Does reverse engineering PCB mean anything to you?
If it doesn’t, it’s okay because we’ll be shedding more light on it in this post.
But if it doesn’t, it’s STILL okay. Plus, you don’t need to worry.
It’s because, in this article, we’ll be tackling issues surrounding the following:
- If you plan to gather concrete evidence to deal with an IP infringement from a competitor
- You want to remodel outdated and scare integrated circuits.
- Or perhaps you want to carry out extensive PCB competitive analysis.
Whatever the case may be, running a reverse engineering PCB will ALWAYS come in handy.
That’s why we created this article to give an in-depth knowledge about reverse engineering PCB.
If you’re ready, let’s begin the journey.
What Is Reverse Engineering PCB?
Before diving deep into this topic, we need to address this part. After all, it’s the ideal thing to do—especially if you’re a newbie.
So, what exactly is reverse engineering PCB?
Reverse engineering PCB is an inverse research technology. The technology uses a series of reverse research technique to get the following:
- A circuit schematic
- PCB Design
In the end, the whole process is mainly for creating manual and prevailing designs.
For instance, in the past, it took long years to develop a new product ultimately. But, today, with reverse engineering PCB, you can create a new product in a few months.
Also, in the last ten years, there has been a lot of development for electronic technology. And a lot of products have experienced upgrades, as a result. So, this has made electronic products update faster.
That’s why many electronics engineers believe that using old R&D techniques may not work. Why? The techniques aren’t as fast as the rapid steps of the current electronic product auxiliary.
So, reverse engineering PCB poses as the best approach to adopt the pace of the market. After all, there are over millions of manual designs in the market.
Now, let’s look at how to start the process.
How to Reverse Engineer a PCB?
Now, you have a foundational knowledge of reverse engineering PCB.
It’s time to look at the steps to reversing engineering PCB.
Step 1: Inverse Bound Designing
First off, it’s crucial to make sure your PCB has well-lit images on both sides.
It’s because you’d be creating a layout for developing a schematic with the two sides.
Then, you can draw the layout on a graph paper, using a bare board. Also, it’s best to use symbols for each component. Plus, you must ensure that you work towards capturing the right scale.
But if you’re handling more complex PCBs, it’s ideal to abandon your pencil and paper. Instead, you can opt for photographs, even though they are more time-consuming. Hence, a quality camera and great lighting will ease the process.
Step 2: Build the Layout
If you have a simple PCB, this step would be easy. All you’ll need to do is to scan the drawing you made into a program like AutoTrace. That way, you can convert the image from Bitmap to Vector.
But, it’s a different ball game with complex layouts. You’d need to take multiple photo captures and do a lot of editing. No doubt, the process takes more time and stress than the simple layouts.
Let’s face it. You can’t run away from taking multiple editing steps for both layout types. And it’s because reverse engineering PCB requires a lot of focus and time.
Usually, editing steps apply to both sides of the PCB. It means you’d have to run the process twice. That way, you’d be able to generate a double-sided schematic.
And the editing steps depend on the colors, measurements, and type of PCB. So, they include:
- Painting the board’s solder pads to avoid being misplaced during transfer
- Removing PCB trackpads, if you use AutoTrace because they change to loops
- Making free holes mark on a multi-layer board because of the likely inner layers
- Fine-tuning saturation and layers to improve clarity on painted PCBs
- Cleaning conversion tracks in AutoTrace (dirty tracks don’t convert properly)
- Applying Grayscale and reversing images to get clear dark lines on white background
Step 3: Generating Schematics
This step is the most straightforward after you’ve completed the preceding two stages.
So, you can create schematics with specific programs like:
- A PCB layout CAD
Any of the above programs can do the job.
But that’s not all.
After getting the selected programs, you need to start combining them. And the things to connect are as follows:
- Label components
- Both sides of the PCB
Afterward, you can arrange the tracks to make the system easy to interpret. Then, run through the process from scratch to check for bottlenecks.
However, there’s one common setback with reverse engineering PCBs. And it’s the fact that you can’t determine the direction of its connections.
So, it’s normal to see something like this:
Some tracks that look like they are passing through layers. But they are connected to tracks or planes on the board.
So, here’s the thing.
If you encounter such inconsistencies during troubleshooting, worry less. The problem may be hidden connections.
Why Would Any Engineer Want to Engage in Reverse Engineering PCB?
3.1 There Is No Sufficient Data
When you lack the data on how to repair a PCB, reverse engineering becomes vital.
No doubt, most PCBs come with PCB data, documentation, or even a schematic nowadays.
But that’s not all.
Primary details on a PCB can even be enough data for you.
The no data issue comes up most times when you try to work with outdated PCBs.
3.2 If No Professional can handle the PCB
These days, most engineers can troubleshoot and repair PCBs. But, if you can’t get anyone to fix it, then you’d have to bite the bullet.
It’s even worse if the PCB manufacturer is out of business or even dead. Thus, in such cases, you’re left with no choice.
3.3 For a Very Important Reason
Except you’re a passionate PCB engineer, you may not want to fix a circuit board. But, for a pertinent reason, you can ply that route.
For instance, if the PCB powers an essential item, you may want to keep the piece. And you may experience this if you’re dealing with an old vehicle or electronic equipment. In such scenarios, there may be no available replacements. Or, if the replacement is available, it may be above your budget.
So, in this case, reverse engineering a PCB may be your best bet.
4. What Are the Benefits of Reverse Engineering PCB?
4.1 Helps PCB Design & Development
Reverse engineering can help to redesign a PCB to its rudimental design. And this helps to eliminate errors.
But it’s a different ball game with photocopying a PCB design that experiences a load of errors. You can do this when you’re dealing with legacy systems.
4.2 Removal of Old Semiconductors
With reverse engineering in old PCBs, you can remove obsolete semiconductors. That way, you can get compliant ones that will fit into new environmental norms.
4.3 Save Time and Cost When Upgrading
It’s a great idea to employ reverse engineering PCB when upgrading. By so doing, you’ll be using the existing checked components. And this helps to save you cost and time.
4.4 Enhance Your PCB Components
With reverse engineering PCB, you can do one thing, which is:
Improve the functionality of your PCB components, even with a new PCB design.
4.5 Develop a New Product Without Infringing on Another Company’s Intellectual Property Rights
In a case where your company doesn’t have the IP rights to specific product designs, you can build a clone. And your company won’t be infringing rights.
You can reproduce a brand-new product from a basic design via a reverse engineering.
4.6 Reconstruct and Preserve Outdated PCBs
Reverse engineering makes it possible for you to preserve outdated PCBs. And you can achieve it by doing the following:
- Reinstate and refurbish worn out circuit boards
- Develop cost-effective PCB designs within your budget
- Eliminate any form of wastage relating to spoiled and scuffled boards
Disclaimer Notice: It’s best to consider every legal implication before reverse engineering a PCB. That way, you’ll save your company from getting penalized.
Reverse engineering PCB shouldn’t be new to you by now. You’ve inevitably gained a whole deal of information about the process.
But it doesn’t stop there.
It would help if you began to take steps to try out the process and see how it works for you. We’d be frank with you—there will be a lot of bottlenecks along the line. But the most vital thing is for you to keep running your research and tests.
Also, bear in mind that there are legal implications with the reverse engineering process. So, consider this part before proceeding.
If you want to get more advice on this topic, feel free to reach us. We’ll be glad to help.