How to panelize PCBs with CAM

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What is PCB Panelization?

PCB panelization is the process of combining multiple individual printed circuit board designs into a single larger panel. This allows manufacturers to produce multiple PCBs simultaneously, significantly improving production efficiency and reducing costs.

Panelizing PCBs involves strategic placement of the individual boards on the larger panel, adding tooling holes, fiducial marks, and breakaway tabs or mousebites to aid in the manufacturing process. Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software is widely used to automate and optimize the panelization process.

Why Panelize PCBs?

There are several reasons why manufacturers choose to panelize PCBs:

  1. Cost reduction: Producing multiple PCBs on a single panel minimizes material waste, reduces setup time, and lowers overall manufacturing costs.
  2. Increased efficiency: Panelization allows for batch processing of PCBs, which streamlines the manufacturing process and improves throughput.
  3. Consistent quality: By producing multiple identical PCBs on a single panel, manufacturers can ensure consistent quality across all boards.

Key Considerations for PCB Panelization

Before diving into the panelization process using CAM software, it’s essential to consider the following factors:

Board size and shape

The size and shape of your individual PCB designs will dictate the panel layout and the number of boards that can fit on a single panel. Rectangular boards are easier to panelize efficiently compared to irregular shapes.

Material and thickness

The choice of PCB Material and thickness will impact the panelization process. Thinner boards may require additional support to prevent warping, while thicker boards may need wider spacing between individual PCBs to allow for clean breakaway.

Quantity and turnaround time

The number of PCBs required and the desired turnaround time will influence the panelization strategy. For smaller quantities or quick-turn projects, it may be more cost-effective to produce individual boards or use smaller panels.

Preparing PCB Designs for Panelization

Before panelizing your PCBs using CAM software, ensure that your individual board designs are optimized for the process:

  1. Design for manufacturability (DFM): Follow DFM guidelines to ensure your PCBs can be manufactured reliably and cost-effectively. This includes adhering to minimum trace widths, clearances, and drill sizes.
  2. Add fiducial marks: Place fiducial marks on your individual PCB designs to help align the boards accurately during the assembly process.
  3. Define board outline: Clearly define the board outline in your design files to facilitate proper placement on the panel.

Panelizing PCBs Using CAM Software

CAM software, such as Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro, offers powerful tools for panelizing PCBs. Here’s a general workflow for panelizing PCBs using CAM software:

Step 1: Import PCB designs

Import your individual PCB design files into the CAM software. Most CAM tools support common PCB design file formats, such as Gerber, ODB++, and IPC-2581.

Step 2: Create a new panel

Create a new panel in the CAM software, specifying the panel size, material, and thickness. The panel size should be chosen based on the available manufacturing equipment and the desired number of PCBs per panel.

Step 3: Place PCBs on the panel

Arrange your individual PCB designs on the panel, ensuring adequate spacing between boards. The spacing should account for the required tooling holes, fiducial marks, and breakaway tabs or mousebites.

Here’s an example of how PCBs can be arranged on a panel:

Board 1 Board 2 Board 3
Board 4 Board 5 Board 6
Board 7 Board 8 Board 9

Step 4: Add tooling holes and fiducial marks

Place tooling holes and fiducial marks on the panel as required by your manufacturing process. Tooling holes are used to secure the panel during fabrication, while fiducial marks help align the panel during assembly.

Step 5: Define breakaway tabs or mousebites

Add breakaway tabs or mousebites between individual PCBs to keep them securely attached to the panel during manufacturing. Breakaway tabs are small, perforated sections that can be easily snapped off to separate the individual boards. Mousebites are similar but use a series of small drill holes instead of perforations.

Step 6: Generate manufacturing files

Once your panel design is complete, generate the necessary manufacturing files, such as Gerber Files, drill files, and assembly drawings. These files will be used by the PCB manufacturer to fabricate your panelized boards.

Best Practices for PCB Panelization

To ensure optimal results when panelizing PCBs, follow these best practices:

  1. Maximize panel utilization: Arrange your PCBs on the panel to minimize wasted space and material. This may involve rotating or mirroring boards to achieve a more efficient layout.
  2. Maintain consistent board orientation: Ensure that all boards on the panel have the same orientation to simplify the assembly process and reduce the risk of errors.
  3. Use appropriate spacing: Provide adequate spacing between individual PCBs to allow for clean breakaway and to minimize the risk of damage during depanelization.
  4. Test your panel design: Before submitting your panel design for manufacturing, thoroughly review and test it to ensure that it meets all requirements and can be fabricated and assembled reliably.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can any PCB design be panelized?

Most PCB designs can be panelized, but some may be more challenging than others. Designs with irregular shapes, tight tolerances, or complex features may require additional consideration and planning to panelize effectively.

2. How does PCB thickness affect panelization?

Thinner PCBs (less than 0.8mm) may be more prone to warping and require additional support during panelization. Thicker PCBs (greater than 1.6mm) may need wider spacing between individual boards to allow for clean breakaway.

3. What is the optimal panel size?

The optimal panel size depends on several factors, including the size of your individual PCBs, the available manufacturing equipment, and the desired production volume. Common panel sizes include 18″ x 24″, 21″ x 24″, and 24″ x 30″.

4. Can panelization be used for both prototype and production runs?

Yes, panelization can be used for both prototype and production runs. However, for small prototype runs, it may be more cost-effective to produce individual boards or use smaller panels.

5. Are there any drawbacks to panelizing PCBs?

The main drawback to panelizing PCBs is the additional design and planning effort required. Panelization also introduces the need for depanelization, which can slightly increase the risk of damage to the individual boards if not performed carefully.


Panelizing PCBs using CAM software is an effective way to streamline the manufacturing process, reduce costs, and ensure consistent quality. By understanding the key considerations, preparing your PCB designs accordingly, and following best practices, you can successfully panelize your PCBs and reap the benefits of this technique.

As PCB designs become increasingly complex and production demands grow, panelization will continue to play a crucial role in the electronics manufacturing industry. By mastering the art of PCB panelization with CAM software, you can stay ahead of the curve and deliver high-quality, cost-effective PCBs to your customers.