Using Configuration Management to Reduce Design Errors and Promote Re-use: Part 1

April 12, 2016 Max Clemons

 

A Configuration Management system can be used, along with an existing Design Data Management system, to further promote good data integrity. So just what is Configuration Management, and how can the general principles be applied to an electronic design environment? This blog series aims to answer some of the common questions surrounding this topic, as well as provide a basic framework for easily integrating a useful Configuration Management system.

A[a] well-structured Design Data Management system can go a long way to ensure data integrity throughout a design. By strictly controlling each document during the design process, and keeping a comprehensive record of changes and approvals over that design’s lifetime, the chance of a costly failure can be reduced significantly.

 

A Configuration Management system can be used, along with an existing Design Data Management system, to further promote good data integrity. So just what is Configuration Management, and how can the general principles be applied to an electronic design environment? This blog series aims to answer some of the common questions surrounding this topic, as well as provide a basic framework for easily integrating a useful Configuration Management system.

 

What is Configuration Management?

 

Configuration Management (CM) has been developed and standardized across several industries. Most notably, applications where high-reliability is critical, such as military/defense, aerospace, and medical technologies, have fully utilized and benefitted from the adoption of CM. The idea behind the system is simple: by controlling who can make changes, and what changes they can make, a strict organizational structure with checks on critical design elements is established.

 

This may sound strikingly similar to the concept of Design Data Management (DDM), and in fact, the two are complimentary. The difference lies in which types of data items are managed. As shown in Figure 1, DDM is applied to documents directly used to develop a product, which for an electronic design, would include such items as Schematic and PCB documents, Library components, and generated outputs. CM, on the other hand, affects items one level removed. Specifically, this refers to the tools directly used to create those Design Documents, i.e. software and environment configurations.

 

Figure 1: Managed Configuration Items are applied during the creation of Managed Design Documents. Both are vital aspects of a product’s lifecycle.

 

How Does Configuration Management Save Cost?

 

There are a few key ways a CM system can help save cost, after the initial setup. It’s important to understand that implementing a CM system will help streamline any design process, ultimately saving time and money in the long run, but this is not its primary benefit. CM’s true value lies in its ability to significantly reduce the chance of a product’s failure after development.

 

Document Templates

Standardized documentation is the first step in creating a useful CM system. If a consistent set of templates are provided and enforced, it is virtually guaranteed that each design will meet your organization’s pre-configured set of standards.

 

Output Options

Like templates, pre-configured and standardized output options will help ensure consistent documentation. Properly setting up a generic set of output options, applicable to every design, means that a redundant task can be eliminated from each design cycle.

 

Software Preferences

Controlling each user’s environment, by restricting and managing their preferences, promotes consistency during a design.

 

Simply being consistent with these settings and configurations is a good way to improve design cycle operations, but it does not create a true enterprise-level CM system. A proper CM system adheres to the same guidelines as DDM, which includes dividing users into roles based on their function, and granting access controls for each user role. Furthermore, Configuration Items, like Design Documents, must follow a consistent revision and lifecycle scheme, with a system of checks and approvals in place for promoting data from design to production. These topics will be covered in more detail later in this blog series.

 

Configuration Management with Altium Designer

 

Vault technology is Altium’s system for DDM, and the the Team Configuration Center (TC2) introduces an enterprise-level toolset for Configuration Management. TC2 (shown in Figure 2) allows specific Configuration Data (Preferences, Schematic Templates, and Output Jobs) to be controlled and managed for users in the same way as other Vault items. When users working in an Enterprise Environment open Altium Designer, they will be required to log in, and their configuration will be accessed immediately.

 

Figure 2: TC2 interface showing environment configuration data, including Preferences, Schematic Templates, and Output Jobs

 

At this point, users will no longer be able to freely modify their Preferences, nor will they be able to access Schematic Templates and Output Jobs other than those allowed by their Environment Configuration. This ensures that the Altium Designer environment, like the documents created in AD, will meet a certain standard and level of data integrity.

 

Later in this blog series, I’ll discuss how to organize users into useful roles, the criteria for determining access controls, and some basic suggestions for setting up and formatting configuration documents.

[a]Title ideas:

  1. "How to reduce Design Respins through Configuration Management"
  2. "Using Configuration Management to eliminate design errors and promote re-use"
  3. "Reduce Design Spins and Promote Re-Use with Holistic Configuration Management"
  4. "Introduction to Configuration Management and TC2"
 

About the Author

Biography

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