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    Advancements in Electronic Component Management

    John Watson
    |  October 13, 2019

    In this volatile business of ours, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels, even to pause in retrospect. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.

    - Walt Disney


    I stood at the large hospital window looking out at the early evening sky. I could see several stories below just a small section of the nearby freeway. As typical for the late hour, the traffic was at a standstill, with its natural river of red tail lights. I had already been patiently waiting several hours for any word on my friend Tracy who was in surgery. I had never liked hospitals; there was just something about them that never sat well with me. It might have been the almost deafening silence with only the occasional page looking for a wayward doctor, or maybe it was the strange smells. However, more than anything, it was what seemed to be the endless boredom—the constant battle to keep my mind engaged and protecting myself from going stir crazy. Strolling back to the waiting room, past the now familiar vending machines which I had become good friends with, where I had my eye on the lone granola bar that no one had yet taken. 

    Reaching the waiting room and sitting down my mind gravitated to reflecting on the long journey that had brought me to this point. You see, Tracy had suffered for many years from a debilitating disease, which began to affect her hearing and ultimately resulted in her being completely deaf. Watching this slow march into silence, she had handled it with the grace and eloquence that anyone could expect. She had gone through the classes to learn American Sign Language (ASL), and she could communicate rather well. However, I knew it was challenging for her. She missed not being able to hear. Fortunately, the opportunity arose to reverse her condition and, getting a new lease on life; she jumped at the chance. You see, this surgery was for a cochlear implant. 

    A Cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Not to be confused with hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of injured parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals directly to the brain. In basic terms, it is a bionic ear.

    Although this surgery had been something for which we’d been preparing for over a year; it did not help to lessen my worry. I knew there was always a certain level of risk with every surgery. Nevertheless, my worries were mixed with a sense of joy and excitement over what was happening in that operating room. I was witnessing a modern-day miracle. A completely deaf person was getting back their hearing. How amazing is that?

    Surprisingly, this was not a new technology. The first cochlear implant was invented in 1961 by William House. They were somewhat popular during the 1970s and the 1980s, but because of their high cost, were not an option for many. It wasn’t until advancements were made in the medical sciences and in the field to which I have dedicated my own life—electronics and specifically PCB Design—that the cost of these devices was reduced enough to be a possibility for the general masses.

    My contemplation was interrupted by the approaching footsteps of the doctor coming down the hall. Looking up, the smile on his face told me the answer to my burning question. He let me know the good news that everything went perfectly and Tracy was being moved over to recovery. 

    The Sky's the Limit

    I know this is a rather strange way to start a “technical document”. However, when you consider how electronics has affected our lives, from the very moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, our lives are being influenced by electronics. There have been non-stop advancements in electronic devices and the underlying sciences driving this entire field. I believe some for good, as for my friend Tracy, for others not so much. Go to any mall food court and watch people. Everyone is on a screen of some kind. Unmistakably clear is the fact that we have lost the art of communicating and interrelating with each other. These advancements in electronics which were to bring us together, in reality, have isolated us into our private electronic realities. Where screen names, emojis and text Message Abbreviations are par for the course. My only response to that is OMG, LOL. (Will get off my soapbox now).

    Challenges for the Future

    To quote Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” As the demands on the electronic industry have increased, any lack of work for the foreseeable future is not a problem. The expected growth of electronics devices in just the next few years are at astronomical levels hinging on the unbelievable. 

    There is no sign of an end to the insatiable hunger people have for anything “high tech”. Everyone wants the latest gadget, and cost is no object. For the Engineers and PCB designers, those new gadgets come with a considerable challenge. How do you make things smaller, sleeker, faster and most importantly, keep it all on schedule?

    Faster Time from Concept to Market

    Without a full understanding of what is involved, the big question management has is “WHEN” can we get the new product and get it onto the market? However, directly connected, and I would contend more critically, is the issue of ‘speed is accuracy.’ Because, what is the point of putting out a product only to have it be of low quality? 

    With these ever-increasing demands on our entire industry, it is not business as usual. These demands have forced the industry to examine what and how they are doing things—to make sure that everything is correct because there is neither the money nor the time to “respin” a product. ‘Get it right the first time’ has become the mantra.

    Library Management 

    All this only heightens the importance of library management. The very lifeblood of every single device—the Printed Circuit Board—is inherently only as good as the components used. The control of those components in an organized and sustainable way assures quality, integrity and design repeatability. It is not an understatement when I say that I have experienced fatal issues and problems with PCB designs. I would define those as having problems that were so severe that the completion of the PCB design could not proceed and would most likely be abandoned. Those failed boards were directly related to managing the individual components in the library. In a way, this is a good thing, because it is an issue that can be controlled and ultimately solved. 

    With the inescapable challenges ahead for our industry, the professionalism of the people working in this area never ceases to amaze me. With whatever difficulties arise they answer each problem with the same response, ‘I can do that.’ The “Can Do Attitude” with their focus on the future. That is half the battle right there. With that sort of confidence, no wonder we are seeing modern-day miracles like the Cochlear implant; and giving hearing to the deaf. 

    Without a doubt, I believe that if these principles are followed, the fatal issues and errors on designs will not just be reduced but shall disappear entirely. My hope is to provide the needed tools to either create or improve your Library Management. Perhaps you will be motivated to take on the challenges of the industry and forge a more prosperous tomorrow. 

    Chapter-1 Introduction

    With the ever-increasing challenges of the electronics industry, an essential tool to meet those challenges is a good PCB Library and a good Management system.

    Chapter-2 PCB Library 101

    Covers the basics of PCB Library Management. With a look at the definition and importance of such a library. What does that library represent for the company? I’ll give you a little hint; either a profit or a loss. Looking deeper into the library structure we see that data is either static or dynamic. 

    We look at the various types of PCB libraries and how they are used in PCB designs. It will include the pros and cons for each library type and will take up the issue of integration for the PCB Library to a company wide PLM system.

    Chapter-3 S.M.A.R.T. Rule First Pillar Singularity 

    Introduction to the principle of the S.M.A.R.T. rule regarding Library Management and introduces the first pillar of Singularity. Here we see that the beginning, and usually the biggest pitfall that we fall into, is trying to design PCBs with multiple rogue libraries and how futile that is. Looking at the available Altium tools to assure the Singularity in the Libraries. 

    Chapter-4 S.M.A.R.T. Rule Second Pillar- Managed

    Once we have established our single library, it’s time to examine what is meant by managed data and what the warning signs are that you no longer have control of the Library. Specifically, what would be the management plan for the library? We’ll discuss Revision, Permissions, Roles, and Lifecycles plans, and how to handle the problem of deprecating components. 

    Chapter-5 S.M.A.R.T. Rule Third Pillar- Architecture 

    We’ll discuss in detail the physical structure of the library and the best configuration allowing for expansion. As a company grows, it is vital that a PCB library grows with it. A short discussion on a plan to handle discretes, both creating them, using component templates and how to handle the various sizes available. 

    Chapter-6 S.M.A.R.T. Rule Fourth Pillar- Reviewable

    What specific steps are required to review the library to ensure that it is correct and not introduce problems into the design process? Which sources would be referred to in order to provide as much data as possible and assure that the component is correct? 

    Chapter-7 S.M.A.R.T. Rule Fifth Pillar- Traceable

    This pillar could be better described as the ongoing review of the Data to continually improve it with each design. What exactly is the goal of the ‘Traceable’ area? What specific reports should be considered so as to allow a self-explanatory picture of the ongoing quality of each and every component?

    The Circle of Success

    The path of success in PCB design is not a straight line but rather a circle. Review those steps and how the Verification and Validation process is used to improve on the library continually. 

    Chapter-8 Conclusion

    Closing thoughts.

    Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you with your next PCB design? Talk to an expert at Altium or learn more about real-time PCB Components List Management with Altium Designer®.

    About Author

    About Author

    With nearly 40 years in the Electronic industry with 20 of them being in the field of PCB Design and engineering, John has stayed on the cutting edge of the PCB industry as a designer/Engineer and more recently as a trainer and mentor. His primary work has been in the Manufacturing field but it has also expanded to several PCB Service arenas. As a veteran, he proudly served in the Army in the Military Intelligence field. John is a CID Certified PCB designer. Presently pursuing his Advance CID certification. Now as the Senior PCB engineer at Legrand Inc, he leads the PCB Designers and Engineers in various divisions across the United States and China.

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