If you order a single PCB from one of the many pooling services out there (shout out to Laen’s OSH Park, for example, which I recently tested myself) … you usually get back individually cut out boards that follow the dimension layer of your submitted PCB or gerber files. That’s great if you’re assembly them by hand … but if that amazing prototype turns out to be a gold-mine you’re going to need to deal with machine assembly using a pick a place, and those tiny little one-off boards aren’t going to get you very far.
Pick and place machines place multiple boards in one go via something called panelization (panelisation for some of us) … essentially, taking one design and laying out multiple copies of it in rows and columns, then putting a frame around the panel and inserting some drill holes or V-scoring (or both) to later break the individual boards out from the support frame. Sounds easy … but it’s a lot more challenging than you might expect to take that one board and design a panel properly, and there’s a but of inside knowledge required to do it properly.
Enter today’s EE Bookshelf entry, courtesy Tom Hausherr (who’s amazing blog we highlighted not too long ago). There’s precious little information out there on proper panelization — what size for the inner cutouts between the frame and the boards, what drill holes for the breakaway tabs, and don’t forget the fiducials and mounting holes on the frame, etc.. This blog entry is definitely the best I’ve come across on the subject (and I’ve picked up a lot of books over the years): PCB Design Perfection Starts in the CAD Library Part 19: PCB Breakaway Panels. The information is SW neutral, and it gives you all the key measurements you need for your first panel to be a success!
Have some tips on doing this the right way yourself? Post them up in the comments below!