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    Agile Product Lifecycle Management Methods in PCB Design

    Zachariah Peterson
    |  August 7, 2019

    PLM on keyboard

    Supercharge your productivity with agile product lifecycle management

    Any industry that relies heavily on new technologies must frequently reinvent itself and address product obsolescence. Every piece of technology has a finite lifecycle that ends due to obsolescence or malfunction. Electronics and the PCBs that support them are no different; components on PCBs eventually wear out and malfunction, or the product can no longer compete with a competitor’s product. In both cases, a new version of a product needs to be produced if a company wants to remain competitive in the marketplace.

    Product lifecycle management, and even Agile product lifecycle management, includes more than just updating a product to be re-released on the market. The entire product lifecycle spans from inception to decommissioning and updating, and agile methodologies have a role to play in streamlining these processes.

    Why Agile Methods for Lifecycle Management?

    Any Agile methodology is an iterative process. The central idea in the Agile Manifesto is adaptation to changes in customer requirements, design requirements, or functionality throughout the design process. The iterative process involved in agile methodologies allows a design team to adapt to these changes and reduce the extent of redesigns or even prevent them entirely. Tests are conducted throughout a product’s lifecycle, allowing requirements to be updated and changes to be addressed as they arise.

    Contrast this with linear design processes, such as Waterfall. In these processes, requirements are gathered and set in stone before design begins. Communication, particularly with the customer, is typically not regarded as a priority, thus the project may proceed even if requirements change. Tests are normally conducted at the end of development, creating a risk of major redesigns. If bugs arise early during development, their effects propagate throughout the system, ultimately forcing an extensive debugging and redesign process if not caught early.

    In PCB design, implementing a smooth Agile workflow takes the right data management and collaboration software. Using an Agile methodology in product lifecycle management is preferable to a linear design process, as it allows obsolescence issues to be identified and overcome throughout. Changes in the supply chain can occur quickly, and components are periodically updated with new versions. Identifying these changes early in the design process ensures that your product has the longest possible lifecycle and remains competitive with other products on the market while also reducing the extent of redesigns.

    Man in warehouse with a tablet

    Don’t fall victim to supply chain problems

    Why Obsolescence Matters in Agile

    Gathering requirements from the customer and forming functional requirements are extremely important in Agile and linear design processes. Whether the project is for new software or new hardware, a more complex product will require longer development time. Within a linear PCB design process, requirements are generally not addressed or updated later in the design process. If component obsolescence or supply chain issues are not identified early, a design team risks completing a new product design or even producing prototypes that cannot be manufactured at scale.

    With simpler designs, the project lifecycle tends to be much shorter and a design can even be quickly reused, so the supply chain landscape may not change by the time the device is manufactured. With more complicated systems that involve a number of collaborators, development times are much longer, which increases the risk of encountering supply chain problems during development.

    This is where an Agile methodology really shines; periodically checking and updating requirements allows supply chain problems to be identified throughout the design process. This allows design updates to be applied immediately, rather than in a large batch at the end. This reduces the time and extent of redesigns and allows requirements to be updated as needed. The customer can also be consulted during each design iteration (sometimes called a sprint) as their input is critical in agile methodologies.

    Eye diagram on an oscilloscope

    Prototype testing is an integral part of Agile product lifecycle management

    At the end of a product’s lifecycle, a product may need to be redesigned if a company or end customer wants to continue using or selling the product. If an agile design team takes communication seriously, they can collaborate directly with the customer and identify requirements for a new version of the product before the end of its lifecycle.

    Overcoming Obsolescence in Agile Product Lifecycle Management

    Identifying soon-to-be obsolete components and supply chain problems during development takes a data management solution that provides real-time component sourcing data updates directly within your design software. This is preferable to manually scouring distributor websites for component updates or using a 3rd party service that doesn’t integrate with your PCB design software. This allows you to quickly find suitable replacement components for your board and keeps your design documents synchronized.

    Although prototype testing is extremely important as you near completion of your design, you can also periodically test and verify your design during development using simulations. This is a great way to identify signal integrity and power integrity problems before you produce your prototype. Design software that is based on a rules-driven design engine will allow you to check your schematic and layout for errors or constraint violations as you create your product. This ability to identify and correct design problems is an integral part of Agile product lifecycle management.

    When you use an integrated data management and design platform, you can easily implement Agile product lifecycle management practices for your design team. The world-class PCB design tools in Altium Designer now integrate with the powerful data management and collaboration features in Altium Concord Pro, providing a complete PCB design and management solution in a single platform.

    Contact us or download a free trial of Altium Designer® and Altium Concord Pro. You’ll have access to the industry’s best layout, MCAD/ECAD co-design, and data management features in a single program. Talk to an Altium expert today to learn more.

    About Author

    About Author

    Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University. He conducted his Physics M.S. research on chemisorptive gas sensors and his Applied Physics Ph.D. research on random laser theory and stability.His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental systems, and financial analytics. His work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written hundreds of technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. Zachariah works with other companies in the PCB industry providing design and research services. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society and the American Physical Society.

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