What is Impedance?
Impedance is a measure of the opposition to the flow of alternating current (AC) in an electrical circuit. It is a complex quantity that consists of both resistance and reactance. Resistance is the opposition to the flow of current, while reactance is the opposition to the change in current due to the presence of capacitance and inductance in the circuit.
The impedance of a circuit is represented by the symbol “Z” and is measured in ohms (Ω). It is calculated using the following formula:
Z = R + jX
Where:
– Z is the impedance
– R is the resistance
– X is the reactance (capacitive or inductive)
– j is the imaginary unit (square root of 1)
Factors Affecting Impedance in PCBs
Several factors contribute to the impedance of a PCB. Understanding these factors is crucial for designing controlled impedance PCBs. Let’s explore each of these factors in detail.
Trace Width and Thickness
The width and thickness of the copper traces on a PCB have a significant impact on impedance. Wider and thicker traces have lower impedance compared to narrower and thinner traces. This is because wider traces offer a larger crosssectional area for current flow, reducing resistance. Thicker traces also reduce resistance by providing more volume for current flow.
The relationship between trace width, thickness, and impedance can be expressed using the following equation:
Z = (87 / √ε_r) ln(5.98h / (0.8w + t))
Where:
– Z is the impedance in ohms (Ω)
– ε_r is the relative permittivity (dielectric constant) of the PCB material
– h is the height of the dielectric (distance between the trace and the reference plane)
– w is the width of the trace
– t is the thickness of the trace
Dielectric Material and Thickness
The dielectric material and its thickness play a crucial role in determining the impedance of a PCB. The dielectric material is the insulating layer between the copper traces and the reference plane (usually ground or power plane). Common dielectric materials used in PCBs include FR4, Rogers, and Teflon.
The dielectric constant (ε_r) of the material affects the impedance. A higher dielectric constant results in lower impedance, while a lower dielectric constant leads to higher impedance. The thickness of the dielectric layer also influences impedance. Thicker dielectric layers increase impedance, while thinner layers decrease it.
The relationship between dielectric constant, thickness, and impedance can be expressed using the following equation:
Z = (87 / √ε_r) ln(5.98h / (0.8w + t))
Where:
– Z is the impedance in ohms (Ω)
– ε_r is the relative permittivity (dielectric constant) of the PCB material
– h is the height of the dielectric (distance between the trace and the reference plane)
– w is the width of the trace
– t is the thickness of the trace
Trace Spacing and Coupling
The spacing between traces on a PCB and the coupling between them also affect impedance. When traces are placed close to each other, they can experience coupling, which is the transfer of energy between adjacent traces. Coupling can be capacitive (electric field) or inductive (magnetic field) in nature.
Trace spacing and coupling have an impact on impedance matching and signal integrity. Proper trace spacing helps minimize crosstalk and electromagnetic interference (EMI). The spacing between traces should be optimized based on the signal frequency, rise time, and the desired impedance.
The coupling between traces can be calculated using the following equation:
C = ε_r ε_0 (w × l) / d
Where:
– C is the coupling capacitance
– ε_r is the relative permittivity (dielectric constant) of the PCB material
– ε_0 is the permittivity of free space (8.85 × 10^12 F/m)
– w is the width of the traces
– l is the length of the coupled traces
– d is the distance between the traces
Importance of Impedance Control in PCBs
Impedance control is crucial in PCB design, especially for highspeed and highfrequency applications. Proper impedance control ensures signal integrity, minimizes reflections and distortions, and reduces electromagnetic interference (EMI).
Let’s explore the reasons why impedance control is essential in PCB design.
Signal Integrity
Signal integrity refers to the ability of a signal to maintain its intended characteristics as it propagates through the PCB. Impedance mismatches can lead to signal reflections, which cause distortions and degrade signal quality. These reflections occur when the impedance of the trace does not match the impedance of the source or load.
Impedance control helps maintain signal integrity by ensuring that the impedance of the traces matches the impedance of the source and load. This minimizes reflections and ensures that the signal reaches its destination with minimal distortion.
Minimizing Reflections and Distortions
Reflections occur when a signal encounters an impedance mismatch along its path. When the impedance of the trace differs from the impedance of the source or load, a portion of the signal energy is reflected back towards the source. These reflections can cause distortions in the signal waveform, leading to signal integrity issues.
Impedance control helps minimize reflections by matching the impedance of the traces to the impedance of the source and load. This ensures a smooth transition of the signal from the source to the load, reducing reflections and distortions.
Reducing Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)
Electromagnetic interference (EMI) is the unwanted disturbance caused by electromagnetic radiation from electronic devices. EMI can interfere with the proper functioning of nearby electronic devices and can also cause signal integrity issues within the PCB itself.
Impedance control helps reduce EMI by minimizing the amount of energy radiated from the traces. When the impedance of the traces is wellcontrolled, the amount of energy that escapes as electromagnetic radiation is minimized. This reduces the overall EMI generated by the PCB.
Controlled Impedance PCBs
Controlled impedance PCBs are designed to maintain a specific impedance value for the traces on the board. These PCBs are manufactured with precise control over the factors that affect impedance, such as trace width, thickness, dielectric material, and spacing.
The main goal of controlled impedance PCBs is to ensure that the impedance of the traces matches the desired value, typically 50 ohms or 100 ohms, depending on the application. This is achieved through careful design and manufacturing processes.
Design Considerations for Controlled Impedance PCBs
When designing controlled impedance PCBs, several factors need to be considered to achieve the desired impedance value. These include:

Trace Geometry: The width and thickness of the traces should be calculated based on the desired impedance value, the dielectric constant of the PCB material, and the thickness of the dielectric layer.

Dielectric Material: The choice of dielectric material affects the impedance of the traces. Materials with a higher dielectric constant, such as FR4, result in lower impedance, while materials with a lower dielectric constant, such as Rogers or Teflon, result in higher impedance.

Stackup Design: The stackup of the PCB, which refers to the arrangement of copper layers and dielectric layers, plays a crucial role in impedance control. The thickness and spacing of the layers should be designed to achieve the desired impedance value.

Trace Spacing: The spacing between traces should be optimized to minimize crosstalk and coupling. Proper spacing helps maintain the desired impedance and reduces signal integrity issues.
Manufacturing Process for Controlled Impedance PCBs
The manufacturing process for controlled impedance PCBs involves several steps to ensure that the desired impedance value is achieved. These steps include:

Material Selection: The PCB material, including the dielectric and copper foil, is selected based on the desired impedance value and other performance requirements.

Etching: The copper traces are etched onto the PCB using a photolithographic process. The etching process is carefully controlled to achieve the desired trace width and thickness.

Lamination: The PCB layers are laminated together under precise temperature and pressure conditions to ensure a consistent dielectric thickness and uniform impedance.

Impedance Testing: After manufacturing, the PCB undergoes impedance testing to verify that the actual impedance value matches the desired value. This testing is typically performed using a timedomain reflectometer (TDR) or a vector network analyzer (VNA).
Applications of Controlled Impedance PCBs
Controlled impedance PCBs are widely used in various applications where signal integrity and reliability are critical. Some common applications include:

Highspeed Digital Systems: Controlled impedance PCBs are essential for highspeed digital systems, such as computer processors, memory interfaces, and highspeed data transmission lines. Proper impedance control ensures that the digital signals maintain their integrity and avoid reflections and distortions.

RF and Microwave Circuits: In radio frequency (RF) and microwave circuits, controlled impedance PCBs are used to ensure proper impedance matching between components. This is crucial for maximizing power transfer and minimizing signal loss.

Telecommunications Equipment: Controlled impedance PCBs are used in telecommunications equipment, such as routers, switches, and base stations, to ensure reliable and errorfree data transmission.

Automotive Electronics: With the increasing complexity of automotive electronics, controlled impedance PCBs are becoming more prevalent in this industry. They are used in various automotive systems, such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment systems, and vehicle networking.
Impedance Matching Techniques
Impedance matching is the process of ensuring that the impedance of the source, transmission line (PCB trace), and load are matched to minimize reflections and maximize power transfer. Several techniques can be used for impedance matching in PCB design.
Termination Resistors
Termination resistors are commonly used for impedance matching in PCB design. They are placed at the end of the transmission line to match the impedance of the trace to the impedance of the load. The value of the termination resistor is chosen to be equal to the characteristic impedance of the transmission line.
There are different types of termination techniques, including:

Series Termination: A series termination resistor is placed in series with the signal source. It matches the impedance of the source to the impedance of the trace, minimizing reflections at the source end.

Parallel Termination: A parallel termination resistor is placed in parallel with the load. It matches the impedance of the trace to the impedance of the load, minimizing reflections at the load end.

Thevenin Termination: Thevenin termination uses a combination of series and parallel resistors to match the impedance of the trace to the impedance of the load. It provides a more precise impedance match compared to series or parallel termination alone.
Impedance Matching Networks
Impedance matching networks are circuits designed to match the impedance of the source to the impedance of the load. They are commonly used in RF and microwave circuits to maximize power transfer and minimize signal reflections.
Some common impedance matching networks include:

LNetwork: An Lnetwork consists of a series inductor and a shunt capacitor (or vice versa) arranged in an Lshaped configuration. It can match a wide range of impedances and is commonly used in RF circuits.

PiNetwork: A Pinetwork consists of two shunt capacitors and a series inductor arranged in a πshaped configuration. It provides a wider bandwidth compared to an Lnetwork and is often used in broadband applications.

TNetwork: A Tnetwork consists of two series inductors and a shunt capacitor arranged in a Tshaped configuration. It is similar to a Pinetwork but offers different matching characteristics.
Stub Matching
Stub matching is a technique used to match the impedance of a transmission line by adding a short or opencircuited section of the transmission line, known as a stub, at a specific location along the line. The stub acts as a reactive element that cancels out the reactive component of the impedance mismatch.
There are two types of stub matching:

Shortcircuited Stub: A shortcircuited stub is connected in parallel with the transmission line. It acts as an inductance and is used to cancel out the capacitive reactance of the load.

Opencircuited Stub: An opencircuited stub is connected in series with the transmission line. It acts as a capacitance and is used to cancel out the inductive reactance of the load.
The length and position of the stub are critical in achieving the desired impedance match. The length of the stub is typically a quarterwavelength (λ/4) or a halfwavelength (λ/2) at the operating frequency.
Impedance Measurement Techniques
Measuring the impedance of a PCB is crucial for verifying that the actual impedance matches the desired value. Several techniques can be used for impedance measurement, including:

TimeDomain Reflectometry (TDR): TDR is a technique that measures the impedance of a transmission line by sending a fast rise time pulse down the line and observing the reflections. The reflections provide information about the impedance discontinuities along the line. TDR is commonly used for impedance measurement in PCB design.

Vector Network Analyzer (VNA): A VNA is an instrument that measures the amplitude and phase of the reflected and transmitted signals in a network. It can be used to measure the impedance of a PCB trace over a wide range of frequencies. VNAs provide accurate and comprehensive impedance measurements.

Impedance Analyzer: An impedance analyzer is a specialized instrument that measures the impedance of a device or circuit over a range of frequencies. It can be used to measure the impedance of a PCB trace, as well as other components such as capacitors and inductors.

Ohmmeter: An ohmmeter is a simple instrument that measures the resistance of a circuit. While it cannot measure the reactive component of impedance, it can be used to measure the DC resistance of a PCB trace.
FAQs

Q: What is the difference between impedance and resistance?
A: Resistance is the opposition to the flow of direct current (DC) in a circuit, while impedance is the opposition to the flow of alternating current (AC). Impedance includes both resistance and reactance (capacitive and inductive). 
Q: Why is impedance control important in PCB design?
A: Impedance control is important in PCB design to ensure signal integrity, minimize reflections and distortions, and reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI). Proper impedance control helps maintain the quality of signals as they propagate through the PCB. 
Q: What factors affect the impedance of a PCB trace?
A: The impedance of a PCB trace is affected by several factors, including trace width and thickness, dielectric material and thickness, trace spacing, and coupling. These factors need to be carefully designed and controlled to achieve the desired impedance value. 
Q: What is a controlled impedance PCB?
A: A controlled impedance PCB is a PCB that is designed and manufactured to maintain a specific impedance value for the traces on the board. This is achieved through precise control over factors such as trace geometry, dielectric material, stackup design, and trace spacing. 
Q: How is impedance measured in PCB design?
A: Impedance can be measured using various techniques, including timedomain reflectometry (TDR), vector network analyzer (VNA), impedance analyzer, and ohmmeter. TDR and VNA are commonly used for accurate impedance measurements in PCB design.
Conclusion
Impedance plays a crucial role in PCB design, affecting signal integrity, signal quality, and electromagnetic compatibility. Controlled impedance PCBs are designed and manufactured to maintain a specific impedance value, ensuring proper signal propagation and minimizing reflections and distortions.
Understanding the factors that affect impedance, such as trace geometry, dielectric material, and trace spacing, is essential for designing controlled impedance PCBs. Impedance matching techniques, including termination resistors, matching networks, and stub matching, are used to match the impedance of the source, transmission line, and load.
Impedance measurement techniques, such as TDR and VNA, are used to verify that the actual impedance of the PCB matches the desired value. By carefully designing and controlling impedance, engineers can ensure the reliability and performance of highspeed and highfrequency electronic systems.
As the demand for faster and more complex electronic devices continues to grow, the importance of impedance control in PCB design will only increase. Mastering the concepts and techniques of impedance control is essential for engineers working in fields such as telecommunications, automotive electronics, and highspeed digital systems.