AutoRouter and Massive Potential for Routing Ease

Created: February 11, 2019
Updated: November 5, 2020

Cartoon of a tent trailer in routing ease

I once owned a little pop-up tent trailer, and hooking it up to my car was a very involved process. My wife would use a combination of hand signals and shouted instructions to guide me in as I moved the car back and forth in order to position the hitch perfectly under the trailer coupler. One day my father in-law-was helping me and I started my lengthy explanation to him of the hitching process. Without saying a word he simply reached down, picked up the trailer coupler, and moved it over and placed it on the car hitch. It never occurred to me that it could be that simple.

I may be the only guy who couldn’t figure out how to easily hook up his tent-trailer, but I’m sure that all of us have experienced something like this before. Another lesson that I’ve had to learn over the years is how the auto routing tools in some PCB design systems have an enormous potential for routing ease than the tools that you may already be using. Some people will stay with older outdated tools instead of looking for a better solution simply because that’s the way they’ve always done it. If this sounds familiar, keep reading and I’ll show you how I solved this particular pain in my own PCB design career.


Older Tools Have Older Trace Routing Functionality

There are a lot of PCB design tools in use today that have been around for a long time. If those tools have been updated, then they will have the usual incremental improvements over time. But often those tools are not updated. Their users have settled into a certain pattern of working, and for financial reasons or unwilling to change, that is what they stick with. In the same way that I was used to repetitions movements of my car in order to hook it up to the trailer, many PCB designers just want to stick with what they are used to.

Even if the design tools have been updated though, you still have routing functionality that has been around for a long time. Modern auto routers are often created from the ground up to leverage new software technology making them faster and more efficient. In some cases, completely new auto routing technologies are created that require a whole new tool. Think about tasks such as automatically routing differential pair traces, measured lines, or tuned traces. Those designers that simply update their existing software will never get to use the new routing software that has been created to better handle tasks like these.

Screenshot of AD18 tuned routing in routing ease

Advanced routing tasks such as diff pairs and tuned routing shouldn’t be a pain


With Some Tools, Using a Third Party Auto Router is the Only Solution

While trying to route today’s challenging designs using older routing technology can be frustrating, an even worse pain is having to use a third party auto routing solution. Unfortunately, though, many older circuit board design systems don’t have an accompanying auto router. This means that the only recourse for the PCB designer is to spend additional money on another design tool just for advanced auto routing.

Using a third party routing solution can create a lot of problems to your design department:

  • The initial cost of the third party routing tool.
  • The regular maintenance costs of keep this tool up-to-date.
  • Learning how best to use this new tool.
  • Setting up the configuration files for the new tool.
  • Managing the data transfers from your design system to the new tool, and then back again.
  • Re-learning how best to use this new tool when you haven’t used it in a while.

Using a third party auto routing solution can have a lot of hidden pain associated with it that the user may not initially be aware of.

Screenshot of AD18 import wizard in routing ease

Moving from other design tools into Altium Designer is easily handled with the import wizard


You Need a PCB Design System with Embedded Technology for Routing Ease

The solution that we found that worked best for us was to move up to using Altium Designer® for all of our PCB design work. Altium Designer features a unified design environment with all the tools you need included. From work and schematic capture to PCB layout and final output files, everything you need for design is all within Altium. Additionally, there are circuit simulators, signal integrity tools, a power distribution, advanced BOM tools and much more. You also have, as we have been talking about, some superior PCB routing tools.

Altium ’s regular intelligent interactive routing tools are constantly being improved and updated, and there are a whole host of diff pair and high-speed routing tools as well. There are also the trace glossing and clean-up tools that you would expect, and different partial auto routing and full batch auto routing tools as well. Recently Altium added a new user-guided interactive router called “Active Route” to its suite of tools. And with the online connection to Altium that each user has available, the design tools are regularly updated so that you have the latest and greatest software working for you at all times.

Altium is advanced PCB design software with many different routing and auto-routing tools built into it for your routing ease. Moving over from other design tools such as OrCAD is a simple process as well with Altium ’s built-in import wizard functionality.

Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help ease your pain with modern up-to-date auto routing capabilities? Talk to an expert at Altium.

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