What you need to know about PCB reverse engineering


PCB copying, PCB cloning, and PCB duplication are other names for PCB reverse engineering. Using existing PCB boards as a starting point, the technology is reversely researched.

With regard to PCB reverse engineering, the reverse analysis technology is used to re-analyze the circuit boards, the original product PCB files, bill of materials (BOM) files, schematic files, as well as other production documents such as PCB Gerber and PCB silkscreen files. To complete the entire copy of the original circuit board as a sample, use these engineering documents and production documents to re-produce the PCB, solder components, conduct flying probe tests, and debug circuit boards.

Why PCB Reverse Engineering Helps PCB Design & Development

An electronic design can be reverse engineered to obtain a PCB design, circuit schematic, and a bill of materials for an existing & mutual design by using a series of reverse engineering techniques. The development of a new product, which took two or three years in the past, may now take only a few months through reverse engineering.

Electronic products have been upgraded at least once a year in the last ten years as the technology has evolved. Updating electronic products may become more frequent in the future. It is felt by many electronic engineers that conventional R&D methods are no longer sufficient for the fast pace of electronic product replacements, and since there have been millions of mutual designs in the market, reverse engineering is becoming an approach to quickly catch up with the market pace.

Here is a breakdown of how reverse engineering works.

The only way to reverse engineer PCBs during the days when there was no reverse engineering software was to draw and measure with a caliper.

There was a slow speed and a poor degree of accuracy. These days, reverse engineering multilayer plating through hole boards is very simple using the software. 

Firstly, scan or take a picture of the PCB board, then load it into the program, and then copy it from the software using Protel. Once you’ve patched it, you can then compare against protel99. The most challenging part of this process will be converting the PCB file to a schematic diagram. A company will be able to complete this part of the work correctly only if it has extensive experience.

In this precise method, all components are removed and the components’ parameters and components are recorded. Screen printing layers are taken one by one, the original data is retained, and then the bare PCB board is photographed or scanned for the purpose of loading them into the software; however, the software itself is different from the photo format requirements, and the oversized photo files are too large to be loaded in software in a timely manner. For copying, a large PCB board can be cut into several small sections and then flattened.
A layer is applied, another layer is applied, and a layer is polished until the entire surface is completed. The finished layer can now be sanded with sandpaper, and the inner layer gradually exposed, and a final layer is applied.

The industry has several companies that specialize in reverse engineering PCB boards, such as Fast PCB Studio, that can help you reverse engineer and clone complicated PCB boards. A reverse engineering experience would also be good for some simple boards. Using a multi-layer plated through hole board as an example, we will share with you the basic steps that we took to reverse engineer the board.