When you do that, take note of the QFN / DFN parts: The processor in the middle, the LiPoly battery charger right between the upper two mounting holes and the RS232 driver in the lower left. I've followed my paste layer advice and segmented the paste stencil layer to reduce the chance for float or major voids.

I found a footprint in the library for the big processor in the middle. I just had to modify the paste layer, as shown here. I made the footprint for the charger and RS232 chips from scratch. Neither had anything close enough in the library.

The DFN has a slightly different approach to segmenting the stencil layer. Little squares like I used on the other two chips work just as well, but this is effective as well.

Another thing to take note of is the markation on the LEDs. The original footprint for the 0402 LEDs does have a polarity mark, but it's one of the types that can easily be misinterpreted or can be difficult to see. The diode symbol put down in silk screen removes any possibility of ambiguity.

Duane Benson
I'm happy I live in a split level head.

 

Particle Update

I've been ignoring my Geiger counter for a while now, but I picked it back up and made some progress again. For some reason, I just wasn't getting the 555 based HV power supply to generate a high enough voltage. In frustration, I bypassed the 555 and fed a PWM signal in from a microcontroller board that PIC SMT geigerI have laying around.

That fixed the problem. I still don't know why I wasn't able to the the 555 doing what it was supposed to do. I'll have to spend some more time on that some other day, but for now, I've prototyped it out and I'm happily detecting particles. I whipped out the new layout and will send off to Sunstone.com com for another set of PCBs.

I've also replaced the Atmel chip with a PIC. I don't have anything against Atmel. I'm just more familiar with PICs. Once I've built a few of these, I'll change to really small packages - QFNs or BGAs for the chips - to make the board a little more fitting with our assembly capabilities. The SOIC chips are fine, but our machines don't even come close to breaking a sweat with things that big.

Duane Benson
We treat agoraphobia for PC boards

Let's Get Small - 0.3mm pitch BGA

I recently got an email from Practical Components about their new 0.3mm pitch evaluation board and dummy 0.3mm pitch BGA. Now, we've been assembling 0.5mm and 0.4mm pitch BGAs for years. Those sizes are kind of not really anything special anymore. We've even been putting together POP (package on package) for a couple of years. But we've yet to see anything smaller.

Shrinking BGA pitchJust looking at the numbers, 0.3 may not look all that much smaller than 0.4, but that's 25% down. Thinking of it in those terms makes it much more intimidating. I haven't found the pad dimensions yet, but just using rough estimates, a 3 mil trace would have about 1.5 mils on either side for a between the pads trace. That's getting pretty dangerous. Likely, you'd have to do every thing with filled and plated-over vias in the pads. (NO OPEN VIAS! Not one. Don't do it.)

I can see a lot of good future use for this size in miniature devices; more processing power in hearing aids and embedded medical devices, for a start. I don't know how necessary 0.3mm pitch will be for phones. They seem to have stabilized in size and the trend is more toward system in chip than it is toward more shrinking. Regardless, I would expect that in a year, we'll be seeing mainstream parts in this form factor.

Duane Benson
Go ask Alice
I think she'll know
How to run your escape routing

Thru-hole to SMT

Thanks to a comment from Michael yesterday, I think everything is now cool with my Geiger counter. I had left the AT2313 default fuse setting at clock/8. That dropped the RS232 speed from 9600 to 1200 and it made the clicking sound into more of a tone, which just didn't sound right for a geiger counter. I still need a good radiation source though. I think I've picked up just a few clicks of background radiation, but that could just be wishful thinking.

WishfDFN-8ul thinking or not, that's not the point. The point is that this was an example of migrating from thru-hole parts to SMT. I managed to get virtually everything into SMT. The connectors, the power switch, the buzzer, batter holder and fuse clips for the tube stayed thru-hole. Although I'm sure I could have all but the battery holder and fuse clips into SMT had I wanted to. I tend to keep switches and connectors that will get a lot of use as thru-hole just for the extra staying power. If they aren't used frequently, then SMT is just fine.

There are a number of things to consider when switching from thru-hole to SMT:

  1. Everything is smaller, so you can fit more in the same space or the same in less space. I took advantage of the extra board area to add in a RS232 line driver so I could connect directly to a serial port. I also added in a power-on LED.
  2. Everything is smaller so your layout is more critical. Most PCB houses will build 8mil trace and space as standard process these days. That gives you a lot of flexibility in squeezing your routing into tight areas, but it doesn't give complete freedom. You have to be core careful because you frequently do have to route a bunch of traces into a pretty small area. When you get into the really fine pitch parts, like .5 or .4 mm center to center, you have to be extra careful.
  3. Some parts are dimensioned in metric and some in SAE units. If all are one way or the other, it's easy. But when you've got both, you may have to tweak with your grid spacing off and on to make sure your traces are centered in the SMT pads they connect to. It usually isn't a horrible problem, but it can make even spacing more difficult and can make you more likely to violate a design rule.
  4. You don't have automatic "vias" on each component leg so routing can be more difficult. You'll likely have to spend more time tweaking the part locations and the trace routing to get a decent layout. A lot of times everything's too close so it's not practical to just plant a lot of vias all over.
  5. Hand soldering is less or not practical. Some people do hand solder some pretty tiny parts, but it's not practical in more than isolated cases. If you're a hobbyist or on a tight budget, this might limit you to thru-hole or some of the largest SMT parts. For commercial work though, SMT is the way to go.

Some things to think about. But what do you get in return? Typically lower cost - especially if you want your design to go into volume manufacturing. You also get access to the newest parts that only come in SMT packages. And, many designs are space constrained, so you can cram more in while still keeping your board size down.

Duane Benson
I shot a neutrino into the air
And where it landed I already knew

 

Geiger Counter without the Muller?

My Geiger counter project has been on holiday for a while. When I originally ordered all of the parts, I ordered fuse clips (to hold the tube) with solder lugs too big to fit in the holes and a trim pot (VR1) too small for the SMT pads. I moved on to other things for a while and just now got around to ordering the correct parts and soldering them in. I've verified that everything works except the tube. Apparently, S-13BG GM tubethe specific tube I bought (SI-3BG) is not very sensitive.

Other than not knowing if it will actually detect radiation, everything seems to work just five with Mighty Ohm's original Atmel code. The only difference from his instructions is that the RS232 is 1200 baud instead of 9600. I'm not entirely sure why that is. The source code specifies 9600 and I have an 8MHz resonator just like his kit. I'll worry about that later. At least it works.

It will beep if I touch my fingers to each lug of the geiger tube, but I haven't been able to detect any naturally occurring particles. There are a couple of possibilities.

  • I had to choose a different transistor for Q1 and different diode for D1 because I couldn't find those specific parts in SMT. Maybe the gain or some other performance spec is too far off.
  • The type of tube I bought is not sensitive enough so I just need to find a stronger radiation source.
  • I don't have VR1 set right to give a high enough voltage to trigger the tube.

I'm going to try a 100:1 voltage divider to a unity gain current amp to measure the voltage and go on the hunt for a hotter (but still safe - I hope) radiation source. I might go back to eBay and buy a different tube too. Lastly, I'm going to get out some data sheets and look at my subs again. Maybe try to find something even closer to the original. Once I've verified that it all works, I'll make the design files available as open source.

Duane Benson
If the Alpha is the tough guy, why can it be stopped by a single sheet of paper?

Speaking of Small Packages...

T'was a a dark and stormy night when the news came through. Joe Layout had been both dreading and preparing for years. But it had always been little more than rhumors from a far off land. It was a looming threat, always dancing in the distance, but never quite real.

Until now. 1.27mm, 1.0mm, 0.8mm, 0.5mm, 0.4mm... and now... drum roll please 0.3mm pitch. I just got Shrinking BGA pitchan email announcing an Amkor 8 x 8mm 368 ball BGA at 0.3mm pitch. Yikes.

There's still some controversy over the best way to make a 0.4mm pitch BGA land pattern. Some say says you need to use solder mask defined pads. Some say you still need to use the non-solder mask defined pads. Now we throw something 25% smaller into the mix.

The image isn't to exact actual scale - because I don't know how big your monitor is - but the parts are in relative scale from 1.27 pitch to 0.3 pitch.

Duane Benson
If you can't see it, you shouldn't eat it