What is Controlled Depth Drilling in PCBs?

What is Controlled Depth Drilling or Back Drilling in PCBs?

PCB Basics 
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Editorial Team - PCB Directory

Sep 8, 2023

In the world of electronics, highly efficient and manufactured Printed Circuit Boards are essential for the proper functioning and reliability of electronic devices and pieces of equipment. However, sometimes the presence of unused portions, or copper barrels in a Thru-Hole can lead to disturbances in electrical signals when they pass through the Copper Layers.

To solve this issue, a new Drilling technique was adopted called Controlled Depth Drilling or Back Drilling. The technique is used to remove the unused portion, or stub, of a copper barrel from a thru-hole in a printed circuit board. In this article, we are going to discuss and understand the concept of Controlled Depth Drilling, while understanding the need for it, and how the process of drilling takes place.


Back Drilling, also known as Controlled Depth Drilling (CDD), is a specialized drilling technique used in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs). It involves the removal of unwanted via stubs or unused portions of vias that penetrate through multiple layers of the PCB. Unlike traditional drilling that goes through the entire board thickness, Back Drilling selectively removes the unused portion of the via from the opposite side of the board, leaving only the desired depth of the via intact.

Purpose and Importance of Controlled Depth Drilling

Back Drilling plays a crucial role in PCB manufacturing, particularly in high-speed and high-frequency applications. Some of the key reasons highlighting the importance and relevance of Back Drilling include:

Unused via stubs act as potential sources of noise and electromagnetic interference (EMI). They are the main cause of signal reflections and minimizing impedance variations. These signal reflections can cause interference, distortions, and signal degradation, while at the same time accounting for inconsistent impedance along transmission lines. For PCBs operation at higher frequencies, even small impedance variations and signal disruptions can significantly impact signal quality. 

The removal of via stubs through Back Drilling reduces the occurrence of signal reflections at the transition points between different layers of the PCB. By eliminating the stubs, Back Drilling reduces the risk of signal degradation, data errors, and timing issues, ensuring reliable and accurate signal transmission. It minimizes the chances of signal coupling and interference, thus improving the overall electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) performance of the PCB. Back Drilling also allows for better impedance control in high-speed PCB designs.

By eliminating the undesired portion of the vias, Back Drilling helps maintain consistent impedance along transmission lines, ensuring impedance matching and reducing impedance variations that can degrade signal quality. It enables the design and manufacturing of PCBs that can handle higher frequencies with improved performance and reduced signal distortions. Finally, Back Drilling provides designers with more flexibility in their PCB layouts by eliminating constraints imposed via stubs. This allows for more efficient use of PCB real estate, optimized routing, and improved design density without compromising signal integrity.

Back Drilling is of paramount importance in PCB manufacturing, especially in high-speed and high-frequency applications. It ensures improved signal integrity, noise reduction, impedance control, and enhanced design flexibility, contributing to the overall performance, reliability, and functionality of PCBs in advanced electronic systems.

How Back Drilling Works?

Back Drilling involves the selective removal of stubs or unused portions of vias in a printed circuit board (PCB). The process typically occurs after the PCB has been fabricated and plated with copper. Here's a simplified explanation of how Back Drilling works:

  • Identification of Target Vias: Designers identify the specific vias that need Back Drilling based on their design requirements and high-speed signal paths.
  • Drilling Equipment Setup: Specialized drilling equipment is used, capable of accurately controlling the depth and removing material from the backside of the PCB. The equipment is typically programmed with the desired drilling parameters.
  • Drill Bit Selection: A drill bit with a diameter slightly larger than the via is selected. The drill bit is specifically designed for Back Drilling, allowing for precise material removal.
  • Back Drilling Process: The PCB is securely positioned on the drilling machine, aligning the drill bit with the target vias. The drill bit penetrates the backside of the PCB and removes the unused portion of the via stub, controlled by the predetermined depth set by the drilling parameters.
  • Verification and Inspection: After Back Drilling, the PCB is thoroughly inspected to ensure the desired amount of material has been removed, and the vias are within the specified depth and accuracy requirements.

Equipment and Tools Used for Back Drilling

Back Drilling requires specialized equipment and tools to ensure accurate and controlled removal via stubs. Following are the typical equipment and tools used in the Back Drilling process:

  1. Back Drilling Machine: A precision drilling machine specifically designed for Back Drilling is used. These machines are equipped with features such as programmable depth control, high spindle speed, and advanced control mechanisms to ensure accurate material removal.
    Back Drilling Machine
  2. Drill Bits: Back Drilling requires drill bits that are designed for this specific purpose. These drill bits have a diameter slightly larger than the vias to be drilled, allowing for precise material removal. They are made of high-speed steel (HSS) or carbide to maintain durability and sharpness.
  3. Collet or Chuck: The drilling machine uses a collet or chuck to securely hold the drill bit in place during the drilling process. It provides stability and minimizes any unwanted movement or vibration that could affect drilling accuracy.
  4. Vision System or Alignment Tool: To ensure precise alignment of the drill bit with the target vias, a vision system or alignment tool may be used. This helps in accurately positioning the drill bit on the backside of the PCB and aligning it with the desired via stubs.
  5. Inspection Tools: After Back Drilling, inspection tools such as microscopes, magnifiers, or optical measurement systems are used to verify the accuracy and depth of the drilled vias. These tools aid in quality control and ensure that the desired material removal has been achieved.

Challenges and Limitations of Back Drilling

Cost Implications and Additional Manufacturing Steps

  • Equipment and Tooling Costs: Implementing Back Drilling requires specialized drilling equipment and drill bits designed for this purpose, which may involve additional costs compared to traditional drilling processes.
  • Process Complexity: Back Drilling introduces an additional step in the PCB manufacturing process, leading to increased production time and potential cost implications.
  • Skill and Expertise: Proper execution of Back Drilling requires skilled operators with expertise in handling the equipment and ensuring accurate material removal. This may require additional training or hiring skilled personnel.

Potential Signal Integrity Issues and Mitigations

  • Signal Reflections: Although Back Drilling aims to reduce signal reflections, improper drilling depths or inaccurate material removal can still result in signal reflections and degradation. Thorough testing and verification are necessary to mitigate this risk.
  • Impedance Variations: Back Drilling should be carefully planned to avoid unintended impedance variations along the transmission lines. Accurate depth control and adherence to design specifications are crucial to maintaining consistent impedance.

Design Complexity and Increased Fabrication Time

  • PCB Layout Considerations: Back Drilling introduces design constraints, such as via placement and spacing requirements to accommodate the drilling process. Designers need to carefully plan the via locations and consider the impact on the overall PCB layout.
  • Manufacturing Challenges: Back Drilling adds complexity to the PCB fabrication process. PCB manufacturers must ensure accurate alignment and control during the drilling process to achieve the desired results, which may require additional time and resources.
  • Iterative Design Process: In complex designs, Back Drilling may require iterative design iterations and testing to fine-tune the drilling depths and ensure optimal signal integrity. This iterative process can extend the overall fabrication time.


Back Drilling, also known as Controlled Depth Drilling, is a critical technique in PCB manufacturing, especially for high-speed and high-frequency applications. It offers several benefits, including improved signal integrity, noise reduction, impedance control, and enhanced design flexibility. By selectively removing via stubs or unused portions of vias, Back Drilling helps ensure reliable and accurate signal transmission while reducing the risk of signal reflections and electromagnetic interference. However, Back Drilling does come with its challenges and limitations, such as cost implications, process complexity, potential signal integrity issues, and increased fabrication time. These challenges can be mitigated through careful planning, skilled execution, thorough testing, and collaboration between designers and manufacturers. Despite the challenges, Back Drilling remains a valuable technique for optimizing PCB performance and enabling advanced electronic systems to operate at higher speeds with enhanced reliability.

Moreover, if you are seeking PCB manufacturers or require PCB components, we recommend visiting PCB Directory, the largest directory of PCB Manufacturers and Fabricators on the Internet. PCB Directory provides comprehensive listings of manufacturers worldwide and valuable resources covering various aspects of PCB design, manufacturing, and testing processes.

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