Back in the first unit in this course, we brought up one important point about PCB manufacturing. That point is the following: PCB fabrication houses produce panels of PCBs in parallel, not individual boards. A fabricated panel will eventually be cut or routed into its individual PCBs, but a design is put into the fabrication process by first transposing the design into a panel.
If you’re a designer, this all begs the question: whose job is it to design a panel, and what exactly goes into a panel design? It depends on the manufacturer you’ll work with, but an individual PCB designer does not always have to design a panel. In cases where a designer does need to design a panel, the design needs to account for the required tooling features and clearances needed to detach a finished board from its panel. In this lesson, we’ll look briefly at panels and how they can be designed in your PCB design software.
Designing a PCB Panel
Before we look at how to design a panel, it’s important to note that not all manufacturers will require you to supply a panel design. If you send files for a single board to a fabrication house, the fabricator will create their own panel that complies with their tooling requirements. It’s common to see some designers attempt to make a panel, only to have the PCB fabrication house modify it or use their own panel simply because the designer did not create the panel correctly.
Some fabrication companies will provide a panel template on their website. If they require you to make a panel, or if you want to have your own panel design, make sure to follow their template and tooling requirements. At minimum, they will specify the standard panel sizes that will fit in their automated manufacturing equipment, and they will provide some rough rules for preparing the panel so that boards can be easily detached after fabrication or assembly. Sometimes, a manufacturer can provide a template for the panel sizes they support, and you can use this to arrange your boards into the fabrication area for your panel.