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What is a PCB Clone? How it Works and Benefits

Cloning is quickly becoming a popular way of producing printed circuit boards. Why? A PCB clone excludes the design stage, significantly reducing production time and costs, among other benefits. That said, circuit board duplication is a less understood process. Let’s see what it is and why you would want it.

What is a PCB Clone?

A PCB clone is a duplicated printed circuit board, a copy of an existing PCB. You can also call it a reverse-engineered board, seeing its production involves extracting information and using it to build a new board.

Other names include circuit board copy and duplicate circuit board. They all mean the same thing: an already manufactured board recreated.

A cloned circuit has all the original features, such as traces and vias, as contained in the bill of materials, BOM. It may also include modifications to suit an application or if the earlier design is outdated.

Why Clone a PCB?

Cloning a printed circuit board, or PCB duplication, saves you from producing it from nothing. Various situations make this a more attractive manufacturing solution. They include:

  • If you intend to upgrade a system and cannot afford to make new boards from scratch
  • If you plan to replace damaged circuit boards without having to redesign them or cause a downtime
  • To want a copy of your circuit for backup in case you lose the original design files
  • To gain insight into competitor technologies and make improvements to yours
How to copy a PCB, the steps
How to copy a PCB, the steps
Resource: https://youtu.be/vV8bunjivqE?

How PCB Cloning Works?

PCB cloning uses reverse engineering to produce an exact copy of an existing circuit and its components. Although the process varies across different manufacturers, the following steps are involved.

NB: To clone a PCB, it’s helpful to provide the engineers with a BOM and a copy of the schematics of the printed circuit board.professional engineers can also reverse engineer a printed circuit board according to a physical sample.

  • Take multiple images of the locations of the components with a high-resolution digital camera.
  • Make a detailed record of the components, including their model number, parameters and exact positions, especially the orientation of the diodes, transistors and IC notches.
  • Remove all mounted components and the tin from the PAD holes. You want it bare in the succeeding steps.
  • Clean the board using alcohol and scan it on either side.
  • Load the images onto photo-editing software like Photoshop.
  • Scrub both sides of the board using water gauze paper to polish it.
  • Again, scan it in color mode with the editing software.
  • Adjust the canvas contrast levels until the copper film is distinctly visible.
  • Save the image in black and white and as a TOP BMP and Bot BMP file.
  • Convert the BMP files into PROTEL and position the layers as needed.
  • Copy the components package and use the earlier records as reference for their placement.
  • Draw the traces and add the silkscreen.
  • The files are now ready for printing with a laser printer.
  • After printing, and comparing with the original PCB to check whether there is any error, then the engineers must test the duplicate board to see whether it performs as well as the original one.
  • While passing the testing, PCB cloning is finished. The schematic diagram, BOM and Gerber files of the printed circuit board can be generated, and the printed circuit board can be batch fabricated and assembled if needed.

Note: There are numerous ways of delamination for multilayer printed circuit boards, including chemical etching, tool stripping, and so on, but they are prone to delamination over cracking and data loss. Printed circuit board sanding is the most frequent, cost-effective, and precise delamination option. When grinding a board, it must be adequately sanded to the inner layer. Double-sided boards are generally significantly simpler than multilayer boards, which are prone to misalignment during replication. As a result, additional attention should be given when replicating multilayer PCBs (both internal through-holes and non-through-holes are prone to issues).

A clone circuit board, with the solder mask in a different color than the original
A clone circuit board, with the solder mask in a different color than the original
Resource: https://forums.mudspike.com

Circuit Board Cloning Advantages

With the growing need for printed circuit boards in the electronics industry, it can be challenging to keep pace when manufacturing them from scratch. Cloning them offers various advantages across different sectors, including those mentioned below.

1. Design Continuation

A design file may get lost or tampered with, or the specific design may have become obsolete. Cloning solves these problems by allowing replication. It lets you re-engineer or improve earlier circuits to continue particular features and specifications.

2. Quick Turnaround Time

In addition to being a cost-effective option, PCB duplication allows companies to produce circuit boards quickly with only a few steps. The production doesn’t include the design phase, which speeds up the process.

You’re also using a proven circuit, which minimizes the testing process. You meet customer deadlines, improve your company’s reputation, and maintain an edge over your competitors.

3. Reduced Costs

Since you’re not designing the circuit and its components, you only incur the duplication and production costs. Such expenses are far less than those involved in creating the board design, prototyping it, and finally taking it through the fabrication and testing stages.

4. Improved Customization

If you have a new application for a specific board, duplicating it could be the way to go. Cloning lets you copy an already-tested design. You get to customize the modifications to fit your new application, which, in turn, means a better product and happy customers.

   An example of a cloned circuit and components
An example of a cloned circuit and components
Resource: https://hackaday.com

Is PCB Cloning Legal?

It’s legal to copy a circuit board so long as everything is within the legal limits, which varies depending on copyright rules and regulations.

PCB duplication is legal if you originally made the design or bought the board from a manufacturer and can legally modify it. You may need permission to duplicate it if you did not.

If the design is originally yours, you have all the rights to reproduce or change its features. That often happens if you need to replace damaged or outdated boards, among other reasons.

PCB Clone Service

A cloning service enables you to produce printed circuit boards quickly and without spending much money initially designing them. That means reduced costs and time savings.

You can get PCB duplication services from various manufacturers today, regardless of whether you have the design file with you or not. You only need the physical product.

Venture offers a one-stop solution for PCB cloning and duplication services. We copy, recreate, and improve all kinds of printed circuit boards. Our services are fast, reliable, and professionally executed.

Get in touch and have our engineers assess the requirements of your project.

Conclusion

A PCB clone, or duplicate board, is a fast and cost-effective way to manufacture printed circuit boards. It allows companies to keep pace with new developments and can be a simple way to carry out system upgrades without causing downtimes. If you’re looking to stay ahead of the competition, you may want to consider this manufacturing solution.

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