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 goal 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.”