Strength of BOM Applications for Everything from Hobby Boards to Large Systems

July 4, 2018 Altium Designer

Cartoon of construction workers building a PCB in  application

I’m currently building a new tool shed and I was fortunate enough to find some plans for exactly what I need. Or at least I thought that I was fortunate until I started noticing some errors in the plans. At one point it instructed me to cut two door headers to a precise measurement, but that measurement was wrong and the headers ended up too short for assembly. I must confess, I may have uttered a few choice words concerning those shed plans on my way back to the home improvement store to re-purchase more lumber.

When you are building a printed circuit board (or even a shed), there is nothing more important than having the correct bill of materials to work with. Whether you are designing a hobby board for a weekend project or creating a monstrous system design with thousands of intricate details, the last thing that you need is incorrect or missing data that could jeopardize your build. You need a application that will give you a correct materials list in a format that you can work with. Here are some ideas to consider when it comes to your bill of materials.


A Bill of Materials is Pointless if it Can’t be Used

The most important thing to keep in mind with a bill of materials is that if it is in a format that you can’t use, then there isn’t any point to it. Yes, you could spend time reformatting it by hand, but we should be long past the time where someone is required to spend hours cutting and pasting rows and columns of information just to make a usable. A good quality application should allow you to configure the materials information by whatever criteria you need:

  • Sorted by part numbers
  • Sorted by reference designators
  • Formatted so that each part is on its own line
  • Grouping together by attributes

These are just some of the different ways that you might want to configure the display of components information in your bill of materials. There are many other ways to sort and format the data, and the application you use should be able to conform to your needs. Manufacturing can be difficult enough already with the hordes of component choices and components information out there, on top of getting production to coincide with your device.

Another feature of a good bill of materials application is that it should give you a wide range of output options. You would expect of course that it will print a hard copy of your bill of materials or create a text file, and there should be other output formats available as well. Some examples of that would be web page or spreadsheet formats. Another bonus would be being able to apply custom spreadsheet templates to further optimize your output.

Screenshot of old  text output mockup in  application

If this is all that comes to mind for a application, it’s time to consider new possibilities


Compatibility with Your PCB Design System

As part of your PCB design system, it is important that your application is fully integrated into the entire system. Some bill of materials generators only work with the PCB layout tools leaving you hanging if you need a preliminary from your schematic. A good application should be part of the entire PCB design system giving you access to your part data whenever you need it, whether you are in the schematic or the layout of your design.

Additionally, a good application should offer tools that can help with your design and not just serve as a report generator. The part data that you are extracting a bill of materials from is another key portion of your design. Many applications now are designed to give you access to that data so that you can search through it, edit it, and select it in addition to the usual function of creating a materials list report.

Screenshot of AD18 cross select from  to schematic in  application

Cross selecting a part on the schematic by selecting it within the application


The Best Application Will Do It All

From helping you with your part selections all the way through providing you with the formatting options that you need, the best applications can do all of this for you. applications have become much more than simple report generators, and if you aren’t using yours to its fullest extent see what else it can help you with. No matter what size design you are working on or what its purpose is, using a full-featured application can make all of the difference.

We have found that using Active in Altium gives us all of the benefits I’ve described plus much more. Active has a cloud connection so that we can get real-time component data and information from our part vendors on those that we are selecting for our design. Active also serves as another design portal alongside the schematic capture and PCB layout applications within Altium . This allows us to cross-select from Active into the schematic or layout and has been a great help during our design reviews.

Altium is advanced PCB design software, and Active is an important part of the overall Altium system. If you are struggling with generating your bill of materials, then perhaps Active is just what you have been looking for. In addition to Active , there are lots of other tools with powerful features within Altium that can help you with your PCB designs. 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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