The Best Layout Software for PCB Design Output Files Lets You Shop Carefree

Created: January 8, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Picture of a shopping list

Have you ever returned from the grocery store only to find out that you neglected something important? I have done this more times than I can count. Not that I mind getting out of the house, I just don’t necessarily want my free time consumed with trips to the store. Besides, I have already given my family plenty of reasons to have fun at my expense. I don’t need to help them out with additional ammunition.

Newsflash! This is why shopping lists were invented: so guys like me could make just one trip to the store instead of several. The grocery store isn’t the only place where a shopping list would be helpful though. There have also been plenty of times that I’ve forgotten an important output file from a PCB design tool. Fortunately, there are shopping lists for PCB tools now as well.

Most PCB CAD tools have the ability to batch produce their output files. Gerber files can all be queued up to be generated together, and drawings and other miscellaneous files can be automated in their creation as well. Then, when you are ready, you can use one utility to generate them all at once. Skip the ribbons on your fingers and avoid the embarrassment of forgetting something important through automating the creation of your output files.

Gerber Files: PCB Design Output Coming Together

Generating Gerber files isn’t all butterflies and daisies: you need to set the units, format, whether they are going to be mirrored, change the scale if necessary, select the appropriate design layers, and even combine design layers. You also have settings for aperture assignments that you can change if needed. With so many variables, this is about as easy to keep track of as finding the right shade of paint for your living room.

Fortunately, most PCB CAD systems today automate these setups for you, and the best CAD systems present these setups in a single menu. From that menu, you can make all the needed changes to your Gerber file parameters and generate the files as needed. This same menu can also give you the ability to set up and generate the drill files. Additionally, aperture lists, drill tooling lists, and other configuration files for the Gerber and drill files can all be generated, too. Now if only this output file generation worked for life-shopping: goodbye worries about keeping track of shopping lists for birthday gifts, holidays, vacation necessities, and more.

Picture of computer screen with file folders in a file cabinet
There are a lot of different PCB design output files needed for manufacturing

PCB Layout Systems Ease and Automate Drawing Creation

Older PCB CAD systems had a harder time, shall we say, with the creation of manufacturing drawings for a circuit board. I had to use an external third party drafting tool in order to create the drawing features in many of my drawings back then because my layout tools didn’t have the capability. Today’s PCB CAD systems can handle the creation of manufacturing drawings; though, most of these systems still require the designer to manually create the drawings.

PCB layout systems now give you the option to automate the creation of PCB manufacturing drawings. You will create or specify templates for how your drawing elements need to look, and the CAD tools will automatically create those elements for you in your manufacturing drawings. Here are some of the manual drafting tasks that can now be automated:

  • Drawing data is extracted from the PCB layout database and imported into your drawing.
  • Drawing formats are generated.
  • Layers are displayed on the drawing according to the template settings.
  • Additional views such as section views and assembly views are created from the PCB data and added to the drawing.
  • Layer stackup views are created from the layout data and added.
  • Callouts for designated items on the layout are referenced to the BOM and added.

Drafting tasks like these used to take a lot of time for the designer to manually create. Now, with automated drawing creation, the designer can re-focus that time on other aspects of PCB design.

Picture of woman assembling PCB
Automate the generation of your output files at once and eliminate the worry of missing files

Generating All of the PCB Design Output Files Together

We’ve seen how the best PCB layout software will automate the generation of your Gerber files and the creation of your manufacturing drawings. These are great productivity enhancements for sure, and they can reduce your design time considerably. There’s still one task left though, and that is automating the entire process so that important details don’t get left out of the final manufacturing deliverables.

Once you develop the individual generators, like the automated drawing creation function, you can use a master job output utility to run these generators together. Your master job output file utility will engage the different generators and funnel their output together into the location that you have designated for the final output files. With the creation of all output files being automated like this, you no longer will have to worry about whether a specific file was created or updated. All files will be automatically generated for you, and ready to be sent to your PCB manufacturer.

If you’ve ever had to re-create outputs because you forgot an aperture list or some other output file like I have, you should take a look at this level of automation. It can save you from costly delays or errors due to missing manufacturing data.

For the functionality of total, automated output processing, consider Altium Designer’s PCB design software. This includes an automated drawing utility, and the ability to create all output files together from one master job file. This will help you to deliver a complete and correct set of output files to your manufacturer every time.

Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you to automate your PCB design output files? alk to an expert at Altium.

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