Sayonara Input Errors: PCB Component Management Software and Tool Commonality

December 11, 2017 Altium Designer

Picture of tiles on a wall with one tile out of place




I will confess that I can be just a little OCD, but my son has me beat. One year I installed some CO2 detectors in my house that ended up being crooked. It wasn’t worth the effort to re-install them so I left them as they were. While I was on vacation my son found the crooked detectors, took a picture of them, and texted the picture to me demanding to know why I would allow this. If his shower had the misaligned tile that you see in the picture above, it would drive him nuts until he could remodel the entire bathroom.


While my son’s reaction seems to be on the extreme end, most people prefer a certain amount of organization and commonality in their everyday lives. This is especially true for those of us who use PCB design software. For years we’ve had to deal with the disparities between different CAD tools and interfaces. These differences can go way beyond simple annoyances though, they can actually hurt productivity and help create errors in our work.


Fortunately, there are CAD tools available today that are designed to look and operate similarly to other tools by the same software vendor. This unified design approach to PCB design software offers a lot of advantages. Working within a unified design environment can make your communication more effective and easier, keep your component and tool management clear, and free up much of the mental energy dedicated for organization. Quit stressing over your software inconsistencies.  

Commonality Between the Schematic and Layout Applications

For years there was a major difference between how schematic capture applications looked and worked compared to PCB layout applications. The schematics were often installed on personal computers while the layout tools were available only on complex Unix systems. Even when the hardware platform was standardized for both applications, the user interfaces were often still very different from each other.


Design engineers would spend months in development using spreadsheets and other engineering tools on personal computers. Then, when they had to create the schematic, they found that it was difficult to remember how to use their complex schematic capture tool. This opened the door to delays and errors in schematic creation as engineers found that they were re-training themselves every time they created a new schematic.


By creating both the schematic and the layout tools to look and work in a similar manner within the same unified design environment, these problems are resolved. Design engineers use tools with a similar user interface to their other engineering tools. With access to both the schematic and the layout tools within the same application, both design engineers and layout designers can easily switch back and forth between tools as needed.



Funny clueless guy having troubles with his laptop.

Jumping between different applications can be confusing when trying to create a schematic



Keeping Manufacturing Output File Generation Simple

Older layout tools didn’t have the functionality to create the level of detail required by manufacturing in the fabrication and assembly drawings. To get around this you would have to export the graphics from the layout system into a drafting system in order to create the drawings. Other output files, like the pick and place file, would have to be extracted and edited manually in order to get the correct format to the manufacturer.


Today’s CAD systems with a unified design environment have eliminated these types of problems. When generating manufacturing output files with PCB design software, unified design environments can be useful by enabling configuration and file generation in the same location. Fabrication and assembly drawings are created in the same unified design environment from the layout data.


Computer keyboard with “Don’t Panic” key highlighted in blue 

A unified design environment can remove the panic of using multiple applications



Manage All Aspects of Your Design with Ease

Typically PCB design tools will capture the schematic, layout the board, and then prepare output files. After those tasks are done, the work of the design tools is usually considered as completed. As you know though, there’s a lot more that needs to happen in order to get your PCB design manufactured correctly. Parts need to be researched and ordered, inventory needs to be tracked, and the correct and up-to-date bill of materials needs to be made available to the manufacturer.


Here is where bill of materials (BOM) management tools can really compliment the CAD tools for your PCB design. BOM management tools will connect everyone together through a real-time live system. Engineering can research and request the parts they need through the same system that purchasing will use to order the parts. Changes to the BOM from a design change will be immediately updated to all departments ensuring that the correct parts will be ordered and ready for assembly. Using BOM management tools can eliminate the time spent on preparing paper reports while reducing the chance for data entry errors.


Does the creation of electronic documentation with BOM management tools as part of your total unified PCB design system sound like a helpful solution to you? If so, then Altium’s BOM tools might be the answer that you are looking for. Find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.

About the Author

Altium Designer

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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