Chris Carlson's Time Saving Tips for PCB Design

Judy Warner
|  Created: January 20, 2020  |  Updated: February 5, 2021

Chris Carlson, Snr FAE at Altium and accomplished Electrical and Electronic Engineer shares the expertise of his 23-year career in development, documentation, manufacturing, application engineering, and customer support. According to an Aberdeen study, 61% of a designer’s time is spent doing non-direct, design-related activities, such as sourcing components, document control, and so much more. Chris is here to help you improve your efficiency and understand how your fab drawings are your quality assurance documents. 

This discussion includes many tips and tricks about version control, auto-routing, consistent project templates, multi-board interface management, and excellent library management. Continue listening or watch the full episode for a treasure trove of tricks and tips you can apply to save time and get your boards right the first time. 

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Show Highlights:

  • Design reuse is very valuable to streamlining the design process. Build up a library in your CAD tool of power supplies or interfaces and other parts which you know work well and are purchasable to quickly use in a new design.
  • Avoid back-and-forth phone calls or emails by creating templates of all your documentation standards for consistency across all design documents, and provide everything your fabricator and assembler needs the first time.  
  • Sit down with your fabricator and assembler to ensure you understand all their documentation requirements. 
  • You’d benefit most from having various templates, with different standard note sections for specific types of materials and technologies. Specify items such as impedance-driven widths, and you’ll have a foot to stand on if the board doesn’t work.
  • A good trick is, on a small edge of the board, route a few traces according to your impedance specifications. When you get the board back, polish the edge of the board, look at it under a microscope, and measure it to ensure the fabrication process was indeed correct. 
  • Getting the layer stack correct is essential. A terrific technique called, ‘stacking stripes’, involves putting a trace of say, 200 mils on the first layer, 400 mils on the second layer, and so on. After polishing the edge, you’ll immediately see if the layers stackup in the correct order. 
  • Octopart can benefit greatly with part sourcing. Also, look for several sources that actually have high volume stock. 
  • ACTIVEBOM® is an incredible tool that provides information about real-time costs, all manufacturer lifecycles, plus any supply chain issues, as you design. 
  • Many eCAD tools such as Git, CVS, and SVN have the capability to plug into version control tools built directly into the UI—use it religiously! This practice provides the entire evolution of your design in the repository and also gives you traceability of who did what, when, and why.
  • Designers’ favorite advice from Chris to save time and improve efficiency includes having a UI that interfaces version control, Altium’s automated routing assistant, consistent project templates, multi-board interface management, and excellent library management.
  • The cost of not following optimal design cycles could mean the success or failure of a company.

Links and Resources:

Creating Layer Numbers and Stacking Stripes in Altium Designer
PCB Layout Tips: How to Get Your Layer Stack Right - Whiteboard Video
Other resources from Chris Carlson
eCAD Tools for Version Control 
Altium Designer® Documentation for ActiveRoute


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About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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