A Front Row Seat for U.S. Military R&D
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A Front Row Seat for U.S. Military R&D

Oct 15, 2023

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It must be fun to work at a job that has a place in the history of the United States. Ryan Lang can tell you all about it.

Ryan is a PCB designer at the New Mexico State University’s Physical Science Laboratory, where much of the early research for rocket guidance systems took place. I recently spoke with Ryan about his job, as well as the milaero PCB design class that he took with IPC’s Kris Moyer.

Andy Shaughnessy: Let’s start off with a little background about you and your job. The PSL has done some pretty important work; that must be a fun place to work.

Ryan Lang: That is correct. The New Mexico State University Physical Science Lab has indeed been involved in some interesting work, starting in the 1940s with the Vengeance-2 Rocket (V-2) support on a contract with the Army Ballistics Research Laboratory. After the V-2, the Aerobee Rocket and Viking Rocket support soon followed, as well as many other systems and contracts with the Department of Defense as time progressed.

Today, the PSL is involved in projects ranging from electronic warfare, counter measures, cybersecurity, telemetry and missile systems. Here in the desert in New Mexico, there are many test ranges, and hence many research and development opportunities. Some may know of the infamous Trinity test site where the first atomic bomb was tested, which is two and a half hours northeast of where I reside.

Just two more hours north of the Trinity site is Los Alamos National Laboratory, where J. Robert Oppenheimer served as director during the Manhattan Project. This was where the research and development of the atomic bomb was conducted. For a little background, I got my start in the field of electronics when I began working at a nearby test range after I graduated high school. I’ve since been involved in electronics, engineering, and research and development.

Shaughnessy: When did you start designing PCBs?

Lang: I started designing PCBs in 2019, after keeping my eyes on that particular job for years. I spent many years working with PCBs and PCB assemblies on the bench, ranging from assembly, rework and repair, to modification, verification, test and inspection. I knew I would eventually become a PCB designer because my passion for circuit boards and the physics behind energy transmission in a PCB was building, and it still is. The transition to PCB design came naturally.

Shaughnessy: Speaking of transitions, I understand that you took a class with Kris Moyer, “PCB Design for Military & Aerospace Applications.” Tell us a little about the class.

Lang: The course was excellent. Considering the duration of the overall course and the length of each lecture, the amount and range of information provided was well thought-out and delivered. Kris is truly a great teacher—he’s knowledgeable and detail-oriented, something that really stood out when I began the course. The course highlights the techniques for designing high-reliability PCBs, while not excluding other important topics like materials, fabrication, manufacturing, documentation and basics of signal integrity. There is a healthy amount of information to get a PCB designer started down the right path in milaero PCB design.

Shaughnessy: In the class outline, I see that Kris spends a lot of time on DFM, as well as high voltage and things like Paschen’s curve. Did you learn anything that you could use on the job right away?

Lang: One thing I learned was used right away: the importance of conveying to the design team the information regarding end-product environment, operational temperature range, and the product’s reliability needs, right from the start. This means that before a schematic is created, the end-environment, temperature range, and reliability must be agreed on and components selected accordingly, as well as circuit design and layout techniques. In other words, the conversation about reliability must start in the early stages of a new design, along with laying out all the requirements needed to produce a reliable PCB from start to finish.

Shaughnessy: What were some of the takeaways from the class?

Ryan: Some of the key takeaways for me: Kris touched on the topics of thermal demands and challenges in hi-rel designs. He also discussed the importance of environmental protection and the use of conformal coating, potting, trade-offs, mechanical stress, and mitigations. We discussed the importance of charge isolation and insulation in hi-rel and space products that include high-altitude electrical insulation properties like Paschen’s curve, charge concentration and discharge events, and much more. Lastly, basic PCB fabrication steps are discussed in this course, enabling the designer to be aware of how fabrication ties into your overall product reliability goals.

Shaughnessy: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ryan: In addition to PCB design techniques, this course will also expose the attendee to the use of IPC standards. As you become more familiar with one standard, you’ll eventually be led to other standards as you progress in your design career, which builds your knowledge and becomes a helpful tool in reaching a finished quality product. Also, on a side note, in case Kris reads this, I mentioned to him once that he should teach a course just on PCB documentation and preparing files for fabrication and manufacturing, since he is very knowledgeable on the subject. Kris, if you’re reading this, I’d really like to attend that course!

Shaughnessy: From your lips to Kris’s ears! Thanks, Ryan.

Ryan: Thank you, Andy.

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