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ENA Electronics Blog

Reverse Engineering | Industrial Electronics | Servo Repair

Cloning, Copying + Duplicating ICs + Microcontrollers for Reverse Engineering

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The heart of modern electronics is often a programmed IC (Integrated Circuit) thus the most important step when reverse engineering a PCB is to clone or copy the programmed IC’s. It should be noted that this process is only done after a thorough check to see if the PCB or IC is available, as this is proprietary code + can cause legal issues. You can only proceed given you are not breaching any IP or patents.

 

The concept of programmed IC duplication is to extract the machine code (often called HEX code) from the original programmed circuit + then write this code back onto a new IC which is critical in order to produce a duplicate PCB.

 

As electronics have got more complicated, circuit designers use integrated circuits to simplify + add functionality to a circuit. One example, is the use of Complex Programmable Logic Device (CPLD) to remove dozens of logic gates from a circuit by creating them on one chip thus saving cost time + circuit board real estate.

 

Before the days of microcontrollers circuit designers would use microprocessors, Read Only Memory (ROM) + Random Access Memory (RAM) to do the same thing. The ROM is where the program is stored + when reverse engineering a PCB with ROM on board these ROM’s need to be copied, luckily most universal programmers carry the older types of ROM + the programs are very rarely protected.

 

As technology has advanced Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memories (EEPROM) have appeared, these often are used to store parameters or settings for a microcontroller, in general these can all be read using a universal programmer.

 

Microcontrollers are one of the hardest things to work with when reverse engineering a PCB this is because it is extremely easy to secure/copy protect a microcontroller. Often a designer will secure the device when programming it the first time so that it cannot be read properly by a universal programmer. If this is the case then there are ways around this, however, they are generally quite time consuming + involve manually probing each pin + rewriting the programming. It is very common to find microcontrollers on a PCB next to their programing headers - often these programming headers can give a clue to how the designer programmed the device + can sometimes be used for extracting the firmware. Although there are many microcontrollers on the market the main two microcontroller brands are: PIC microcontrollers which generally use the In Circuit Serial Programming (ICSP) interface + Atmel microcontrollers use the In Circuit Emulator (ICE) header.

 

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA)s are another type of programmed chip that are more common on more costly electronics + generally on newer electronics. FPGAs are often more complicated to duplicate as they normally have proprietary software/hardware suites + are commonly programmed over (Joint Test Action Group) JTAG or with a special programmer + cannot be read using a standard universal programmer.

 

If you need help to duplicate your programmed IC then get in touch, we’d love to help!

Reverse Engineering of PCB's + Electronic Circuit Boards

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Reverse Engineering a printed circuit board (PCB) is a process that takes time, dedication + skill, it certainly isn't for the faint of heart. A simple search online won't give you all the answers you need, to learn the entire process takes years of experience especially for complicated boards + circuits with obsolete components, it requires studying how other people design circuits + knowing exactly why they designed a circuit a certain way.

 

There are many reasons why we would want to reverse engineer a circuit board, one of the biggest reasons is that often factories have multi-million dollar machine systems that can be taken down by one component. Due to the initial cost of these machines they are often used for many years + if the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) goes out of business + the machine is still needed then the factory is stuck with a multi-million dollar machine with no support or ability to repair it. In many situations like this it can be 15, 20, even 30 years after the machine was installed + all that is wrong with the machine is that one or two PCBs need repair or replacement. It's at this point we step in, not only have we got the capability to repair the original board, we can reverse engineer the board allowing the factory to have spare parts + support for what was an obsolete circuit board. Not only that we can upgrade the board adding extra features or changing current features we source currently available parts replacing all obsolete parts with a modern equivalent allowing for easier repair in the future + better support.

 

If required the schematics + board layouts can also be given to the customer in order to ensure that the PCB doesn’t become obsolete in the future. We keep the design files for you meaning that if you ever wish to repeat an order with us we can do it quickly + effectively.

 

We love electronics and are passionate about reverse engineering. Let us talk to you about why you should reverse engineer a circuit board and not just get a new machine!

Meet Our New Logo!

new ena logo

What’s in a name?

Our original logo was designed years ago to represent an emerging name in electronics engineering and automation repair — Ena. Named after the daughter of the company founder, Ena Electronics evolved and, through word of mouth, came to be known simply as the letters E–N–A. Since then, ENA Electronics has become a name synonymous in the industry with quality and knowledge.

The past is often hard to part with but, like our company name, nothing truly disappears — it only evolves. Our new logo embodies that evolution and represents what ENA has become and where we are headed.

It would be our pleasure to share both our history and our future with you.

ENA Old Logo

Old Logo Retired 2016

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