There is an intersection not too far from where I live that causes a lot of confusion. It’s a three-way intersection in the shape of a “T”, and yet only one branch of the “T” has a stop sign on it. I don’t know why it was built this way or why it hasn’t been corrected, but the results are often dangerous. People waiting at the stop sign who aren’t familiar with the intersection tend to assume that the other two branches have stop signs as well, and will get really frustrated when the other drivers don’t stop. After a while they often just “go for it”. The lack of clear instructions can be really confusing when you are trying to figure out if you should trust that the person at the stop sign will wait for you as they should, or if they will blast out in front of you.
It can be just as confusing when we send a printed circuit board design to our manufacturer without clear instructions. A recent report says that CAM departments estimate that more than 80% of designs from new customers are inaccurate or incomplete causing quick conferences to keep the job from being put on hold. The trick then is being able to send good usable PCB design data to our manufacturers so that our jobs will get built correctly, and that starts with generating reliable manufacturing drawings and bill of materials data. If you’ve been wondering how best to do this, here’s some ideas on where you can start.
Automate, automate, automate
One of the biggest problems with manufacturing drawings is that no two drawings seem ever to be the same. Although this is expected from different design groups and for different products, it gets very frustrating for the manufacturer who gets varied drawings for the same board. On one version of the board the drawing will be presented one way, and then on the next version, the drawing will look different. This leads to manufacturing slowdowns and questions.
A great way to beat this is to automate your drawing creation process. Many PCB design CAD systems offer tools that will automate a portion of or all of the manufacturing drawings. By setting up a template you can be sure that the next drawing for the same job will be formatted and stylized the same way. Additionally, these same automated drawing tools will update the drawings when the design changes, allow you to quickly add notes, views, and charts as needed and are simple to use. Not only will tools like these help you to create good reliable manufacturing data, but they will help you to get through the drawing creation phase sooner with better results.
The Draftsman tool in Altium Designer lets you automate your drawing creation process
Accurate and Up To Date BOM Data
Another problem with the manufacturing data that we as designers send to our vendors is that our bill of materials (BOM) data may be incorrectly formatted or simply out of date. The old-fashioned method of manually creating a BOM spreadsheet is prone to error in that it is totally dependent on human manipulation to get it right. Not only does the BOM need to be manually formatted or run through some sort of process to get it to look right, but it must be checked and cross-checked to make sure that its data matches what is actually on the board. Most PCB CAD systems do have a system of generating an initial BOM report from the database, but too often the BOM then relies on manual updates for design changes resulting in incorrect data.
The better method is to use a BOM tool that is integrated within the PCB design system so that it works with the component data instead of being a simple generation tool. There are BOM tools today that will allow you to interact with the BOM data from either the schematic or the layout, and will automatically be updated with design changes on the fly. These tools also will have built-in cloud connections that will allow you to synchronize with your preferred vendors so that you are selecting parts for your design based on their availability and cost. With complete formatting features built-in, you can also use these BOM tools to create the bill of materials report so that it is stylized the way your manufacturers need it.
Altium Designer’s Active BOM connects you with your parts online for up-to-date information
Drive Your Design Data, Don’t Let it Drive You
There is one powerful PCB design CAD system where all of these features are already at work for PCB designers everywhere. Altium Designer is PCB design software that has both the automated drawing and bill of materials features that we’ve been talking about built in for its users. With Draftsman you will be able to auto-generate precision manufacturing drawings that look the same each time.
Don’t worry about BOM structure, product data, or components getting confused when sending your design through to fabrication and manufacturing. Whether working with raw materials or with components, trust the real-time collaboration of your computer-aided design program. Trust Altium Designer to get your product where it needs to go and to further encourage its product development. With Active BOM you will have the confidence that your bill of materials is accurate and up to date based on real-time information from your component vendors.
If this sounds like a solution that would work for you, find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.
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