6 Things to Have in Your Team’s PCB Design Library

Sam Sattel
|  Created: February 21, 2017  |  Updated: October 29, 2020

Components form the building blocks of our Printed Board designs, and making the right component selections can make or break a project’s budget. Are you doing everything you can to ensure that your design is both maintained and updated on a regular basis? More importantly, how are you ensuring that only approved, ready-to-use components are being used in your current PCB designs? Read on as we reveal the 6 things you need to have in your team’s PCB design to ensure a successful printed design process.

1. Single Program for All Design Tasks

Why it Matters

What better way to manage the tens of thousands of components being used by your design team than with a centralized solution? By managing all of your component data in a centralized PCB library, it’s easy to share approved, ready-to-use components with your entire design team without worrying about the use of obsolete PCB components slipping through the cracks.

Everyone on your schematic capture design team can benefit from a centralized component management solution, even those not directly involved in the day-to-day design process. The Altium Designer PCB library provides component approvals, and lifecycle status information to your entire team right when they need it.

Best Practices

There are a few best practices to follow when setting up a centralized PCB library source of integrated data, including:

  • Use standard lifecycle schemes. Data should be entered into the centralized management system with standard and easy-to-follow revision and lifecycle schemes. If these schemes are well-defined from the start, everyone in the design process will see a clear path from design to release.
  • Define a clear organizational structure. A well-organized structure is key to maintaining quality design data in your integrated . An administrator should curate all functions associated with the Altium and ensure strict organization is followed..
  • Make data accessible. Data should be easily accessible to all designers when they need it. This means your should reside on a network drive or dedicated server, and be visible to everyone.

2. Proven Starter

Why it Matters

Making your own components can really start to drain hours from your day. With a typical component taking 15 minutes to create, it can really add up when your design team needs an entire at their disposal. Thankfully with Altium Designer® there’s already 300,000 ready-to-use components in the PCB library. Free design content from Altium Content  will get you up and running with some of the most commonly used printed board components needed for your design.

Best Practices

Each component in our PCB library starter includes a few standard items that are integrated through computer-aided design, and should also be included with any component you create:

  • Graphical data. Schematic symbols, PCB footprints, and accurate 3D models are all part of the visual identity of a component. Additionally, graphical data provides critical information for electrical connectivity, copper geometry, and manufacturing details like solder mask expansions, and component clearances.
  • Parametric data. Parametric information such as passive values, tolerances, and temperature ratings are added to each component. In most traditional libraries, these parametrics are added to the schematic symbol, but adding them at the component level allows for much more reusability and scalability in component creation. This is the metadata that defines the component electrically, or what the engineer cares about.
  • Supplier Chain data. Linking directly to real component suppliers provides needed visibility into the supply chain. Rather than endlessly searching the web for up-to-date vendor information like pricing and quantity, you can include these details in the component at design time, making generation simple and correct the first time.

3. Component Data Integrated from the Web

Why it Matters

How many project budgets have you overblown simply because you didn’t have access to timely and relevant data? It’s not easy to make informed decisions when you aren’t connected to the outside world. With real-time supplier links in Altium Designer, the PCB library has a direct connection to major suppliers, all providing instantaneous updates on the latest pricing and availability data for components so you can make the most informed and price-conscious part selections. When you add the Altium Designer into the mix, you can connect all your engineers to supply chain information at once without having to connect everyone individually. That way your PCB layout process stays on schedule and experiences fewer human errors.

Best Practices

Choosing a supplier for each part can be tricky, especially considering the amount of information provided by each vendor. There are a few key categories to watch for when choosing a part supplier for your integrated library (or in general), including:

  • Pricing data. Unsurprisingly, pricing is the most important factor when choosing a supplier. Prices update fairly often based on a number of factors, so it’s important to have a real-time link to the schematic library when generating a bill of materials.
  • Bulk discounts. Price breaks are offered at certain order quantities (100, 1000, etc...), and can greatly affect the overall price of a production run.
  • Availability. Available stock also plays a role when choosing a supplier and PCB editor. If the vendor does not offer enough stock for a particular component, the decision is easy, but vendors might have lead times and immediate availability variables to consider as well.

4. A Method for Maintaining an Up-To-Date Part

Why it Matters

It's not uncommon for the CAD Librarian to take awhile updating on a much-needed component for your current PCB design. The PCB library in Altium Designer allows you to intelligently connect components, symbols, and footprints together. When symbols or footprints are updated in Altium Designer by your CAD Librarians, designers can automatically be notified in Altium Designer to quickly sync component data.

Best Practices

In Altium Designer, the Item Manager provides a clear picture of exactly where and when components need to be updated throughout your designs. Just like management, there are a few best practices that will keep your designs up to date, including:

  • Consistent revision and lifecycle schemes. It’s essential that component software revision and lifecycle schemes are consistent, easy to follow, and are set up correctly from the start. As designs age and require updating, having predictable lifecycles states with logical tasks to follow in the Item Manager will save you hours in the long run.
  • Consistent component revisions. Consistency in the design of different component revisions can save you lots of rework as well. Simple things like keeping symbol sizes and pin orientations the same from one revision to the next will prevent significant modification down the line.
  • Consistent approval process. Having an approvals process in place (likely through an administrator) will prevent inconsistencies from travelling downstream. Much of this work is automated by setting a standard component design workflow and template.

5. Easy Footprints Creation

Why it Matters

Probably the biggest time sink for designers is quickly creating an accurate of footprints for their printed board. This process generally involves finding dozens or hundreds of datasheets from different component manufacturers, and gaining enough information from those to make quality footprints. But what about all the other information not included in those datasheets? What about following the best design practices and international standards like those from IPC?

The IPC-Compliant Footprint Wizard cuts out a huge amount of time from footprint creation, and accounts for all the best practice and industry standard details of footprint design. Even if a datasheet only includes the minimum dimensioning and parametric information, the wizard fills in the rest based on proven and standardized component package information.

Best Practices

It’s good design practice to include a few key items in each footprint, and these are included when generating from the IPC-Compliant Footprint Wizard:

  • Pad dimensions and spacing. Many times, the only details included in a datasheet are pad dimensions and spacing. Since Altium will automatically generate solder mask expansions from these pads, that may be enough to fabricate, but certainly will not produce an optimal result.
  • Courtyards. Courtyards are used to define the outer boundary of a component, and will help ensure proper clearance between components. Adding a courtyard and an additional designator to a specified layer helps when it comes time to generate an assembly drawing.
  • STEP models. 3D component bodies are essential when dealing with mechanical constraints. Even with just an extruded body based on the component’s dimensions and height, mechanical clearance checking can be performed. STEP models improve the process even more, and provide greater overall accuracy.

6. Tools for Third-Party Migration

Why it Matters

Integrated libraries are truly a great asset in the PCB design process, and the prospect of losing those when moving to a new PCB layout design tool is not very appealing. Altium Designer includes importers for your old PCB design tools such as PADS®, xDxDesigner® and EAGLE, ensuring that transitioning to our design platform is a seamless process. All schematic symbol, PCB footprint, and parametric information is included, so you can pick up right where you left off with your libraries.

Best Practices

Use these best practices when setting up your libraries before importing them to Altium Designer:

  • Anatomy of a component. A component is broken down into three basic items: a symbol, a footprint, and a “component” item. At the top, the component item sets that component’s parametric data.
  • Component re-use. The component item simply contains links to symbol and footprint items, and each of those are nothing more than graphical data. Setting up a component this way means that symbols and footprints are highly reusable (i.e. a resistor symbol can be used for every resistor, and a 14-pin SOIC can be used for every component with that footprint).
  • Managing duplicate data. Duplicate and invalid data is commonplace in a traditional management system. In a proper data management system like the Altium, this item separation provides a much more manageable and scalable component system.

That covers the 6 things you need to have in your team’s PCB design. Have a suggestion or strategy on how you can make a design even better? Let us know in the comments!


PADS® and xDxDesigner® are trademarks of Mentor Graphics Corporation.

EAGLE is a trademark of CadSoft Computer GmbH.

About Author

About Author

Sam currently serves as the Director of Technical Marketing at Altium and has grown throughout the company in a variety of positions over the past 15 years. He started his journey in engineering at Sony as a Mechanical Engineer, and has held positions in board design, sales, and product management at various organizations.

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