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ControllingRadiatedEMIThroughPCBStackup
RickHartley,AppliedInnovation
9/8/200004:33PMEDT
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ControllingRadiatedEMIThroughPCBStackup
There'smorethanonewaytoskinacatandevenmorewaystobattleEMI,beginningat
oneofthemostbasiclevelsofPCBdesign.
ClearlythereareanumberofcircuitandPCBdesigntechniquesthatdesignersand
engineersneedtomasterinordertocontrolhighfrequency,radiatedEMI.It'sfairlywell
understoodthatcircuitboardstackupcanplayamajorroleintheefforttocontrolEMI.A
goodstackuphelpstocontainelectricandmagneticfieldsandisaverystrongaidinthe
efforttobypass/decouplethepowerbus.Thisarticlewillexaminetheseissuesanddetail
severalboardstackupsdesignedtoaccomplishthesegoals.
Thepowerbus
WhenanICisclockedanditsoutputsdrivemultipletransmissionlines,theoutputsare
bothachangingvoltageandachangingcurrent.Theenergyforthesechangingoutputs
comesfromthesystem'spowerstructure.Anissuethat'swellunderstoodbymost
designersandengineersisthattheenergyneededtodrivetheICoutputsdoesnotcome
directlyfromthepowersystem'spowersupply.Duetoinductanceofthepowerbus,evena
powersupplythatisonlyafewinchesawayfromanICcannotdelivertheenergyquickly
enoughfortheoutputtransitionstooccurintheshorttimeneeded.This,ofcourse,is
wherebypassing/decouplingcapacitorscomeintoplay.
BystrategicallyplacingproperlysizedcapacitorsatthepowerpinsoftheICs,weareable
tohelpprovidesomeoftheenergytotheICsquicklyenoughtoallowthefastoutput
transitionstooccur.Butwaitthat'snotall.Unfortunately,thecapacitorshavealimited
frequencyresponse,whichkeepsthemfromdeliveringpoweratallthefrequenciesneeded
tocreatetheharmonicsnecessarytocleanlydrivetheIC'soutputs.Tocompoundthe
problem,thetransientsthatdeveloponthepowerbus,duetovoltagedropsacrossthe
inductanceinthedecouplingpaths,aremajorsourcesofcommonmodeEMI.Sowhatdo
wedo?
ToanICinourcircuit,theareaofthepowerplanesneartheIClookslikeagood,high
frequencycapacitorandwillpickupwherethediscretecapacitorsfalloffbyprovidingthe
highfrequencyenergyneededforcleanoutputs.Additionally,agoodsetofpowerplanes
arelowininductance,hencethetransientsthatdeveloparemuchlower,causinglower
commonmodeEMI.
Ofcourse,connectionofthepowerplanestotheICpowerpinsmustberightnexttotheIC
pinsandasrisetimesgetfaster,theconnectionwillneedtobeinthepadsoftheICpower
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pins.Butthat'satopicforanotherarticle.
Fortheplanestohelpwithdecouplingandforthemtobelowenoughininductancetohelp
controlcommonmodeEMI,theymustbeaverygoodsetofplanes.Howgoodisvery
good?Theanswertothatquestionisafunctionofplaneseparation,thematerialbetween
theplanes,andfrequency(henceafunctionofICrisetime).Anormalsetofplanes.006
inchapart,withFR4betweenthem,haveapproximately75pFofcapacitancepersquare
inchofplanearea.Ofcourse,theclosertheplanesaretooneanother,thehigherthe
capacitance.Normalplanesseparatedby.003inchhaveabout150pFofcapacitanceper
squareinch.Inbothofthesecases,"normalplanes"meansplanesbrokenupbyholes
fromviasandholesfromcomponentleads.Afterall,intherealworld,planesarealmost
neversolid,undisturbedcopper.
Afewoftoday'sdeviceshaverisetimesof100to300ps.AttherateofprogressionofICs,
ahighpercentageoftomorrow'sdeviceswillhaverisetimesinthatrange.Incircuitswith
100to300psrisetimes,evenplaneswith3milsseparationprobablywon'tbeadequatein
mostcases.Inthisscenario,itwilllikelybecomenecessarytohaveplanesseparatedby
wellunder1mil,withdielectricmaterialsotherthanFR4dielectricmaterialswithveryhigh
permittivity.Ceramicsandceramicloadedplasticsaresomeofthematerialscurrentlyused
forthispurpose(Thistooisthetopicofanotherarticle).
Eventhoughtomorrowwillprobablybringnewmaterialsandnewmethods,withtoday's
commonlyseen1to3nsrisetimes,those3to6milseparatedplanes,withFR4between
them,areusuallyadequatetohandlethehighendharmonicsandkeeptransientslow
enoughtodramaticallylowercommonmodeEMI.ThePCBstackupsdefinedinthisarticle
willassumetheuseofplanesataspacingofbetween3and6mils.
Fieldcontainment
TotrulycontrolradiatedEMI,it'sessentialtocontaintheelectricfieldsandthemagnetic
fieldsgeneratedwithinacircuit.Tocontrolandcontainthesefieldsrequiresan
understandingofhowtheyoriginate.
Foreveryoutgoingcurrentthereisanequalbutoppositepolarityreturncurrent.Allcircuit
currentstravelinpairs.Alwaysthinkaboutbothvoltageandcurrentinpairsandprovide
bothaforwardpathandareturnpath.Thispairofpathsneedtobehighincapacitance
andlowininductance.Highcapacitancebetweenaforwardsignalanditsreturnpath
meansgoodcontainmentoftheelectricfield.Lowinductanceofthepairmeansgoodflux
cancellation,hencegoodcontrolorcontainmentofthemagneticfield.
Inacircuitboard,thishighcapacitance/lowinductanceenvironmentisideallycreatedwhen
aforwardcurrentiscompletelysurroundedbyitsreturncurrent,totallycontainingboththe
electricandmagneticfields.Anidealsettingwouldalsohaveabalancedimpedance
betweentheforwardpathandthereturnpath.
Fromtheperspectiveofsignalrouting,tobalancethepathsandtotallycontainthefields
wewouldneedtorunallsignalsintwisted,shieldedpaircables.Ofcourse,thisisnot
practicalinaprintedcircuitboard.Verysensitivesignalsinacircuitboardcan,onan
individualbasis,beroutedinapseudotwistedpairfashion,butthisrequiresagreatdealof
effortandisnotapracticalsolutionforallsignals.
Thenextmostidealsettingisacoaxialcable.Coaxialcablesdon'thaveidealbalance
betweentheforwardandreturnpaths,buttheydoprovidecompletecontainmentofthe
fieldswhenconnectedproperly.Inacircuitboard,astructureverycloselyresemblinga
coaxcanbecreatedbycenteringasignalbetweentwogroundlayerswithawideground
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traceoneithersideandconnectingthegroundlayersandthewidegroundtraceswithvias
every1/20wavelength,asillustratedinthecutawayviewinFigure1.
Figure1Signaltraceroutedasapseudocoax

Thisisallverynice,butinahighdensitydigitaldesign,theopportunitytoplaceaground
traceonbothsidesofeverysignaltraceisjustaboutnonexistent.However,placingsignals
inlayerpairs,routedperpendicularlytoeachotherandplacedclosetoareference
plane(s),isaveryrealisticpossibility.Thismightnotrepresentan"ideal"coax,butwill
certainlygoalongwaytowardachievingthegoaloftruefieldcontainment.
Forpowerandgroundcurrents,anidealsettingwouldhaveeachpowercurrentcompletely
surroundedbyitsreturncurrent(ground).Ifthepowercurrentsareinaplane,howisthat
possible?Ideally,it'snot.Buttheconceptcanbebasicallyachievedbyplacingthepower
planebetweentwogroundplanes.Thismaybeanearlyidealsettingforcontainmentof
thefieldsassociatedwithpowercurrents,butit'slikelytobeaproblemduringfabricationof
thebareboard.Fabricatorsneedbalancedconstruction,andthreeplanestogether
anywhereinaboardstackisnotbalancedconstruction.
Allright,soweknowwhat'sideal,butwealsoknowthatwhat'sidealcannotbeachievedin
acosteffectivemanner.Sowhatdowedo?Fromtheperspectiveofsignaltraces,avery
goodsettingcanbecreatedbyroutingallsignalsonthelayerorlayersnexttoaplane
(powerorground).Inthecaseofpowercurrents,averygoodenvironmentiscreatedby
placingthepowerplanerightnexttoagroundplaneandveryclosetogether.Thisisthe
"setofplanes"discussedintheprevioussection.
Boardstackup
Sowhichboardstackupsachievethegoalsofgoodfieldcontainmentandprovideavery
goodsetofplanesandwhichboardstackupsflyinthefaceofsuccess?Thefollowing
stackupsassumeallpowercurrentsareonasinglelayer,eitheronevoltageormultiple
voltagesonasegmentedplane.Thecaseofmultiplepowerplanesisdiscussedlater.
Fourlayerboards
Afourlayerdesignhasseveralpotentialproblems.First,aconventional.062inchthick,
fourlayerboard,withsignalsonouterlayersandplanesoninnerlayers,hasawide
separationbetweenthepowerandgroundplanes.Thislargeseparationisanatural
byproductoffoillamination(theprocessusedbyfabricatorstomanufacturemostbare
PCBs).Inafoillaminatedboard,thefabricatorstartswithaninnercoreintherangeof25
to40milsthick,processesthecore(printandetch,etc.),andthenstacksprepregoneither
sideofthecore,followedbyacopperfoilsheetoneithersideoftheprepreg.Inthiscase
thecorehastobethicktokeeptheprepregsfairlythin.Otherwise,fabricatingaflatboard
canbeverydifficult.
Aboardcanbefabricatedusingcorelamination(twocoreswithprepreginthecenter),so
thatpowerandgroundcanbetightlyspacedinthecenter.Butthenthesignalrouteswill
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besofarawayfromtheplanes(ina.062inchthickboard)thatdifferentialmodeEMIwill
beseverelyincreased.Therearethosewhowouldarguethatanincreaseindifferential
modeEMIisnotassevereashighlevelsofcommonmodeEMI.Thismaybeanaccurate
statement,butbecauseoftheincreasedinnerlayerprocessingtime,acorelaminated
fourlayerboardwouldcostasmuch,ornearlyasmuch,asafoillaminatedsixlayer
design.
Forthereasonsstated,itmakesnoeconomicsensetobuyacorelaminatedboard.If
you'regoingtopayforsixlayers,buysixlayers,notfour.Ifeconomyisamajorconcern,
twoalternativestoaconventionalfourlayerboardareshowninFigure2.Thesestackups
willoffersomeimprovementinperformance,butonlyifthecomponentdensityonthe
boardislowenoughtoallowgoodplanestobepouredaroundthecomponents.
Figure2Betterfourlayerdesigns

ThestackupinFigure2a(powerroutedwithwidetraces,inagridonthesignallayers)is
preferredbecauseitprovidesalowimpedancepathforpowercurrentsaswellasalow
impedance,striplinepathforsignals.FromastandpointofEMIcontrol,thisisthebestfour
layerPCBavailable.ThestackupinFigure2bisaminorimprovementoverthe
conventionalfourlayerboard,butliketheconventionalfourlayerboard,itdoesnotoffera
goodsetoflowimpedanceplanes.
Ifcontroloftraceimpedanceisnecessary,boththesestackupsrequireverycareful
routingoftracestokeepthemundertheislandsofpouredpowerandground.Also,the
pouredislandsonlayer1(powerorground)mustbetiedtogetherinasmanyplacesas
possibletomaximizetheDCandlowfrequencyconnectivity.Thisisalsotrueforlayer4
(ground).
Sixlayerboards
Ifcomponentdensityontheboardishighenoughthatqualityplanescannotbepoured,the
mostreasonablealternativeisasixlayerboard.Someboardstacksdofarlesstocontain
fields,helpthepowerbusandlowertransientsthanothers.Figure3showstwosuchboard
stacks.
Figure3Sixlayerdesignstoavoid

ThestackupinFigure3aisaseveredetrimenttothecontrolofradiated,commonmode
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EMI,duetohighplaneimpedance.Itisgreatfromthestandpointofimpedancecontrolof
signalsandisthereforerecommendedbysomeICmanufacturersforhighsignalintegrity
intheboard.But,asindicated,itisaproblemforEMI.
ThedesigninFigure3bsolvestheproblemofplaneimpedancebutisaconcernbecause
ofincreaseddifferentialmodeEMI,duetopoorfieldcontainmentoflayers1and6.Figure
3bcanbemadetoworkiftheouterlayerroutesareminimizedinnumberandkeptvery
short(lessthan1/20thewavelengthofthemaximumharmonicfrequencyofthesignals).
Thisworksespeciallywellwhentheopenspaceontheouterlayersispouredwithcopper
fillandthecopperisgrounded(every1/20wavelengthpreferred).Asbefore,connectthe
pouredcoppertogetherandtotheinternalgroundplaneinmultipleplaces.Twoexamples
ofhighperformancesixlayerdesignsareshowninFigure4.ThelayoutinFigure4awould
beidealasaverygoodgeneraldesign.Nothingcouldbequieterthantwocentered
striplinesignallayers,withacenteredpowerandgroundpair.Obviously,thedownsideto
thisdesignisthatithasonlytworoutinglayers.Asexplained,thissamestackupis
achievedwithaconventionalsixlayerboardwhentheouterlayertracesarekeptshortand
copperispouredintheopenareas.
Figure4Highintegritysixlayerdesigns

ThelayoutinFigure4balsorepresentsaverygoodenvironmentforhighsignalintegrity.
Eachsignallayerisadjacenttoagroundlayerandtheboardhasapowerandgroundpair.
Obviously,thedownsideistheimbalanceinthelayerstacking.
Thisisusuallyaproblemforfabricators.Thewaytoavoidproblemswithfabricationisto
pourcopperfillinallopenareasoflayer3.If,aftercopperfill,layer3hastheapproximate
copperdensityoftheplanes,theboardwillbeabalancedconstruction.Copperfillsmust
connecttogroundorpower.Aconnectingviatogroundevery1/20wavelengthisideal
notusuallypossible,butideal.
Eightlayerboards
SignalqualityandEMIcontrolstarttotakeonhighendqualitiesinsixlayerdesigns,but
reallybegintoexcelateightlayersandup.Beforediscussingeightlayerstackupsthat
workwell,let'sexaminesomeboardstackstoavoid.Figure5showsthreeboardsthatcan
createsevereEMIproblems.
Figure5Eightlayerdesignstoavoid

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Theconventionaleightlayerdesign,withsixsignallayers(nomatterhowtheyare
stacked),isnotrecommended.ItgoeswithoutsayingthatnoneofthedesignsinFigure5
canprovidelowlevelsofbothdifferentialmodeandcommonmodeEMI.Thestackin
Figure5acouldbemadetoworkifallthesignalsonlayers1and8werefewandvery
shortandtheopenareaoftheselayerswaspouredwithgroundedcopper.Handledinthis
way,Figure5alooksverymuchlikeFigure6a.Figure5bandFigure5chavevirtuallyno
redeemingvalue.
TwoexamplesofhighperformanceeightlayerdesignsareshowninFigure6.Thelayout
inFigure6aisagoodgeneraldesign,withoffsetstriplinesignallayersandacentered
powerandgroundpair.ThelayoutinFigure6bisthemoreidealofthetwo.Thereasons
forthisareexplainedinthefollowingparagraphs.
Figure6Highintegrityeightlayerdesigns

Tenlayerboards
Duetotheverythindielectricsinhighlayercountboards,thoseofthe10and12layer
varietyhaveextremelylowplaneimpedanceandexcellentsignalquality,ifproperly
stacked.Ina.062inchthickboard,12layersbecomemoredifficulttofabricateandwill
severelylimitthenumberoffabricatorsabletomakethebareboard.
Sincesignallayersshouldalwaysberoutedonedielectriclayerawayfromareturnplane,
havingmorethansixsignallayersina10layerstackupisnotagoodidea.Also,
placementofthesignallayersrelativetotheplanesisveryimportant.The10layerstackin
Figure7isanearlyidealenvironment.
Figure7Highintegrity10layerdesign

Inadditiontothegoodsetoftightlycoupledplanesinthecenteroftheboard,thereasons
this10layerdesignandtheeightlayerinFigure6bareidealenvironmentshastodowith
thecouplingofsignalandreturncurrents.Let'sexaminetheconceptusingthe10layer
design.Properlystructured,layer1wouldrouteintheXdirection,layer3intheYdirection,
layer4intheXdirection,etc.Fromtheperspectiveoftracerouting,layers1and3area
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layerpair,layers4and7arealayerpairandlayers8and10aretheremaininglayerpair.
Allsignalsroutedonlayer1shouldbe"via'd"tolayer3whenadirectionchangeis
necessary.Thismaynotalwaysbepossible,buttheconceptshouldbefollowedasclosely
aspossible.
Likewise,allsignalsonlayer8shouldviatolayer10foradirectionchange.Thelayer4
and7pairshouldgetthesametreatment.Thisapproachtoroutingensuresthatevery
forwardsignalwillalwaysbecoupledverytightlywithitscomplement(return).For
example,ifasignalistravelingonlayer1,itsreturncurrentwillbeintheplaneonlayer2
andonlylayer2.Ifthatsignalviastolayer3,itsreturnstaysinthelayer2plane,
maintaininglowinductance,highcapacitanceandgoodfieldcontainment.
Whathappensifthisapproachisnotmaintained?Ifthesamesignalistravelingonlayer1
anditviastolayer10,thereturncurrentmustnowfindapathtothegroundplaneonlayer
9.Thereturncurrentwillhavetofindthenearestgroundvia(i.e.,resistororcapacitorlead
toground).Ifthatviahappenstobenearby,that'sOK.Ifagroundviaisnotnearby,the
inductanceincreases,capacitancedecreasesandEMIwillincrease.
Theapproachtotake,whenasignalmustviatoalayeroutsideitspresentlayerpair,isto
placeagroundviarightnexttothesignalvia.Thiswillprovideapathforthereturncurrent
totheappropriategroundlayer.Thesuggestedeightand10layerdesignsarebestfor
thisapproachbecausetheyallowforeasylayerpairingwiththefewestnumberofneeded
groundviastomaintaingoodsignalcoupling.Inthecaseofthelayer4and7pair,return
currentswilltravelwellinboththepowerandgroundplanesonlayers5and6,transferring
easilybetweenthesetwoplanelayersbecauseofthegoodcapacitivecouplingbetween
theplanes.
Multiplevoltageplanes
Iftwoplanesofthesamedrivevoltage(Vcc)arerequiredtohandlehighamountsofpower
current,placetwodifferentsetsofpowerandgroundplanesintheboard.Inthiscase,
eachplanepairissetuptoalwaysplacepoweronedielectriclayerawayfromtheground.
Thisarrangementcreatestwoequalimpedancepowerbusesthatwillsplitthecurrent
equally,asintended.Iftheboardisstackedwithpowerplanesotherthaninequal
impedancepairs,thecurrentwon'tsplitequallyandthevoltagetransientsintheplaneswill
bemuchlarger,dramaticallyincreasingEMI.
Ifthedesignhassomanydifferentvoltagesthatmorethanonepowerplaneisneededto
segmentthem,rememberthatmorethanonesetofplanepairsshouldbecreated.Inboth
ofthesecases,whendeterminingthelocationofplanepairsintheboard,always
rememberthatfabricatorsneedbalancedconstruction.
Summary
Sincethevastmajorityofthedesignersandengineersdesigningcircuitboardsutilize
conventional.062inchthickboardswithoutblindorburiedvias,alltheboardstackups
discussedinthisarticleassumethoseconditions.Someofthesuggestedstackupsmay
notbeidealforboardswhosethicknessisgreatlydifferent.Likewise,duetothefabrication
techniquesusedonblindand/orburiedviaboards,thesestackupsmaynotworkthere
either.
Regardlessofthickness,viatechnologyorlayercount,plantheboardstackupsothatit
willassistthebypassing/decouplingofthepowerbus,minimizevoltagetransientson
planesandcontaintheelectricandmagneticfieldsofbothsignalsandpower.Ideally,this
meanstracesshouldberoutedonedielectriclayerawayfromareturnpathandthepairof
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planes(orpairsofplanes)needtobeverytightlyspaced.Followingthesebasicconcepts
willallowyoutocreateaboardthatalwaysmeetsthedesiredgoals.WithICrisetimes
alreadyveryfastandgettingfaster,thesetechniquesbecomenecessarytomeettheneed
tocontainEMI.
RickHartleyisaseniorPCBhardwareengineeratAppliedInnovation,aproviderofhigh
speedtelecommunicationsequipment.Hehas35yearsofexperienceinelectronicsand
hasdedicatedthelast25yearstoprintedcircuitdesignanddevelopment.Hartleyhas
directedhighspeeddigitalandRFboarddesign,withemphasisonEMIcontrol,forthe
past10years.Hisemailaddressisrickh@aiinet.com.
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