Too Close for Comfort

This is a little bit like the old college prank of trying to see how many kids can squeeze into a telephone booth. Pretty soon everyone’s too close for comfort!

In this PCB assembly challenge, someone made a mistake and created a layout for rows of dual-flat no-leads (DFN) SMT packages without taking into account the size of the component bodies. The footprints are too close together, and the bodies of the components are touching.

Because they don’t all fit, as the packages are lined up there isn’t enough room, and alignment issues develop for some of the IC locations. They’re forced off their footprints, while others appear to be acceptable.

Figure 1

Figure 1. With DFN footprints too close to one another, component bodies are actually touching and causing alignment issues, literally forcing others off their footprints.

Figure 2

Figure 2.

As can be seen from the photos (Figures 1 and 2), the crowding causes alignment issues for locations IC1, IC5, IC7, IC9, IC13, and IC15. Locations IC3 and IC11 seem fine.

What can be done? It’s too late to redesign and order new PCBs, and there is no possibility of shrinking the dimensions of the components.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Removal of components in locations IC5 and IC1 have allowed the rest to fit properly.

Luckily, the customer had a solution that worked: removal of the components in locations IC5 and IC1 (Figure 3). This permitted the remaining parts to fit correctly; it made “breathing room” for the rest, and best of all, was accomplished without compromising the functionality of the circuit.

Roy Akber


Component Footprint Rotation, Part II

I’ve noticed that a lot of CAD library footprints for two-pin polarized parts have pin one pointed up as zero degree rotation. According to IPC, pin 1 pointed to the left is zero degree rotation.

Why is this such a common error? I can’t be certain, but I have a pretty good idea.

Surface mount parts, as everyone knows, generally come in reels of tape. It stands to reason, that the parts would be placed into the tape at a standard zero-degree rotation. They generally do. Before putting a perplexed look on your face, take a look at the image below.

When looking at the tape, it’s a pretty natural thing to pull it out and hold it horizontally – with pin 1 up – perpendicular to our angle of vision. Makes sense. It’s not a stretch to look at this strip of tape and end up assuming that pin one is up at zero rotation.

However – the machines are the ones being spoken to. Not humans. The machines get the parts in line with their line of vision. That puts pin one on the left.

Makes more sense when you look at it this way. Running into the machine, pin one, at zero rotation, is on your left.

For more to the part rotation story, tune your browser dial to here. Or just scroll down a little bit. It’s right below.

Duane Benson
The long and winding reel leads to your PC board. Not your door.


The QFN (quad flat pack, no leads) has become my favorite integrated circuit package. It’s very compact, yet is easier to use than a µBGA.

µBGAs of 0.5mm and smaller pitch become a bit more difficult and costly with more than two rows of pins. At those geometries, escape routing can involve plugged and plated vias, which add complexity and cost to the fabricated board. QFNs can be almost as small, but have all of the pins exposed around the edges, so there’s no need for escape routing.

One thing that’s important to note is that despite sharing the first two letters (Q and F), QFP and QFN footprints are not interchangeable. We do, from time to time, see boards laid out for one along with the other form packaged part.

Take a look at this PCB layout clip from the Arduino Leonardo. It has both footprints on the board. You can see how much bigger the QFP package is.

They put down both footprints because the Atmega32U4 chip used in the Leonardo sometimes has supply issues in one package or the other. This gives them the flexibility to use either without making changes on the board.

You might consider this as an option if there’s space for a QFP and you are concerned about the availability of one package variant or the other. If you do, there are some very important things to check out:

  • Make sure the pin-outs match. Some parts vary the pin-out a bit between packages or have extra pins on one or the other.
  • Make sure the extra space won’t cause noise problems. Generally, bypass caps should be as close as possible to the supply pins. This amount of extra space probably won’t be a problem when using a QFN, but in some designs it might.
  • Make sure the board won’t be in an environment where unsoldered pads will be a problem. Some harsh environments could attack the unsoldered pads. If that’s the case, consider conformal coat.

Duane Benson
We’re always being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock
But we like it – it’s what we do

More Cautionary Tails

I recently wrote about the horrors of LED marking variations. Unfortunately, LEDs aren’t the only place to find inconsistencies in our world. Another part to keep a close eye on is the ubiquitous three-terminal voltage regulator. For just short of a million years, pretty much all three-terminal voltage regulators followed the 78XX convention. Lm7805 convention

It is not completely universal, though. (Is saying “completely universal” repetitive and redundant?) There are some regulators that divert from convention in thru-hole and in SMT form-factors. Despite the overwhelming prevalence of the 74XX pin-out, you may find some parts that dispense with convention and can bite.

Take the LM1085, low drop out (LDO) regulator, for example. It looks, for all intents and purposes, to be a standard TO-220 or TO-263 three-pin regulator. You’d look at it and assume that it’s a direct replacement for any old 75XX series. But, rather than In-Out-Ground, it’s pinned as Ground-Out-In. The LM1117T is the same.

Mismatched SOT-223You might think: “Of course, it’s different, the part numbering doesn’t follow the 74XX number scheme.” That sounds logical until you look at the LM2940. It follows the 74XX pin convention, as does the MIC39100. It’s not the LDO specification that justifies change the pin-out either. The LM2940 is also an LDO.

Unlike the LED polarity issue, this one isn’t as likely to bite you during assembly. The SMT regulators can only go onto the board one way. If your CAD library footprint is correct, it will be assembled correctly. The through-hole can be easily reversed though if your silkscreen isn’t clear. Marking pin 1 on the board (and checking the CAD footprint) is the recommended approach.

Duane Benson
In the land of the insane, only the sane are crazy.

And Another Footprint Thing

 When you are creating a footprint in your favorite CAD program, or reusing someone else’s footprint, double check the zero orientation. This post discusses the IPC-7351 specified zero rotation orientation.

This picture on the left shows a library component with the improper zero rotation orientation. Your centroid file will never be correct if you start from the wrong point.

IPC-7351 states that the LED should be oriented horizontally and the cathode (pin 1) should be to the left. Obviously, vertical and cathode up is not the same thing as horizontal and cathode left. If it’s obvious, why do I feel the need to state it? I don’t know. I just do.

Duane Benson
Red is gray and Yellow white
But IPC decides which is right