A careful PCB layout is critical for proper operation of power electronics devices. While routing of control circuits can be done by an auto routing pcb software, critical power circuits should be placed by hand. This tutorial provides you with some guidelines and tips.

1. High-frequency circuit design requires careful grounding. The "ground" in a circuit is supposed to be at one potential, but in reality it is not. When currents flow through traces which have non-zero impedance, voltage differences will occur at different points along the ground path. To minimize these voltages use ground plane for control circuit. Try to make most of ground connections through vias to this plane rather than through PC traces.

2. For each power supply stage, keep power ground and control ground separately. Tie them together [If they are electrically connected] in one point near DC output return of the given stage.

3. If you use a multilayer printed circuit board with surface mount components, place control ground plane on an inner layer so that it acts as a shield between power and control circuits.

4. Minimize areas and lengths of the loops which contain high frequency switching currents.

5. Place capacitors that bypass bias supply voltages and reference pins (if any) of all ICs physically close to the corresponding pins. For driver chips use a combination of a large capacitor (10 F - 100 F) and a small ceramic capacitor (0.1 F - 1.0 F).

6. Place filter capacitors so that their leads physically go right into the printed circuit board traces that carry mainstream of the current to be filtered.

7. If you parallel power semiconductors, try to use symmetrical routing with equal conductor impedances for each of the paralleled devices.

8. Try not to place routes under power transformers and EMI chokes.

9. Choose the width of PCB traces based on acceptable temperature rise per IPC2152 at the rated current, as well as acceptable DC and AC impedances. Also, make sure that the trace will not fuse at any abnormal current (such as short circuit current) that could develop in the circuit before a electronic protection activates or a fuse clears.

10. The distances between various circuits should be determined according to the requirements of applicable standards. For example, for the product covered by UL 60950-1 2nd Edition the creepage and clearance from primary circuits to secondary circuits and safety ground should be determined from the Tables 2K through 2N of this standard. In a typical commercial application with 120/250 VAC input, creepage between primary and low-voltage secondary circuitry per UL/IEC 60950 should be 6.4 mm minimum. For more details see our guide to PCB trace spacing.

11. For circuit spacing in non-UL applications you can generally use the recommendations of Table 6-1 of IPC-2221B. It is a generic standard for PCB design which replaced old IPC D-275. The recommended spacings for power supply circuits is given by IPC-9592B. In my view, the above IPC guidelines are too conservative. Note that all IPC standards are voluntary rather then mandatory.

12. Schematic design and PCB layout are often done by different engineers. A PCB designer usually does not know the details of the SMPS circuit operation and criticality of components location. In this case, the electrical engineer should provide this information to the circuit board designer, help set design rules and closely supervise the routing process. Professional schematic capture software allows you to set various constraints for specific nets or groups of components. Particularly, you can specify minimum line width, net spacing type, and even maximum and relative signal propagation delays.

For more circuit board layout guidelines, free software and design aids see our PCB design tutorial and trace width calculation tool.