Schematic and PCB Design Services
NK Labs provides schematic and circuit design and development services to our clients. Our electrical design consultants have completed the custom design and testing of hundreds of printed circuit boards (PCBs) for a variety of applications across many industries, including avionics, consumer electronics, and automation. Our firm typically does a new design-start about once a week, and has extensive experience as a PCB design consulting service.
Analog and mixed-signal design
- High-speed digital design
- Design for ultra-low power
- Design of low-noise or high precision instrumentation
- Design for low cost, high-volume production
- UL / CE / FCC etc. ; agency approvals for world-wide shipping
- Switch-mode power supply design
- RF circuits, synthesizers, mixers, phased-locked loops
- Antenna design, stripline design, finite element analysis
- A/D front ends, sensor and signal conditioning
- Switchmode power supplies, off-line switchers
- Power electronics, motor controllers
- Wireless charging and wireless power transmission
- Capacitive and inductive sensors
- Near Field Communication (NFC)
- Discretes to 01005, BGA's to 0.35 mm pitch
- Embedded components
- HDI, Flex, Rigid-Flex, blind/buried vias
- Stretchable and wearable electronics
We can help with your project.
The next step is schematic design. We draw the detailed schematic in Altium, and select all of the components. If there are critical analog portions of the circuit, we typically simulate them in SPICE at this stage, and calculate key parameters. We consult with our software team to learn about the software requirements for the board and make sure that microcontroller and FPGA pins are properly assigned. Finally, we do a schematic review, first internally, and then with the customer, to catch any remaining issues.
A screenshot of a schematic in Altium. The schematic defines the logical interconnection between circuit components, without regard to their actual physical location.
Specification and Block Diagram
Designing a new board starts by meeting with the customer to determine the requirements. Then, we write a complete specification, describing all the functional requirements, input and output interfaces, size and power requirements, and similar. Next, we draw a block diagram, and select the major components. After doing this, we do a thorough review with the customer and talk through the use cases to make sure no requirements have been missed. For more information on this, check our System Architecture page!
With the schematic in-hand, the next step is layout. We work with our mechanical engineering group to generate a mechanical component outline for the PCB, with defines the board boundary, height requirements, connector and fastener locations, and any other mechanical constraints. Then we create the footprints and lay out the traces. For simple boards we will typically lay out the traces in-house. For very complicated boards, we will bring on a layout specialist from one of our layout partners. We use POLARIS to calculate layer stack-ups and trace impedances, and can use COMSOL multiphysics to do antenna design and other electromagnetic analysis if needed.
Preparing for Bring-Up
PCB bring-up is the process of testing a new board for the first time and validating that it functions correctly. While the boards are being fabricated and assembled, the design engineer creates a bring-up plan. During this period we build test adapters and tooling if needed. We have a large stock of electronic test equipment at NK Labs, but if something is needed that we don't have, we work with several rental companies who can provide us the exact right piece of equipment on short notice. Partway through the schematic design phase, the software group will typically begin working on bring-up code, so we can be ready to test the boards on the day they arrive.
NK Labs Engineering Technician hand-soldering a board to replace a component.
For simple boards with just a few components, we may do the assembly by hand in our office. For complex boards, especially boards with fine-pitch components or BGAs, we have the boards drop shipped from the printed circuit fabricator to one of our PCB assembly assembly partners, who stencil on solder paste, assemble the boards using a pick-and-place machine, and solder the boards in a conveyor oven. Then, they inspect the boards (using X-ray if needed), correct any assembly issues, and ship the completed boards to us.
Once the layout is complete, we do a layout review, then send the Gerber files to one of our PCB fabrication vendors for fabrication. We can get boards fabricated in as little as one business day, although this comes at a premium. A typical PCB fabrication time is three days, although it can be longer for boards with HDI, flex, or filled vias.
A screenshot of a layout in Altium. The layout (also called the "artwork") defines the precise location of every copper pad and trace on every layer of the board.
The day the first assembled boards for a project arrive at NK Labs is an exciting day. Bring-up typically starts with an ohmmeter test to ensure that the power rails are not shorted to each other, then applying power (the "smoke test") and checking that the power rail voltages are correct. After this, the designers and programmers go methodically through each and every function of the board, no matter how small, to ensure that it works as intended. When errors are found, our in-house rework technician can fix them by replacing components, cutting traces, or adding wires, so that testing can resume.
NK Labs has a large inventory of test equipment which we use to bring-up new designs and verify every circuit on the board function as intended.
Once bring-up is complete, we will order more boards, test them, and turn some over to the software group to use for feature development, and some to the mechanical engineering group to use for building functional prototypes of the product. On a PCB-only job, we would deliver the boards to the customer at this point, or travel to the customer site to help their in-house engineers integrate the board into the product.
We provide you with a complete data package, including specification, block diagram, schematic, layout, Gerber files, pick and place files, assembly process instructions, and testing instructions. You will not be locked into any one contract manufacturer; you will own the design and can send this package to any manufacturer to get more boards.
NK Labs has extensive experience in manufacturing. We can help you in bringing the product to market in both small or large volumes. We are also able to transfer the design knowledge to your own manufacturing team and we can work on-site at the factory on your behalf to get your product into steady volume production.
NK Labs Engineers bringing up a new board in the lab.
NK Labs Engineer working onsite at a contract manufacturer to transition a board into volume production.