Printed Circuit Boards: The Basics

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Printed Circuit Boards are such an important part of the machines we use every day that it’s easy to take them for granted. But the basics of these devices are quite simple and important to understand.

The function of a PCB is to connect the various electrical components to one another. In the past, each connection was linked through point-to-point wiring, which was a slow, inefficient process, Featured imageand resulted in a mess of connections that could easily break.

It was essential to have more durable, cleaner connections; and that’s why PCBs were developed. A circuit board begins with a base material, or substrate. This is usually fiberglass, but some are plastic, and they vary in thickness. The substrate creates a rigid and durable structure.

Next a thin layer of copper is laminated to the board. Usually it goes on both sides, but in cheaper boards it may only go on one side. This is the distinction between double side and single sided PCB boards.

A colorful solder mask goes on top of the copper to protect against unwanted contact with the metal on top. This is what gives the boards the green color, although they can be any color.

The next layer is the silkscreen, which allows you to print ink onto the board to label different parts and make it more clear to users.

Precise mechanical drills bore tiny holes into the board. Through those holes, silicon diodes are installed. They act as valves to allow current flow in one direction. Connections between all of the diodes are printed solder. Passive elements like resistors and capacitors are installed on top. Multiple layers of circuitry can be stacked on a single board. A 4 layer PCB is an incredibly complex piece of circuitry in a tiny device.

With something so complex, clearly everything must be painstakingly planned from the beginning. A circuit board layout is the first step in building a PCB. This is where LSP Corporation can come in. We’re a full service PCB design agency. We can design custom boards from scratch for output in any format, including the industry standard gerber format. We can convert existing layout art from any format­— even low quality images— and create high quality plans. We even specialize in PCB reverse engineering, where we can take an existing physical board and create plans to create a duplicate.

So whatever you’re PCB design needs are, LSP is the place for you!

Making PCB Reverse Engineering Flow Smoothly

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There’s an old saying that goes, “There’s many a good tune played on an old fiddle.” This quaint idiom basically means that old things can still be productive and perform at or near the level of newer things – if given a nudge. This is the principal behind PCB reverse engineering; which is the process of taking apart an existing circuit board with the Featured imagegoal of enhancing and improving it.

The process is much more difficult than it sounds. The following is the integral question at the initial stage of a reverse engineering project: Are they requesting the upgrade due to reasons of cost, component obsolescence, or other factors? The redesign runs more smoothly when the technician has this information first.

The first step in reverse engineering a PCB – from a single-sided PCB to a 4 layer PCB is getting the necessary business information from the client. This is where the customer is best served by submitting a proposal to us here at LSP. From there we begin considering the ROI (return on investment) of the project. This helps determine whether it is worth the expenditure of time and effort to complete the project in accordance with the customer’s business needs. There is also the question of IP ownership. Some of the components may have a copyright on them.

Next, technical information about the current product is needed. This includes the product’s part numbers, existing schematic, user manual and other documentation. This information is needed so that LSP can know as much about the circuit board layout as possible. The required technical information also helps to determine LSP’s bottom line. What is the current actual unit cost including assembly labor? This data usually includes operational specs and cost benchmarks required for comparing new replacement components.

The next step is the most important component involved in reverse engineering PCBs – determining the scope of work (SOW) for the project. The SOW is a statement of the client’s performance requirements and objectives. Is the customer’s objective to abate obsolescence, improve functionality or something else? This information is important because it allows LSP technicians to determine what new technologies can be implemented to reduce cost. Next, the customer needs to define any new features or enhancements they desire. The last step usually involves the client and LSP getting together to approve the final design.

To summarize, the reverse engineering process involves getting the required business and technical information from the customer and obtaining an SOW in order to determine what the performance requirement for the new design will be. Next, technology refresh must be defined in order to see what new technologies might be used to reduce cost. Also, new features for the product can be determined. Finally, the client and LSP can get together to validate and approve the final design. So, by making sure that both you the client and us here at LSP are on the same page, we can make sure that there will be “many a good tune played on an old fiddle.”

PCB: A History

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What we now know as printed circuit boards (or PCBs) began their history in the very early 20th century. Several scientists around the world experimented with fixing thin conductors onto boards. German inventor Albert Hanson described the first circuit board in 1903, when he laminated foil conductors in multiple layers onto an insulating board. In 1904, Thomas Jefferson researched methods for plating conductors onto linen paper. By the mid-teens, British and American companies perfected technologies for flame-spraying metal onto boards through patterned masks, which allowed for quickerFeatured image production, and a few years later, Charles Durcase patented methods for electroplating patterns.

Perhaps the most important early advancement came when the US army used the technology to build proximity fuses for their explosives during World War II. To handle the demand, the army developed the Auto-Sembly process. While early circuit boards required a hole drilled for each wire, the new method used standard interconnection patterns and dip soldering for efficient mass production. This formed the basis for modern circuitry.

When the war ended, printed circuit boards became a part of everyday consumer electronics. Wave soldering machines evolved to allow quicker and more precise automatic soldering. As printing technology improved, circuits became more complex. In the 80s, manufacturers began replacing through-hole components with surface mount parts, removing the need to drill. Digital technologies have further expanded the possibilities for design and manufacturing.

The first step in manufacturing a PCB is creating a schematic. Today, there are various design programs that professionals use to design a PCB layout, and a combination of software and experience can fine-tune the PCB design so that it will properly function. Before computers, engineers designed PCBs manually by creating a photomask on a clear sheet so that the schematic could be reproduced. If you’re dealing with an older piece of equipment, and its boards have hand drawn designs, we offer the best digitizing services in the industry. We won’t just scan the drawings; we fully reproduce them in a file that looks as good as new.

PCB designs can go through several file types, but in the end, every PCB manufacturer requires a final design in Gerber format. If you have plans that aren’t yet in the Gerber format, we provide simple services for conversion, including AutoCAD to Gerber and DXF to Gerber file conversion. If you need replacement boards and you don’t have plans, we can create them from the physical circuitry with PCB reverse engineering.

PCB technology may seem really complicated, but it’s actually a pretty old technology, and when you break it down, it’s not that daunting. For any questions or services in PCB design, gives us a call. We can help with just about anything.

LSP—For All Your Graphics Needs

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At LSP Corporation, we provide a full range of graphic arts services. Our talented artists and technicians work off of Macintosh and Windows platforms with all the latest application software. If you have a graphics-related project, we can help you through any part of the process. If you’re looking to improve your image, we provide design services of all types. Our experienced graphic artists can turn your concept into a completed product, whether it’s a logo, a pamphlet, a sign, or anything else. If you need a website update, LSP is the perfect place. We can create or update websites with robust, fully interactive mechanics and clean, modern designs.

For scanning services, LSP offers a wide array of options. We can do drum scanning, slide scanning, microfiche scanning, document scanning and photo scanning to accommodate any format. For the most accurate color production possible, we use a Howtek Scanmaster Pro 7500. This results in a crisp, vibrant digital image in either RGB or CMYK color systems. You can then seamlessly incorporate the scan into any other design.

For graphic design jobs that require printing, it’s important to ensure the integrity of the colors. The last thing you want is to pay for a hundreds of copies before you realize that the colors are off. At LSP Corp, we offer digital proofing, matchprints, and color keys to help eliminate this risk. With our 3M Proofing System, we can quickly produce accurate matchprints to test for any issues with colors. Once you’ve confirmed the color’s accuracy, we can proceed to printing. LSP stays equipped with the most up-to-date printers. They help us deliver pristine products with a fast turnaround.

LSP also specializes in laser photoplotting services. We’re proud of our powerful RIP station, equipped with Cymbolic Sciences Fire Series Laser Imagesetters. This state of the art film output printer ensures accurate data translation from digital file to film. We use the highest quality film in the industry for maximum resolution. It’s becoming harder and harder to find companies that still offer film output services, yet this process continues to be important in electronics circuit fabrication, offset printing, screen printing, photochemical etching, and panel membrane and graphic overlay manufacturing. LSP maintains this as an important part of our business. Whatever your graphics needs, LSP Corporation is committed to efficient turnarouds, helpful customer service, and a quality product. Check out us today.

Forget Excedrin-Try Our Customer Service!

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We’ve all dealt with service companies that create more headaches than they solve. They go back on their word, deliver late, and don’t do things the way they said they would. When it comes to electronic services, we feel quality customer service is of the utmost importance. At LSP Corporation, we’re committed to top-notch service that’s always on time and to your satisfaction.

We provide extensive services in printed circuit board engineering. Our in-house facilities include the most cutting edge technology in PCB design and manufacturing. We work on state-of-the-art CAD/CAM systems with IPC and/or Military Specifications to ensure the highest quality products. Our engineers have extensive design experience with all types of circuit board layouts, from single-sided PCBs to 4 layer PCBs. No matter how complex, LSP can handle your PCB design needs.

Additionally, we provide extensive scanning services to convert PCB artwork to the industry standard Gerber format. This is less expensive and much quicker than a redesign. A typical scanning service will take the raw image from the scan and “clean” it up by realigning the virtual circuitry. This results in messy lines, confusing artwork, and large file sizes. But at LSP, we use the scanned data as a template to completely rebuild and digitize your artwork, creating a robust Gerber file that looks like it was just designed in CAD. This level of quality ensures manufacturability, and it’s guaranteed to be 100% accurate to the source. Along with PDF to Gerber file conversions, we also offer conversions from Gerber to DXF and vice versa.

Is your bare or assembled printed circuit board missing artwork? You might be relieved to know that this is a common problem in the electronics industry. At LSP, we’ve developed advanced techniques for PCB reverse engineering. We can take circuit boards of any complexity and fill in the gaps to provide you with a matching design data package, complete with CAD design layouts, Gerber files, and schematic and fabrication drawings.

Finally, we offer testing and inspection services to insure quality during production. Our partnership with Integri-Test Corporation allows us to provide PCB testing with the cutting-edge Feather Light Probe. This is a cost-effective service for testing complex, high-density prototypes. For PCB inspection, we use Optrotech Vision 206/206E systems with Automatic Optical Inspection technology. This allows us to scan your PCB panels and mark defects directly on the panel, making repairs easier than ever.

If you have any printed circuit board needs, check out our website. LSP Corporation is the largest PCB Engineering Service Bureau in California, and we’re committed to your satisfaction.

Engineering Services You Can Count On

Starting in 1990, LSP Corporation has become a leading service provider; LSP Corporation is here for your electronics interconnection and graphic arts needs. We are innovation at its peak! This company’s dedication to customer service, quality, and on-time delivery is the foundation of what we do. We strive to become an invaluable extension of your organization and look forward to serving you in the many years to come.

A  major component services that we offer are PCB Services including: film artwork scan, panelizing, laser photo plotting, negatives, net list testing, aoi test, design, and layout. Our goal at LSP Corporation is to give you the greatest quality service; on time, and at a competitive price. Our experienced staff makes us your number one choice in the development of all your PCB design needs. You can be confident that our work will meet your expectations.

Among our many engineering services is design and layout. Our design engineers have a strong PCB manufacturing background and understand today’s requirements. We offer PCB engineering services, Schematic Capture, Electronics/Mechanical design layout, pwb reverse engineering solutions, Printed Circuit Board Film/artwork scanning, Bill of Material (BOM) Creation, CAD to CAD Data Conversion, Multilayer Gerber digitizing, Gerber Data Recovery, laser photo plotting, postscript plotting, film output, AutoCAD to gerber, PDF to Gerber conversion, netlist testing, orbotech repair, panelizing, cad/cam, & large format image setting. We will show you how our state-of-the-art CAD/CAM systems and extensive experience will benefit your organization and meet your needs.

LSP Corporation is a fully integrated facility with everything for designing in-house. Our Cymbolic Sciences Laser Image setters and RIP stations deliver the best quality data and images on film available. We make it fast and cost effective. A fully staffed quality assurance group is on-site to provide inspection. We also offer web design services.

Need scanning and/or film output services? We will transfer your data and images accurately and proficiently. Our film is used by the industry for Electronics Circuit Fabrication, Offset Printing, Screen Printing, Photo Chemical Etching, Panel Membrane, and Graphic Overlay Manufacturing. Our data backup services include CD-ROM, Iomega Jaz, Iomega Zip, and Floppy. At LSP we also have digital proofing, match prints, and color keys. Before taking your film to print, we produce a high quality proof of your choice to certify the job will print as anticipated. Get it done right the first time with LSP!

Please contact us with any questions! We are located at 17592 Metzler Lane Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Give us a call at (714) 848-7568. You can also email engineering directly at engineering@lspcorp.com or graphic arts directly at support@lspcorp.com. We look forward to hearing from you!