PCB Netlist Files and Their Use in Printed Circuit Board Fabrication

Of the various PCB Design Files that are used in Bittele’s PCB Fabrication and PCB Assembly processes, the Netlist file is one of the most often overlooked. PCB designers will likely know of the Netlist file through its function in the design process, which is to translate the connections made during schematic design into nets for PCB layout. This purpose might seem somewhat limited, but your project’s Netlist file is also quite useful during the production of your boards, particularly during the Electrical Testing phase of the process.

The “nets” defined by your netlist files are simply collections of pads on the PCB that should be electrically connected to one another. For example: most every design will have a GND net to define all of the pads that should be connected to ground. Every pad on the board is included in the Netlist file, which makes it an invaluable tool for testing your completed bare PCBs against your intended design. Both Bed of Nails PCB Testing and Flying Probe Testing make use of your Netlist file to compare test results against intention.

In cases where your original Netlist file is not available, it is possible for Bittele to generate a Netlist from your Gerber files for the purposes of testing, but we do not consider this to fall under best practices. We much prefer to have the original Netlist that was generated after schematic design, since this can help to catch any errors that might occur during either PCB Layout or Gerber File generation. For this reason, we do not include the Netlist among our essential PCB Design Files, and we can of course develop your quotation in the absence of the Netlist, but we do strongly recommend keeping this file on hand if at all possible.

The Netlist file also offers additional information to our Quality Assurance engineering team during the DFM Validation stage of the PCB Assembly Process. Having access to the original file allows for additional cross-referencing between your design documents, making it more likely that we can catch any potential design errors before PCB Fabrication begins.

We hope that this article has been helpful in clearing up some common questions that we receive about how and why the Netlist file is used during PCB Fabrication. Please do not hesitate to Contact Us any time if you still find yourself wondering about these files, or if you want to get started on your PCB project with Bittele today. You can reach us over email at sales@7pcb.com, or call us toll-free at 1-888-812-1949.


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