A printed circuit board (PCB) designer uses software tools to design circuit boards, which are integrated into machines and devices that are as trivial as a toy to as serious as an aircraft. As a result, job requirements vary from industry to industry.
A PCB designer, typically, works either at a manufacturing facility or at an engineering firm in front of a computer, in an office or cubicle, designing the boards using specialised software tools. Each board must be created to accurate specifications, and he or she has to justify that it will function under diverse set of conditions.
Preference for VLSI and embedded
“IC design industry attracted the best talent from IITs and PCB design industry was the younger brother. But since last two decades, the issues that were to be addressed at the chip level have moved to the PCB area due to miniaturisation and ever-increasing frequency requirements,” informs O.J. Sathish, CEO, SIENNA ECAD Technologies Pvt Ltd. Hence career opportunities in the PCB designing industry have grown tremendously in the last ten years. The need for good PCB design engineers is felt across all major electronics companies.
It is a well-known fact that PCBs are the heart of electronic systems. Expanding horizons in electronics market has brought tremendous demand for trained and experienced PCB designers, informs Dhiraj Kumar, director, Systems Engineering, Argus Technologies. He says, “There are significant job opportunities in India for professionals with PCB design expertise.” However, the industry is currently running short of qualified designers in the area of electronic system design at all the levels. He adds, “Most freshers in electronics opt for VLSI design/verification and embedded software, creating a vacuum for core electronics designing jobs. On the flip side, this can be seen as an opportunity for freshers looking to get into PCB designing.”
Begin with testing and verification
In order to meet the growing demand for engineers, most electronic system design companies put freshers through an extensive training program of, typically, three months before allocating them to entry-level engineering programmes. Kumar informs, “Currently most engineering colleges have digital and analogue electronics labs as part of their curriculum, which is an advantage as compared to VLSI design area where a specialised training of one year is a must in order for them to be job-ready.”
A fresher, typically, starts his career with footprint preparation and design verification. Later his work slowly moves into module designing, library creation and two-layered board design. Dhananjay Kulkarni, COO, Maven Systems says, “At an advanced level, the designer can build multilayer (six to eight) PCBs with mixed-signal, high-speed board design. And last stage is when he also starts analysing and contributing to thermal analysis, design for fabrication, assembly, testability and manufacturing–design for manufacturability (DFM), design for test (DFT), design for assembly (DFA) and design for fabrication (DFF).” In short, “There is value addition for the PCB designer right from the start of his career until he becomes a super-expert after 20 years.”
There is good scope in this industry for electronics hardware engineers, believes Amit Gohel, founder, Eleics Design. For freshers, he says, “Entry-level roles will be inclined towards PCB design verification, quality analysis and quality control initially. It will be a good learning curve for them to verify their seniors’ designs.” He adds, “Once they are design-ready, they would later be assigned to design small circuit boards and customer PCBs.”
Printed circuit boards are fundamental components of all electronics and the field is well entrenched in India, which is one of the top global manufacturers of PCBs today. Vivek Madhukar, COO, TimesJobs.com explains, “While starting salaries for freshers may be low, much like good programmers are in high demand, good PCB designers can also command salaries upward of 1.5 million (15 lakhs). Most careers for these skills are in the manufacturing, IT and engineering sectors.” Talking about locations for jobs, he says, “The golden triangle of Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai account for a majority of jobs in the field, so freshers should be open to relocate.”
Kulkarni informs that a fresher’s pay package is typically 150,000 rupees per annum. At Argus Technologies, Kumar shares, “A fresh graduate would be offered a starting salary of 216,000 per annum whereas an experienced professional with two to three years of experience would get 360,000 per annum.” “We do hire fresh candidates from engineering colleagues and have no preference to IITs/NITs as such. Selection is based on a written test and personal interview. In the written test, our focus is mainly on basic electronics, mathematics and problem-solving skills.”
At another PCB designing firm SIENNA ECAD Technologies Pvt Ltd, Savita R. Ganjigatti, VP engineering – PWB Design informs, “Yes, we recruit freshers and offer them training for a year. During the training period, a stipend of 10,000 per month is provided and, on confirmation after a year, they are offered a minimum of 200,000 per annum.” “We recruit from other engineering institutions and focus on skill-oriented candidates rather than the institute. But for signal/power integrity and EMI analysis, we recruit masters degree holders particularly,” complements Satish.
Going by the statistics provided by TimesJobs.com, a massive 44% of the jobs in the PCB industry are in the salary range of 100,000 to 250,000 rupees per annum. Around 28% jobs for junior-level professionals pay anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 rupees per annum, while 18% jobs for mid-level pay between 500,000 and 1,000,000 rupees.
According to TimesJobs.com, the manufacturing and engineering industry tops the list of industries hiring engineers to work in the PCB design domain with about 34% share of jobs, followed by the IT industry with a share of 26%. IT-hardware/semiconductor and networking industries offer 14% of the jobs.
Apart from Bengaluru with 27%, the list of top locations for jobs in PCB design field indicates Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai sharing 12%, 10% and 9% of the pie, respectively. Remaining jobs are scattered in other locations.
Printed circuit board designers utilise computer-aided design (CAD) tools to create circuits that are accommodated on these boards. They must also be able to specify how the connections will be shown. Some designers perfect themselves in digital or analogue designs while others work on the routing layout. They make sure that the final design works as expected and meets industry requirements, before it is sent to the manufacturing facility for PCB fabrication.
EFY is opening training centres all over India where hands-on PCB designing is a favourite course among the engineering students and trainees from the industry. Mentioning about the 3-day introductory course, Ramesh Chopra, editor of EFY magazine and executive chairman of EFY Enterprises says, “Our objective is to introduce the students to PCB designing by teaching them the fundamentals using an open source software like gEDA. Since the trainees are from electronics field, they learn the skills quickly. Of course, they need to practice thereafter if they wish to become experts in the field,”
Usually, each PCB designer works as part of a team whose members are responsible for different portions of the design. With large, complex boards, several designers can be assigned to each board and each person made responsible for a different set of functions. Even though a designer works independently, the team usually communicates through frequent meetings and thorough documentation. Therefore each designer is expected to communicate ideas verbally and explain the PCB design in detail as well.
Though there has been a steady progress in the level of engagement between academia and industry, still there is a lot to be done suggest industry experts. Industries need to come forward and set up labs (with respect to DSP, FPGA, wireless technologies, EDA tools) for engineering colleges, which requires investment both in terms of engineering resources as well material (cost of development kits, tools). Kumar says, “But, at the same time, engineering colleges should be willing to accommodate industry-sponsored courses as well as labs in their curriculum, which at times might look like brand building tools for sponsoring companies with one-sided views.”
Industry and educational institutes should work together to identify and train employable graduates in this field, as there is a tremendous need for such niche activity. “PCB designing is a stable industry as development never ceases and growth is assured at the rate of more than 20% if the performance is excellent and there is a proven track record,” believes Satish.
The author is a senior technical correspondent at EFY