What is a Centroid File?

Call it what you may, but surface mount assembly robots need a magic file to determine where to place your components and how to orient them. We call it a centroid. What is a centroid file and why is it important to your PCB assembler?

Many assemblers use automated equipment to place surface mount components on PCBs. One of the tools we use to rapidly program these machines is the centroid file (aka insertion, pick-and-place or XY file).

Some CAD packages automatically generate this file, some will not. Sometimes you may simply need to modify the file, and some assemblers can make minor changes to the file or create it for you for a small fee.

Ultimately, the centroid file describes the position and orientation of all surface mount components on the PCB. A centroid file includes: the reference designator, X and Y position, rotation and the side of board (top or bottom). Only SMT parts should be listed in the centroid file the basic format for the centroid file is a comma delimited (.csv) file with data in the following order: RefDes, Layer, LocationX, LocationY, Rotation.

Here’s a breakdown of the data:

The reference designator that matches your BOM and PCB markation.

Either the word “top” or “bottom.” This is not necessarily the CAD layer designator. Just “top” for a part located on the top of the board and “bottom” for parts on the bottom side of the board. Top is often referred to as the component side and bottom the solder side by assemblers and fabricators.

The “LocationX” and “LocationY” values describe the part’s offset from the board origin. The location values require that the part origin be centered in the part. The board XY origin of 0,0 is in the lower left corner of the board. The 0,0 origin for the bottom of the board is in the lower left corner, looking at the top of the board, though the board. Preferred units are in inches (0.0000″).

Rotation goes counterclockwise for all parts on top and clockwise for parts on the bottom. In both cases, this is from the perspective of looking at the top of the board. For bottom side parts, it is looking through the board, still from the perspective of looking at the top of the board.

LED & Diode Markation Guidelines for PCBs

Have you ever had an LED or other diode placed backwards? PCB assemblers work hard to place every component from the largest, highest pin-count logic chip down to the smallest passive components and micro wafer-scale BGAs correctly every single time. A key element of that accuracy is our understanding of your board and the component markings.

If you use surface mount diodes or LEDs, you probably understand the challenges involved in correctly and consistently indicating diode polarity. LEDs are usually cathode negative, while zeners and uni-directional TVS diodes can be cathode positive. Barrier diodes can be either orientation. It all depends on whether the diode is a rectifier, an LED, a uni-directional TVS, part of a daisy-chain and a host of other considerations.

When you start looking at the CAD libraries, you not only have all the differences from that manufacturer, you may also have different markation schemes from each CAD package developer and from each library builder.

Guidelines for diode polarity mark silk-screening — the diode symbol, “K” for cathode or “A” for anode. To ensure the best accuracy, we recommend extra care in marking diodes to remove any ambiguity.

The preferred method is to place the diode schematic symbol in the silkscreen. You may also place a “K” for cathode adjacent to the cathode. “K” is used because “C” could imply that the spot wants a capacitor. An “A” adjacent to the anode on the board works too, though it’s less common. If you are producing a board without silkscreen, put the mark in the copper layer or submit a clear assembly drawing with the other board files.

Relying on +, – or _ are not definitive in what they indicate and are not recommended. For example, a “+” or “-“ sign isn’t good enough, because it’s not always true that current flows through a diode from the anode to the cathode. For the common barrier diode or rectifier, it’s a pretty safe bet. However, with a zener diode or TVS, it’s not necessarily true. That is why marking a diode on your PCB with the plus sign (+) is not good practice.

Ever Use a TI X2SON Packaged Part?

The name stands for extra small outline no-lead. It’s a newish package from Texas Instruments. In my experience, TI is one of the better companies insofar as testing and documenting manufacturability is concerned. The datasheet for this device is no exception.

The TI part is the five-lead thing above the grain of Jasmine rice, surrounded by a few 01005 ceramic capacitors. I’m selling the capacitors for $500 each. (Just kidding.)

The part is 0.8 x 0.8mm, with the five leads. TI suggests either a 4 mil (0.102mm) trace coming out of the center pad, or a 4 mil via in the pad (the via must be filled and plated at the fabricator ) to escape the center pad. They also do a nice job of detailing out the solder paste stencil layer, as in the following image:

You’ll most likely need a custom CAD footprint for one of these. Either very carefully do it yourself, or go to a solid source like SnapEDA. If they don’t already have it in their library, they’ll make it for you.

These small packages aren’t going away. We’re only going to see more of them. They may seem intimidating, but with a good footprint and a competent manufacturer, they aren’t so bad.

Duane Benson
“A ruler of follows”? That makes no sense.
How about ” a rule of followers”?


Shocker at Sanmina

Jure Sola spent 26 years atop Sanmina as chairman, president and eventually CEO. His replacement lasted less than 12 months.

In a stunning announcement, Sanmina today announced the resignation of Bob Eulau as chief executive. The move is effective immediately.

Eulau was handpicked to replace Sola as chief executive of Sanmina, a move that took effect last October. At the time, Sola gushed over his successor’s abilities, stating “Bob has a deep understanding of Sanmina’s strategy, customer focus, technology offerings and day-to-day execution. I am confident we’ve selected a strong leader. Bob’s wealth of experience and strong leadership are invaluable to the strategic direction of Sanmina and are precisely what Sanmina needs for a successful future.”

What changed in a year? Often, quick changes like this are tied to financial issues or disagreements with the board over direction. Sanmina was quick to reaffirm financial guidance for its current quarter, and is on pace to surpass last fiscal year’s revenue total. At the low end of guidance, the EMS firm will top $7.1 billion, about 3% more than the prior fiscal year. In its most recent earnings call, Eulau forecast increasing margins and yield improvements.

Michael Clarke, another Sanmina alum and a current board member, will take over come Oct. 1.

PCB Chat: Flexible Circuits

We have a new podcast available, this one with Mark Finstad and Nick Koop. Alert readers will recognize them as the authors of our popular “Flexperts” column on flexible circuit design and manufacturing. They discuss real-life flex circuit struggles and how to overcome them in this week’s chat.

Also, listeners who want to learn more about flex circuit design and manufacturing are encouraged to come listen to Mark and Nick on Thursday, Sept. 13, from 9-11 at the Santa Clara Convention Center during PCB West.


What is Your Supply Chain Telling You about Packages?

Have you purchased any electronics components lately? Have you tried and failed to do so lately? Allocation is the word of the day and substitutions are your friend.

Many, many parts are in short supply, or unavailable with extraordinarily long lead times. Sure, that happens every now and then in this industry. It’s a periodic nuisance, but what should you do for the long term? We’re are getting some interesting stories from component suppliers that might help. 

What we’re hearing is that many passive manufacturers will be trying to move their customers to smaller sizes. They want to consolidate on as few packages as is possible. That means we may be seeing the end of 1206, 0805, and maybe even 0603 form factors for many passive values.

It kind of makes sense. Right now, there might be several dozen different varieties of 0.1uF, 16V capacitor. Does the industry need that? And if there isn’t enough fab capacity to make all of the variations, why not consolidate and run more of fewer variations? It won’t surprise me if we start seeing fewer voltage ranges as well. In most cases, a 16V part will be just fine if you’re calling for a 6V or 10V part.

The chip industry has been doing this for a while. Many of the newer components just come in BGA or QFN packages. Fewer and few leading edge parts come in large through-hole or SOIC packages.

Consider using smaller components, like standardizing on 0402 parts. I know it can be a pain to use smaller parts, but any potential for future proofing your design now can prevent delays or otherwise unnecessary redesign cycles. You might just be able shrink your board size and save some money on the board fab too.

Keep approved substitutions close by, and look for newer chips that are more likely to stay in production. For microcontrollers, pick parts that have multiple memory capacity or speed range variants all in the same package.

This looks to be a pretty extreme allocation cycle, and I have a feeling that the industry will be different when we come out of it.

Duane Benson
Which is worse
Being the missing link or the weakest link?


PCB Chat: Are Designers Lazy, and is Automation All-Important?

“Content is the most important aspect of the design world right now,” says Manny Marcano, president of EMA Design Automation. Over the past nearly three decades, he has grown EMA into the leading Cadence Channel Partner as the exclusive distributor of OrCAD in North America. EMA has also developed a series of its own software products for library management, component supply chain data, and conducts training.

Manny talks about the role of automation and whether designers are keeping up with their profession this week as my guest on PCB Chat.