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10th May 2024

Black bits on green boards

“Unless you are collecting a transparent case dual shock PlayStation1 controller… no-one cares about the electronics!” 
-Me, May 2024. 


That’s a pretty bold statement from the CEO of an electronics design consultancy – but it’s true. Unless you’re part of the small subset of the population who design, modify, collect, upgrade and love the underlying technology (otherwise known as “the geeks”). 

Consumers care about the shape, colour, weight, feel and other ergonomics and aesthetics.  Significant amounts of this is in the ergonomics i.e. the injection moulded plastic box, the feel of the buttons, the size, shape, weight and display. The electronics rarely gets a thought from end users – unless it it fails of course. 

Electronics and firmware can therefore be considered a ‘hygiene’ factor. If it works as expected, then the contents of the box doesn’t get any thought.   

The printed circuit board size and shape however, this has a significant impact on the possibilities for the ergonomics and product aesthetics. 

If there were no such constraints, then every printed circuit board would be rectangular with a mounting hole in each corner because that makes the printed circuit board layout and thermal management the easiest. 


The Goldilocks Zone

Achieving a product which works well, feels “right” and solves a real problem is a compromise between the electronics, mechanics and production efficiency.  

The electronics needs enough pcb real estate to break out signals from connectors, BGAs and other devices. While maintaining correct track impedance, control skew, and consider thermal management. 

This can mean odd-shaped pcbs with cut outs and potentially stacking multiple pcbs which increases product thickness without increasing the area. All of this also needs a conscious awareness of the cost impact. Printed circuit boards which don’t tesselate increases wastage, stacking boards adds connector and assembly costs.   

Electronics designers need know where the key constraints are, which areas have some areas of compromise and which parts really don’t matter and then communicate this to the mechanical team.  

Having 3D models of every single component and providing early models with major components like connectors, processor, LEDs, speaker, displays etc to then collaboratively explore the best configurations helps both teams get to the best solution for all. 


Electronic Engineer Richard Fletcher Head Shot

This article was written by  Richard Fletcher.