Comprehensive PCB Via Design Rules Guide

Vias play a crucial role in printed circuit boards as they enable electrical connections, provide mechanical support, and facilitate heat conduction. When designing a PCB, it is important to consider the various types of vias available and adhere to specific guidelines and rules. In this article, TechSparks will present comprehensive insights and recommendations for via design, helping you make informed decisions during the PCB design process.

Importance of PCB Via Design

For more complex and multilayer PCB designs, the inclusion of vias becomes crucial for efficient routing and high-density component assembly. Vias serve as vertical connection elements that facilitate the interconnection of traces between different layers of the PCB. Without the strategic use of vias, the routing process and placement of components, including BGA and connector, can become challenging.

In multilayer circuits, as the trace density increases, the addition of via holes becomes essential for achieving proper signal and power transmission between layers. Vias act as conduits, allowing signals and power to traverse vertically through the layers of the PCB. Without the incorporation of vias, all components would be confined to a single plane, limiting the overall design flexibility, especially for surface mount components in multilayer PCB.

Key Considerations for Via in PCB Design

Aspect Ratio

PCB via hole aspect ratio calculation method

The PCB via aspect ratio is a pivotal parameter that signifies the ratio between its depth, which refers to how far it traverses through the PCB, and its diameter, indicative of its width. This metric holds considerable influence over both the manufacturability and dependability of the PCB. Manufacturers tend to operate within specific thresholds for achievable aspect ratios due to inherent limitations. As the aspect ratio escalates, there is an elevated susceptibility to irregular plating and potential voids within the via, potentially impinging upon its conductivity and overall reliability.

For instance, consider a PCB with a thickness of 1.6mm, and let’s proceed to compute the aspect ratio for a through-hole featuring a drill diameter of 0.4mm.

  • Aspect Ratio = PCB Thickness / Drill Diameter
  • Aspect Ratio = 1.6mm / 0.4mm
  • Aspect Ratio = 4

In this illustrative case, the resulting aspect ratio of 4 falls within the generally acceptable range for the PCB fabrication process.

Size and Drill Diameter Selection

PCB Size and Drill Design

Selecting an appropriate via size hinges upon the specific current requisites of the circuit and the via’s capability to dissipate heat. When dealing with high current levels, opting for a larger diameter becomes imperative to mitigate resistive losses and avert potential overheating issues.

The drill diameter should marginally exceed the finalized size to accommodate the plating process. However, an excessively large drill diameter may jeopardize the structural robustness of the printed circuit board and might not align with the manufacturing capabilities.

Let’s proceed to compute the current-carrying capacity for a through-hole boasting a diameter of 0.5mm and a current density of 2 A/mm².

  • Via Cross-sectional Area = π * (Via Diameter / 2)²
  • Via Cross-sectional Area = π * (0.5mm / 2)²
  • Via Cross-sectional Area ≈ 0.1963 mm²
  • Current-Carrying Capacity = Via Cross-sectional Area * Current Density
  • Current-Carrying Capacity ≈ 0.1963 mm² * 2 A/mm² ≈ 0.3926 A

In this illustrative scenario, the via can effectively conduct a current of approximately 0.3926 A, given a current density of 2 A/mm².

Annular Ring Design

Annular Ring VIA Design

The annular ring constitutes the exposed copper pad encircling the drilled via on the PCB board surface.

A larger annular ring engenders an expanded surface area for solder fillets during assembly, enhancing the reliability of solder joints. Nevertheless, an excessively wide annular ring has the potential to infringe upon neighboring traces or pads, introducing clearance concerns and the possibility of inadvertent short circuits.

Conversely, a diminutive annular ring conserves space occupied by via, facilitating heightened trace density. However, this reduction may culminate in solder joints of diminished strength, particularly in scenarios characterized by elevated stress levels.

Arriving at the ideal annular ring size mandates a comprehensive assessment encompassing manufacturing capabilities, component dimensions, and assembly prerequisites, while simultaneously upholding the requisite electrical and mechanical integrity.

In the ensuing calculation, we shall determine the annular ring size for a through-hole featuring a pad size of 1mm, coupled with a drilled hole measuring 0.3mm.

  • Annular Ring = (Pad Size – Drill Diameter) / 2
  • Annular Ring = (1mm – 0.3mm) / 2
  • Annular Ring = 0.35mm

Via Pad and Trace Width Relationships

During the progression from a wide trace to a via pad, it is advisable to incorporate a gradual tapering of the trace width. This tapering, denoted as a neck-down or teardrop, serves to alleviate the impedance disparity between the trace and the via pad, thus mitigating potential signal reflections.

Similarly, as the transition extends from the via pad to a narrower trace, a gradual approach is essential to avert signal deterioration. The preservation of a consistent trace width throughout the routing emerges as a pivotal facet within impedance-controlled designs.

Deliberate contemplation of the interplay between via pad and trace width dynamics substantially contributes to the assurance of dependable signal transmission and overall PCB performance, particularly within high-speed design contexts.

Let us consider a hypothetical scenario involving a microstrip transmission line on a PCB, characterized by a trace width measuring 0.2mm. The design mandate involves transitioning this trace to a via pad boasting a diameter of 0.5mm.

In pursuit of impedance continuity, the designer can implement a neck-down transition. Adhering to the guiding principle that recommends a gradual tapering spanning roughly three times the trace width:

  • Neck-down Transition Length ≈ 3 * Trace Width
  • Neck-down Transition Length ≈ 3 * 0.2mm ≈ 0.6mm

The designer should meticulously ensure the facilitation of a gentle trace width tapering across an approximate span of 0.6mm, thereby effectually curtailing impedance discrepancies and attendant signal reflections.

Thermal Considerations and Via Design

Thermal Vias for Heat Dissipation

In scenarios where heat emanates from components like power transistors or processors, thermal vias play a pivotal role in dissipating this heat. They efficiently channel heat away from the component, directing it either toward the inner layers or a dedicated heat sink. This proactive heat management enhances the broader thermal efficacy of the system. The vias function as pathways, furnishing a pathway characterized by low thermal resistance, facilitating the seamless flow of heat away from localized heat sources.

Via Arrays and Heat Sink Integration

Via arrays encompass the strategic placement of multiple vias in a designated arrangement, thereby engendering an optimized pathway for efficient heat dissipation. Through the systematic configuration of vias in an array pattern, thermal dissipation attains a heightened uniformity across the PCB, effectively curtailing the risk of localized overheating. In the realm of high-power applications, the deployment of via arrays is frequently coupled with the integration of a heat sink—a thermally conductive construct engineered to absorb and expel heat from the PCB. To affix heat sinks to the PCB, the implementation of thermal vias or direct thermal connections is often employed.

High-Speed Design Considerations

Propagation Delay and Skew in Via

Skew pertains to the disparities in signal arrival times across distinct points on the PCB, attributed to variations in path lengths. In the pursuit of mitigating propagation delay and skew, designers are tasked with employing vias characterized by diminished inductance and capacitance, fine-tuning trace lengths, and meticulously orchestrating symmetrical routing strategies.

Via Stub and Signal Reflections

Via stubs have the potential to induce signal reflections and impedance disruptions, culminating in signal integrity complications. Effectively curtailing via stub lengths emerges as a pivotal measure to avert these concerns. Employing techniques such as back drilling, also known as controlled depth drilling, can prove instrumental in eradicating superfluous via stub lengths, thereby enhancing the overall quality of the signal transmission.

Controlled Impedance Routing with Via

In high-speed designs, maintaining uniform signal characteristics necessitates the implementation of controlled impedance routing. Vias, unless meticulously designed, have the potential to introduce impedance fluctuations that can undermine signal integrity. Achieving controlled impedance routing involving vias mandates a comprehensive assessment of variables such as via diameter, via pad dimensions, and trace width. Designers may leverage impedance calculators or electromagnetic simulation tools to ensure precise impedance alignment.

PCB Via Design Rules and Techniques

  • When determining the appropriate drill sizes for standard vias, it is essential to consider the manufacturer’s requirements, especially in relation to the thickness of the PCB board. Typically, manufacturers specify an aspect ratio of no more than 10:1, which means that for a 62-mil thick board, the minimum acceptable drill size would be 6 mils or 0.006 inches. If smaller vias are needed, it may be advisable to consider using microvias, which have a 1:1 aspect ratio.
  • Although vias conductors are relatively short in length, they still possess certain electrical characteristics, including resistance, inductance, and capacitance. In applications with stringent signal integrity requirements, these electrical parameters can impact signal transmission. In multilayer PCB, through-holes that connect the top and bottom layers must pass through multiple internal layers, where metal layers may introduce signal interference or transmission loss. Therefore, designers working with multilayer PCB must carefully consider the layout and impact of vias, taking appropriate design measures to ensure optimal signal integrity. This may involve employing noise suppression techniques, proper routing planning, and optimizing signal transmission paths to minimize the adverse effects of vias on signal quality.
  • In high-density areas of a PCB, designers need to exercise caution to avoid blocking wiring paths or ground plane return paths with vias. This is especially important when planning the pinout of BGA components, where the use of blind vias and microvias ensures that each pin can be properly routed without obstruction from components located below the device. Utilizing blind vias and microvias allows for efficient routing in high-density areas without compromising critical routing paths and planes.
  • The size of the vias pads is crucial in PCB design. Designers should ensure that an adequately sized ring is retained around the pad after drilling. Mechanical drilling processes can introduce some degree of wobble, and if the ring is too small, it may lead to via breakage or damage during the drilling process.
  • When possible, opt for staggered vias instead of stacked vias to avoid the need for filling and planarization. The latter process is time-consuming and incurs additional costs.
  • To maintain signal integrity, minimize signal reflections, and reduce noise and crosstalk, it is advisable to keep the aspect ratio of high-speed vias as low as possible.
  • For BGA mounting pad layouts, blind and through holes can be utilized provided they are properly filled and planarized. Failure to planarize these holes may adversely affect the solder joint quality.
  • Incorporating vias in the thermal pad beneath QFN packages aids in solder flow to the conductive plane, ensuring secure solder joints and preventing the package from floating during assembly. This helps maintain the quality of the solder joints on the QFN contacts.

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