Frequently asked questions about reverse engineering
and printed circuit boards
What is reverse engineering?
Reverse engineering means taking your existing printed circuit board and developing a structurally identical, functionally identical, operationally identical PC board using current technologies, techniques, and materials.
What’s the difference between reverse engineering a printed circuit board, and simply cloning it?
Cheap PCB-cloning services do exist. But … copying your PCB that way could restrict your parts sourcing, expose you to liability, and cost you more money in the long run. For more details, see our article, Copying a Printed Circuit Board.
Is reverse engineering an existing PC board legal?
Yes, for two reasons.
First, you already own the board.
Second, reverse engineering produces a PC board that is electronically identical, but not a copy. The trace route, for instance, is almost always different.
Can reverse engineering be used to update old circuit board designs?
Yes, absolutely – we’ve done numerous projects in which an existing circuit board was simultaneously reverse engineered and upgraded, to take advantage of more-common components or to integrate more-efficient technologies.
How much does it cost to reverse engineer a printed circuit board?
Key cost drivers are the complexity of the printed circuit board and the length of time to delivery. You can get a pretty good idea of costs by using our online instant estimator.
How soon can you get started and how long does it take?
How soon can you get us your project specs and existing circuit board? We’re ready whenever you are.
The whole process typically takes 4-6 weeks, although if you’re in a hurry we do offer rush service.
Is your process a destructive one and how many boards do you need?
Generally, yes. Although we can sometimes, on a limited basis, work with just one board, typically we need to receive at least two boards for reverse engineering. The first board we strip of all components and use to trace the circuit. A second board is used as a reference board and is returned. Sometimes a third board is required to sand down if there are anomalies within the board layers that must be investigated.
Do you provide the entire OrCAD project file so we can make alterations to the PCB layout if necessary?
We only use OrCAD to capture the schematic. We do not use it to do the board layout. For board layouts we use PADS (version 2007/9). However, we supply all of the PADS files necessary to modify the layout in addition to the Gerber files.
What if there is no silkscreen part identification on our board?
If there is no component identification (silk screen) on the original board, we will make up our own assembly drawing and those assigned parts identifiers will be used for the schematic diagram and BOM.
Once my PCB is reversed, can I use your drawings and specifications to manufacture offshore?
We provide all the manufacturing files you need to have your circuit board manufactured anywhere in the world: fully detailed schematics, industry-standard Gerber files, drill files, bill of materials, and more. See the article on our Thoughts on Reverse Engineering PCBs offshore.
Can you reverse boards that have BGA's installed?
We have the BGA's (Ball Grid Array's) professionally removed from the board in order to trace the circuit.
My current printed circuit board (PCB) supplier has gone bankrupt, how do I proceed?
We can reverse engineer from the board itself. Please see How to get started.
Our engineer has left the company and no one on staff knows what to do with all of our files.
We can work with the information you have and turn it into industry standard formats. We can also produce prototypes and production quantites of new boards for you.
We have purchased the assets of a company but none of the electronics information survived.
We can recreate the original electronic schematic, bill of materials and gerber file data for you and we can also update the designs saving you time and money.
How do I get started?
Please click here for specific information on how to get started, call us or contact us with your project details!
A node or pin is a connection point on the board whether or not used in the circuit. For instance, a 25 pin connector has 25 nodes (pins) but not all 25 pins may be used in circuit. Or a BGA may have 300 connection points (nodes) but not all points are utilized within a circuit. We still have to check every node.
Is there a minimum price?
Yes, the minimum price is $750.00 regardless of board size or number of nodes.
Can you extract on-board firmware (software imbedded in a micro-controller chip)?
Most of the time the protection bit is set on these programmable processors. This protects the software residing within the processor from being changed or copied. So the answer is usually, no, it can not be downloaded and copied. This would also be a copyright and/or patent violation unless you own the software. There are companies that can do this for you. See Chip Works, Inc.
Got questions? Just give us a call. We'll be happy to discuss your project with you.
See our "How to get Started" page.