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PCB Reverse Engineering – How to Maintain / Increase the Life Expectancy of Legacy Systems

CMTS conference scene

Following our CMTS 2021 Presentation; we decided to share our simplified Reverse Engineering Process.

What is Reverse Engineering?

  • Reverse Engineering is the process of disassembling and analyzing a physical product in order to determine how it was designed and how it operates. 
  • Reverse Engineering often allows customers to improve their product and therefore to surpass competitors.
  • Reverse Engineering of PCB’s (Printed Circuit Boards) is a process by which we replicate the function and specification of an original printed circuit board.

Common Uses of Reverse Engineering

  1. Legacy Parts Replacement
  2. PCB Service or Repair
  3. Failure Analysis
  4. PCB Improvement
  5. Diagnostics & Problem-Solving

Our Process

1. Sample PCB Documentation

In order to reverse engineer a circuit board we first obtain a sample PCB of the original board from the customer. We then carefully document the circuit board, with photos and schematics. Next we start a BOM (Bill of Materials) in order to replicate the Form, Fit and Function of a PCB.

2. Depopulating

The components are depopulated from the PCB.  They are “bagged & tagged” and inserted into the BOM (Bill of Materials).

3. Delayering

The PCB is then cleaned, delayered (if more than 2 layers) and digitized for reference.

4. EDA Setup & Merging

At each step of the delayering process the PCB is scanned.  The images are inserted, cropped and rotated in Photoshop in order to show an “XRAY” image of the PCB, layer by layer, as well as to aid in the Schematic building process

5. PCB to Schematic

The PCB is made into a schematic diagram by tracing signals across the circuit board with test tools and a short finder brush.  If the customer requests changes to the circuit this is done at this stage.

6. Schematic to PCB

The schematic is then converted into a PCB by replicating the original design to ensure form/fit and function compatibility. The design files are checked and tested, then exported to Gerber format for a final check before production.

7. PCB Fabrication

The Gerber files are sent off for production. Meanwhile, components are sourced and received ready for population

8. Component Population

The reverse engineered PCB is then populated with components using the fully automatic pick and place machine.

9. Soldering

The now fully populated PCB is then passed through our 5 zone reflow oven to be soldered.  This allows for different solder heating profiles to ensure a quality product.

10. Testing

The “new” reverse engineered PCB is tested according to the customer’s specification. If required we create test rigs to ensure that the reverse engineered PCB is the same as the original in fit, form and function.

11. Original & New PCB

The reverse engineered PCB is now sent to the customer and the design/project files are backed up in case more PCB’s are required in the future.

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