What is PCB Solver and what can it do for you?

PCB Visualizer is part of our range of tools developed to help hard-pressed designers bring their projects to market on time and on budge. PCB Visualizer itself analyses board data prior to ordering and flags issues which could increase the price or delay delivery. Run your job through PCB Visualizer to be confident that you will get the right board on the right day at the right price.
PCB Solver adds a new dimension: repair tools which allow you to fix data issues, either automatically or interactively there and then in PCB Visualizer, saving you the disruption and lost time needed to go back to the CAD system.
The first PCB Solver tool we launched was the automatic repair of annular rings. We recommend a minimum ring of copper around a via hole to ensure high plating quality through the hole and so a more robust finished product. If the copper rings on a PCB are too small, PCB Solver’s auto-repair function fixes them automatically and displays the results for your confirmation. You get a more reliable PCB, and often a lower price.
The second tool is the updated The Outline editor & Milling Editor. If the board outline is faulty or missing, or if there are issues with internal slots and cutouts, you can fix them on screen.
These are the first two of a suite of PCB Solver tools, based on our experience of our customers’ most frequent and/or most frustrating data issues.
PCB Solver is the third leg of PCB Visualizer. Pre-order data verification now has three components:
  • PCB Configurator to deliver a full status report of your board.
  • PCB Checker to pinpoint all detected DRC and DFM issues in the PCB data-set.
  • PCB Solver: the tools to resolve DRC and DFM issues detected in the PCB data-set.
All operate in the PCB Cloud; all check your data prior to order; all are free to every user; all help to avoid the loss of critical time.

Outline/Milling Editor

1. Editing the outline.
1.1. PCB Visualizer and outline data

To find the outline of the board, PCB Visualizer looks for closed chains of lines and arcs. These may be drawn with the same circle aperture or be the outline of a contour (“polygon”). It then validates the possible outlines using two main rules:
  • the outline should enclose all functional copper (copper with pads or drill holes)
  • it should not be very much bigger than the functional copper
If PCB Visualizer fails, you will see one of two messages:
  • “No outline detected”. This means that no closed chains have been found in your data close enough to the functional copper. For an example look at figure 1. In this case there are issues with the board outline (profile) and with slots. There are gaps in the board outline, a slot in the profile and two internal slots defined only in the Top legend layer, and some redundant text at the base of the legend layer. PCB Visualizer cannot detect slots unless the Gerber data contains attributes (Gerber X2) so the analysis provides information only on the outline. Here PCB Visualizer cannot find an outline so it calculates the size of the PCB as the rectangle enclosing all the data found (the green rectangle).
Fig. 1. PCB Visualizer report: “no outline detected”
  • “The outline might not be correct”. PCB Visualizer is not sure about the outline it found. For example, it may be too big compared to the functional copper, or be slightly smaller than the functional copper, or there may be two possible outlines.
Use the Outline/Milling Editor to resolve these issues by creating, correcting or completing an outline using the available data as a basis.
Use Outline/Milling Editor to close chains or otherwise complete any outline data present. If there is no outline data at all and no reference points, it will usually be safer to go back to the CAD system.

1.2. Opening the editor

The editor can be started in 2 ways:
  1. If PCB Visualizer has a query on the outline, one of the two messages (“No outline detected” or “The outline might not be correct”) will appear in the Remarks pane with an “Outline” button to open the Outline Editor (figure 2).
Fig. 2. Remarks button
  1. The Outline button is also integrated in the Buildup editor (figure 3).
Fig. 3. Buildup Editor button
Click the Buildup button in PCB Configurator. The Imported Layers pane now contains two entries: “Detected Outline” and “Detected Milling” each next to an Outline/Milling Editor button. Click either button to open the Outline/Milling Editor (figure 4). After you have edited or accepted the outline, “Detected Outline” and “Detected Milling” are changed to “Defined Outline” and “Defined Milling”.
Fig. 4. Imported layers report
  1. The new editor means that the “Outline” type can no longer be assigned to imported layers. Use the Outline Editor to show the correct outline.
  2. When one of the Outline/Milling Editor buttons is clicked, a popup warns you that the Buildup Editor will be closed. It asks whether you want to save the data from Buildup Editor in case you have made any changes.

1.3. Outline Editor overview

Fig. 5. Outline editor full screen
The Outline Editor (figure 5) consists of a number of panes:
  • Layer list. Shows all imported layers. Select one of the layers to use as reference for the editor. Long layer names are shortened by replacing part of the name with …. To see the full name just hover the mouse over the layer name.
  • Board size. Shows the required and measured board size (size of the current outline). If the measured size is shown in red it does not match the required board size.
  • Legend. What the different colors mean in the Layer Image pane.
  • Layer image. The editing pane. For easy navigation, use the icons (top right), mouse keys, or keyboard shortcuts (arrow keys for panning, + on numeric pad for zoom in, – on numeric pad for zoom out, 1 for total view). The keyboard shortcuts can be used while editing actions are active.
  • Tools. The available tools to edit the data.
What is a valid outline?
A valid outline is defined by exactly one closed chain of lines and arcs.
How is PCB data displayed?
  • The data from the layer selected in the Layer list is shown in the Layer image panel in grey.
  • Board surface – the board area is shown as a pink surface on top of the layer data if a valid outline is present (one closed chain of lines and arcs).
  • Board outline – the outline is shown as red lines/arcsif one of the editing tools is active or if the cursor is over the layer image.
  • Object to pick – To help the user quickly create an outline from the selected reference layer, a number of candidate lines and arcs are extracted from the data and shown in blue whenever a pick function is active (figure 6):
    • The center lines of all draws and arcs using a circle aperture
    • The outlines of all contours
    • The outline of all flashes, draws and arcs using a circle aperture with a diameter >= 0.5 mm (may be used to define slots in the board outline etc.).
  • Open chain ends – if the outline contains open chains, the endpoints of the chains are marked with red dots.
  • Small gap/short chain – if the outline contains very short chains (less than 1 mm), these chains are marked with light blue dots and lines; if the endpoints of 2 different open chains are close together (less than 2 mm), these end points are marked with light blue dots.
  • Intersection – the outline definition and outline chains are automatically split at intersection points (shown in dark red). This makes deleting parts of the outline more intuitive.
Fig. 6. Centre lines of draws and outlines of contours on bottom (plane) layer

1.4. Tools

  1. General tools
    • Undo – Undo the last operation
    • Redo – Redo the last operation
    • Reset – Reset the current outline to the outline that was detected by PCB Visualizer.
  2. Pick tools
    When any of these tools is selected, the outline candidates in the reference layer are shown as blue lines. These candidates can then be added to the edited outline.

    • Outline candidates – Select a layer and click here to see if there is a valid outline in this layer
    • Pick single line/arc – Move the mouse over one of the candidate lines to highlight it (orange) and click to add it to the current outline (figure 13).
    • Pick chain of lines/arcs – Move the mouse over one of the candidates to highlight (in orange) the candidate and all other candidates that are chained to it. Click to add the chain to the current outline (figure 13)
  3. Editing tools
    The editing tools snap to the relevant points on the reference layer or the current outline.

    • Draw line – Click to define the start point of the line. Click again to define the end point of the line. Hold the Shift key to limit the line angle to horizontal or vertical. Press ESC to stop editing.
    • Draw chain – Click to define the start point of the chain. Click again to add a line to the chain. Hold the Shift key to limit the line angle to horizontal or vertical. Click again on the current end point to end the chain. Press ESC to stop editing.
    • Draw rectangle – Click to define first corner point of the rectangle. Click again to define the second corner point. Press ESC to stop editing.
    • Connect – Connects 2 objects by adding a line between their closest end points. If both objects intersect already, nothing is changed. Click to define the first object. Click again to define the second object. While moving the mouse between the first and second click, the resulting image will be shown in orange (figures 14 and 15).
    • Intersect – Connects 2 objects by extending them up to their closest intersection point. If both objects intersect already or if there is no intersection point possible, nothing is changed. Click to define the first object. Click again to define the second object. While moving the mouse between the first and second click, the resulting image will be shown in orange. Figures 9 – 11.
  4. Delete tools
    • Delete single line/arc – Move the mouse over a line/arc in the current outline. It will be highlighted in orange. Click to delete it.
    • Delete chain of lines/arcs – Move the mouse over a line/arc in the current outline. The line/arc and all other parts of the outline that are chained to it are highlighted in orange. Click to delete the chain.
    • Delete selected lines/arcs – Drag a rectangle to select all lines/arcs from the current outline that are inside the rectangle or intersect with it. Release the mouse to delete the selected lines/arc. Press ESC to cancel.
    • Delete selected chains – Drag a rectangle to select all chains of lines/arcs from the current outline that are inside the rectangle or intersect with it. Release the mouse to delete the selected lines/arc. Press ESC to cancel.
    • Delete all – Deletes all lines/arcs from the current outline. To be used as first step when the detected outline is wrong.
  5. Closing chains
    • If the current outline has open chains, a message appears below the tools and the end points of the open chains are marked with red dots. An open chain is any chain which has at least one end point which is not an intersection point with another chain.
    • If short open chains (< 2 mm) are detected, the number of short open chains is displayed. A repair button allows to automatically delete these short open chains.
    • If small gaps between open chain end points (< 2 mm) are detected, the number of small gaps is displayed. A repair button automatically connects these using the intersect function (figures 10 & 11).
    • A selector is shown below to quickly navigate through the opens by centering them in the view (the zoom is not affected).

1.5. How to use the Outline Editor.

1. Valid profile found (figure 7)
Fig. 7. Valid profile found
Select a layer from the layer list. Click “Outline candidate”. If there is a valid outline this will appear in red. The message (top right) tells you that the Editor has found a valid outline. Click “Select” to save it.
2. Full profile not found (figure 8).
Fig. 8. shows a different scenario. The only outline information available is on the legend layer and there is no complete profile chain.
Step 1. Intersects (figures 9 – 12).
Fig. 9 Click Pick single line/arc or Pick chain of lines/arcsand select the two lines top left. They are highlighted in red and marked with blue dots to show that they represent a small gap. Click Intersect and then the blue dots. Intersect extends the lines until they meet.
Fig. 10. Alternatively as this is a small gap (< 2 mm), it is faster to use the Repair option.
Fig. 11. Click the Repair button and it’s fixed.
Step 2. Add lines/arcs to open chains (figures 12 – 14).
Fig. 12. Use the navigation arrows to jump to locations where the next lines/arcs are to be added to the chain.
Fig. 13. Use Pick single line/arc to add segments individually or Pick chain to add a chain of connected segments.
Step 3. Non-intersecting connections (Connect function – figure 14).
Fig. 14. Use Connect to join the end points at an angle.
Fig. 15. Orange shows the existing lines selected and the connecting line to be added. Click to complete the connection.
The basic outline is now complete (figure 16).
Fig. 16. The basic outline is now complete.
Step 4. To add the slot into the outline (figures 17 – 18).
Fig. 17. Select the slot and the adjacent profile.
Fig. 18. Use the Delete functions to delete the redundant outlines
The outline is now correct and complete (figure 19).
Fig. 19. Outline completed

2. How to use the Milling editor

In this case the job is not yet completed. There are still the slots to fix (see fig. 20)
Fig. 20.
In this case use Pick chain of lines/arcs to select the two slots (fig. 21). If the slot data is incorrect or incomplete use the same editing functions as for the board outline.
Fig. 21.
Click Apply to save your new outline and slots into PCB Configurator.
Fig. 22.
Then save changes and reprocess your PCB data through PCB Visualizer.
The Apply button is active whenever a valid outline is defined. Click the Apply button to save the current outline. When the basket is saved, the data will be sent to PCB Visualizer for reprocessing.
Clicking the Apply button if the outline was not edited will remove the remarks about the outline. This can be used to confirm that the detected outline is correct.
Press Cancel to close the editor without saving.
To see our Outline Editor video, click here.