design Best practices


Multi-Board Systems Design

Integrating multiple boards clears the way for higher efficiency and power.

In the realm of electronics systems, the demand for higher performance, increased functionality and enhanced connectivity has led to the evolution of certain design methodologies. One such approach that has gained prominence in recent years is multi-board systems design. This PCB design best practice involves the integration of multiple interconnected circuit boards, which paves the way for more efficient and powerful electronic systems.

Multi-board systems design enables designers to optimize each board for specific tasks, resulting in enhanced overall system performance. By distributing functionalities across specialized boards, designers can focus on achieving the highest efficiency for each subsystem. This specialization also allows use of different technologies and components tailored to the specific requirements of each board, ultimately leading to a more efficient and powerful system.

While the benefits of multi-board systems design are evident, increased reliance on interconnectivity introduces new challenges. The design of reliable and high-speed interconnections between boards becomes critical. Signal integrity, power distribution, and thermal management must be carefully considered to ensure seamless communication and prevent performance bottlenecks. Advanced technologies such as high-speed serial links, differential signaling, and impedance matching play a crucial role in addressing these challenges.

Efficient communication between boards is essential for the success of multi-board systems design. Various communication protocols, such as PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express), I2C (Inter-Integrated Circuit), SPI (serial peripheral interface) and others, are commonly employed to facilitate data exchange between boards. The choice of communication protocol depends on factors such as data transfer speed, distance between boards and the nature of the information being exchanged.

Today, we continue to see legacy methodologies where full system design is done in a vacuum and often by siloed teams. Systems designers today still largely use desktop drawing programs, spreadsheet editors and document editors. The processes still in use today depend on manual efforts, so the potential for human mistakes increases significantly. The lack of an integrated solution has become the elephant in the room.

A lot of complexity is at the hardware system design level. Current methods for managing this complexity have run into limitations in both capacity and process; there isn’t enough time to manually define and manage today’s complex product designs. The result is current methods of systems design are taking too long, introduce too many errors from manually handling data and require redundantly entering the same data at multiple points in the design process.

The result of the current methodology has been to insert unnecessary costs, in both time and money, into new product design. Errors cost time, money and result in lost opportunity. Failure to maintain the integrity of even a single interconnection could result in delay, thousands of dollars to resolve and perhaps even an expensive product recall.

The solution to addressing today’s complexity at the hardware system design level is multi-board systems design. A multi-board systems design flow is a fully parallel collaborative design environment where global teams can work on the same design in real time. Systems where multiple boards are interconnected can be created and managed, starting with the logical representation of the design all the way to the physical implementation and layout, including net line connectivity showing between boards and 3-D. It supports cable connectivity, definition and optimization, and CAD integration and management through two BoM and manufacturing drawings. It is a single integrated environment that enables multiple board system design including logical design, partitioning and connector and wiring management. Your entire hardware design from multi-board electronic system specification to completed PCBs and cables can be handled within one integrated flow.

Multi-board systems design goes beyond traditional single-board designs by distributing the functionality across multiple interconnected boards. Each board within the system is responsible for specific functions or subsystems, and they communicate seamlessly to achieve the overall system objectives. This distributed architecture enables a more modular and scalable design, offering numerous benefits in terms of performance, flexibility and ease of maintenance.

Today’s multi-board systems design methodology offers modularity and scalability by taking advantage of model-based systems engineering for cross system optimization regarding size and performance. This approach removes siloed engineering teams. The value you would get from this best practice would be system-level integration and analysis, a digital twin, tightly integrated collaboration and cross-system optimization that removes potential for errors and reduces reschedules, respins and cost. One of the key advantages of multi-board systems design is its inherent modularity. Breaking down a complex system into smaller, manageable boards allows easier testing, troubleshooting and upgrades. Each board can be designed and optimized independently, simplifying the development process and reducing time-to-market. Moreover, this modularity facilitates scalability, as additional boards can be added to enhance system capabilities without requiring a complete redesign.

Multi-board systems design represents a significant leap forward in electronic systems development. By embracing modularity, scalability and specialization, this design paradigm addresses the growing demands for performance, functionality and connectivity in various industries. Having a single integrated environment that enables multi-board systems design, including logical design, partitioning and connector and wiring management, is key to success. This ensures that the entire hardware design, from multi-board system specification to completed PCBs and cables, can be handled with one integrated flow. While challenges related to interconnectivity must be carefully navigated, the advantages of this approach are evident in its widespread adoption across diverse applications. As technology continues to evolve, multi-board systems design is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of electronic systems.Article ending bug

Stephen Chavez is a senior printed circuit engineer with three decades’ experience. In his current role as a senior product marketing manager with Siemens EDA, his focus is on developing methodologies that assist customers in adopting a strategy for resilience and integrating the design-to-source Intelligence insights from Supplyframe into design for resilience. He is an IPC Certified Master Instructor Trainer (MIT) for PCB design, IPC CID+, and a Certified Printed Circuit Designer (CPCD). He is chairman of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA);