I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to be a software engineer. I want software that does routine tasks in the background, leaving me to focus on creative activities. Leaving behind rote demands moves my day into dealing with higher-level details like how electricity flows through components. That’s why I’ve ditched ORCAD Bill of Materials software and moved on to Altium’s ActiveBOM.
Making Bills of Materials for circuit board assemblies forces you to deal with tons of historical software-related baggage. Moving from hand-written lists to Lotus 1-2-3 and into much more sophisticated spreadsheet programs has taken time. In the early days, it was necessary to be part hardware engineer and part software engineer. Wrangling data with delimiters was a common daily activity that pulled engineers away from hardware characterization in the lab. With time away from validation efforts, project schedules suffered.
Project schedules were also impacted by procurement departments stressing about sourcing and costing parts. They, too, were forced to use newly-developed software management systems to log Bills of Materials for all the corporate products offered on the market. Days and months were spent not only working the inventory but also wrangling the software to ensure component data details were available. Engineers scrambled to get specific information to procurement so the correct parts were ordered. In summary, it was a mess that urgently needed attention.
Details, Details, and More Details
Many PCB assemblies contain a plethora of components. Such abundance requires recordkeeping, beginning with the vendor part number. When pencil drawings move into schematics, each part is assigned a reference designator to denote its unique position in the assembly’s final order. At each reference designator on the schematic, there exists a part symbol. It is here in PCB assembly software where locations exist to insert parametric data. And parametric data is vast, incorporating functional specifications along with dimensioning and manufacturing details.
Use ActiveBOM to locate part numbers with sourcing and costing
Millions of parts may be sourced from the world’s market due to design demand. Keeping track of the inventory is daunting. And keeping track of just one PCB assembly’s parts is a chore. There are more than 20 details forming each part’s identifiers used differently in each corporate department’s mandate. Hardware design engineers must provide each of these details to every department in a form usable for respective partners.
To deliver a reliable design, part parameters such as impedance, or total power dissipation, must be chosen carefully. To meet dimensional constraints, parts must be sourced in specific packaging. To meet stringent qualification test requirements, reliability features must be present. For corporate budgets, parts must be readily available and well-priced.
I’ll Take Easy and Intuitive
It is the hardware design engineer’s responsibility to communicate each and every detail to corporate partners. Partners include mechanical engineers, reliability engineers, quality engineers, test engineers, PCB layout designers, procurement professionals, manufacturing teams, and vendors for fabrication and assembly. The databases holding information for one part are numerous and exquisite communication channels require intricate management.
Sourcing the requisite components for a board doesn’t start from scratch. Moving from PCB layout, software should be able to update in real-time supplier information and deliver accurate models from schematic to outputs. PCB layout should integrate smoothly within the circuit board workflow into production and an engineer shouldn’t have to spend hours within a PCB library.
Each and every detail fills an alphabet of columns in spreadsheet software. Once details are captured, they may change. Each change affects other documents within the enterprise and clear communication requires shared databases. Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been the case. Fortunately, we are moving from disjointed databases spread across delimited spreadsheets into unified software able to process gargantuan collections of data before presenting it to you in a simple and usable way.
Keep It Simple and Move On
These days, intelligent PCB software programs are populating every corner of a PCB design container with component information. Originating with first placement onto the schematic and propagating through to PCB layout designers and into enterprise databases, every piece is connected. Designers and partners no longer need to keep intricate spreadsheets subject to version control catastrophes. PCB librarians no longer serve as gatekeepers to keeping information updated for all partners in the design team.
ActiveBOM keeps component tracking simple
Hardware design engineers no longer need to prepare first-look BOMs in spreadsheets requiring delimiters to list the data. There is no longer a need to walk or email datasheets to PCB librarians for input into separately maintained parts databases. The need to put on a software engineer’s hat to get intricate BOM information to procurement partners or assembly houses has become obsolete with Altium’s unified PCB software platform.
The future is here with Altium Designer’s ActiveBOM. ActivBOM sources from a worldwide database of components holding all the necessary details for each partner in one place. Components used from the Content Vault contain complete information about each part placed from its location. Custom parts may be produced and edited in the Properties Panel, which information is ported to ActiveBOM.
Within ActiveBOM’s interface users are able to find and display sourcing information for commonly-used parts such as resistors and capacitors. This gives your procurement partners real-time information for sourcing and costing. Running a Bill of Materials is easy from the pulldown menu, and the editor produces a spreadsheet within the unified environment where columns and rows may be rearranged with drag and drop.
We have Altium Designer’s software engineers to thank for keeping a complex job simple to the user. And the user is able to keep partners happy with instant access to documentation and information for use in project planning and budgeting.
If you’d like to know more, talk to an Altium expert.
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