18 GHz HF board. And this year we're doing even more challenging

Consilia, a Brno-based company, has built its business model in the printed circuit board sector on the fact that it does not make its own products, but offers "brains". Designers, layout engineers, coders or software engineers capable of designing a PCB, drawing a schematic, writing bespoke software or producing an entire pre-series part including a prototype. And when the customer requires it, its experts spend their days on-site at the company to get the project up and running. "Our goal is not to do our own development, we do everything to support our customers. That's why we are used to situations where we 'go into the field' for a fortnight or three weeks. We load up the laptops, learn the necessary tools and are ready to start supporting the customer directly in their companies. We are relatively small, up to twenty people, but we are able to work on complex projects from A to Z. We have the whole design development covered, from concept to drawing schematics, layout, prototype boards, we can fit PCBs or design the basic mechanics of a product. We have experts who are able to write software or firmware. For how small we are, we can do a lot. Our big advantage over others is our extreme flexibility. We work with a number of freelancers, so when a customer comes to us saying they need a team to work for them for two years non-stop. We are able to put it all together and start working within a month or two," says Petr Horák, who has been working in PCB design for 10 years, and for the fifth year directly at Consilia as a Senior PCB Design Engineer.

Consilia offers solutions in hardware, software, FPGA (field programmable gate array), DSP (digital signal processor) and RF (radio frequency). We do individual parts of development or turnkey development of the entire device. Industrial, automotive, aerospace. Each sector has its own specifics, of course. In some places miniaturization is required, whereas for some automotive designs robustness is still extremely important and two- or four-layer boards remain the basis. For RF, you need to use high-frequency materials. Generally speaking, circuit boards are already in every lamp. It's almost never just an ordinary bulb and switch anymore, but also some electronics that accompany them," adds Petr Horák.

We're all looking at how to push the limits

While information technology is characterised by rapid development and constant changes in trends, the development of printed circuit boards is much slower. "In general, miniaturisation and the specific requirements for high-frequency designs and materials are being addressed. Limits (especially physical and material ones) tend to be given and development proceeds slowly by pushing them. Based on what is possible, designs are modified to the edge of the impossible," says the graduate in mechatronics from the Technical University in Brno, who most appreciates the diversity of projects and customers at Consilia."

At the moment, for example, we are working on a project for really complex RF boards with extremely high frequencies. Last year we successfully realised boards where the frequencies were up to 18 GHz. The customer was satisfied, so now we are working on an even more complex and intricate design. The PCBs just in the base, without any assembly, cost hundreds to thousands of euros, because there are extraordinary demands on high frequency parameters and processing quality. But this is an exception, and of course we also make a number of prototype boards available," says Petr Horák.

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Raw material crisis? We are looking for where we can

"The raw material crisis has hit us hard. First of all, there is a shortage of material for the boards themselves, and also of parts for mounting the boards. It happens to us that we get a quote on Monday and by Tuesday some components are already unavailable. We have a long-standing reliable supplier in Austria, but for one of our last orders they told us that they were able to stock the material in twenty weeks, so we had to start looking for other untested suppliers and take a bit of a risk to see if they could handle it or not," says Petr Horák.

"As a Brno-based company, we try to favour regional suppliers and manufacturers, because communication is always easier there. For example, we cooperate with Gatema, which we use mainly for prototype boards and smaller series, or to make various test boards. The big advantage is that it's really fast and, especially for boards up to six or eight layers, it's accommodating and there's no problem to agree anything with them. For more complex designs, we have to look abroad for products. Kubatronik in Germany, for example, offers the choice of materials or technologies that we need for our most demanding layouts," concludes the PCB Design Engineer.

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