PCB Design Process: The EDA Design Approach

November 17, 2017


The electronic design automation (EDA) approach, which is also referred to as the electronic computer-aided design (ECAD) approach, is composed of a series of software tools that are used to execute and complete the electronic system design process. These systems can include printed circuit boards (PCBs) as well as integrated circuits (ICs).


When considering product development for printed circuit boards, a toolchain with a wide array of dissimilar tools may be used. Typically, one will have a schematic capture tool which acts as its own executable. The intention of this tool is to capture the electrical connectivity as well as the design intent. The resulting output of the schematic tool is a netlist that will then be imported into a potentially contrasting PCB tool. After the layout and design of the board has been captured, the next step is to generate the assembly and fabrication information. This allows the designer to evaluate the information against the design rules by using a dissimilar CAM editor. The transfer of the design from the PCB to the CAM editor is usually in the Gerber and NC drill format, but IPC 2581, Gerber X2 and ODV++ are also available, and the specific design format is insignificant.



The primary issue of the EDA design process is the separation of the individual pieces of software, each of which has its own .EXE file as well as its own unique issues and limitations. Additionally, the EDA approach also comes with certain challenges that create obstacles for the user. For Altium designers, for example, the EDA approach requires most to edit their netlists by hand in order to import them into their respective dissimilar PCB tools. A more dramatic example is an instance where the user captured the design intent of the product and then transferred it to their PCB designer over netlists. On discovery that the PCB designer was three-quarters of the way finished with the design, the user realized that parts needed to be bought in order to build a prototype. After generating a bill of materials (BOM) and passing it over to the procurement department, the department obtained all but two of the necessary parts, which was due to unavailability of the specifications. In order to ensure that all parts were perfected, a different cooper and pattern was put down by the PCB designer and the prototype was a success. However, their mistake still remained after the revised design failed to be pushed to the schematic editor, resulting in the accidental purchase of over 10,000 units of two different parts that didn’t fit on the board.



A better and more efficient approach can be found with Altium. Altium Designer utilizes a unified design platform that features editors for each of the design domains involved in the product development process. This system is built on the DXP platform (design explorer platform), and the DXP has every editor for each step of the design process built into it. This guarantees the presence of a schematic editor as well as a symbol library editor for SCH libs. This system also has a spice engine that is built over the top of the schematic editor that runs on Berkeley build 3F5 and also offers support for p-spice, x-spice and Berkeley spice models.


The Altium Designer system also includes a PCB domain that has a PCB editor associated with a PCB library editor. There is also an MCAD domain built over the top of the PCB editor. Additionally, there is a 3D model feature built into in the footprint of the PCB library that allows for a 3D view of the board once the design is transferred to the PCB domain. A 3D model of the enclosure can also be brought directly to the PCB editor domain. This allows the user to fit the board into the enclosure, evaluate it for proper fitment and screen to certify that there will be no collisions between the components of the board and the enclosures. The DXP platform supports database libraries, supply chain information and output generation. All of these editors have been built into a single platform and even includes the CAM editor as the final process. Altium Designer is an application that allows users to more efficiently and accurately complete their designs, as it supports all the editors needed for the entire design process. This also allows users to do away with many hassles, such as the generation of netlists from schematics, importation into similar tools and much more. In addition, all of the graphical user interfaces (GUI) for each of the editors are consistent and house similar features in the same places on the toolbar in order to both maximize productivity and prevent ambiguity in the design process.

Would you like to learn more about how Altium Designer can help streamline your PCB design process?  Talk to an expert at Altium. 




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