Compare PCB Design Software Features For Your Device to Move to Manufacturing

Altium Designer
|  Created: July 16, 2018  |  Updated: September 25, 2020

Human and robot shaking hands

So you’ve just devised your new device that will revolutionize the world on the back of a cocktail napkin. Maybe your new medical device will have diseases running for the hills. Maybe you’ve got a great sensor for high-moisture environments. But how do you breathe life into your new product and finally implement your master plan for success? Those of us who have had such grand ideas are familiar with this dilemma.

A PCB designer might know everything they need about PCB designing, but what about turning their board, circuit, layout or schematic into a full electronic device? How do you get from that circuit board layout in your schematic editor to a fully produced hardware with routed traces, placed components, and as many layers as you envisioned? There’s no free version of moving your product along product development but there are software options that can help.

The first step in bringing your new hardware to life is to find a great piece of design and simulation software. You will most likely be embarking down the road of comparing design software. But which features should you watch for, and what type of software product should you choose to grow your business? This guide will give you the tools to compare PCB design software and select the platform that will allow your business to be successful.

Rules Checking Because Everybody Needs an Editor

If you are new to designing PCBs, you may not have a full understanding of all the industry standards that specify design rules for new devices. A strong software package, especially one for designing PCB devices, will include design rule checking that allows you to identify problems in your design before building a prototype or moving to manufacturing. It is important to spot and correct rule violations early.

Your PCB layout can become fraught with rules violations and potentially hazardous design flaws if you don’t plan properly. Layout can get broken, traces can bear too much heart or be too close and cause solder bridges, or you might be facing as simple of a problem as not having a schematic file that is easy to read. No matter the problem your circuit and circuit board deserve the best attention for detail and security when pushing them through the PCB design phase.

In PCB design, industry standards have been established regarding all aspects of PCB construction and electrical characteristics. Nobody can memorize all of them, so it is important that your design software incorporate rules checking based on different industry standards. This allows designers to spend more time designing a high-quality product and less time searching and reviewing industry standards.

Integrated Platform? Better. A Unified Platform.

When you buy a new car, you shouldn’t have to buy the tires somewhere else. No one likes purchasing things piecemeal and PCB design software should be no different. Rather than purchasing several different design programs, it is a better idea to purchase a software package that can give you access to all the features you need. This is preferable to buying individual software utilities and trying to force them to work together.

The software package you choose should also include or give you the option to add a signal integrity tool, a power analysis tool, a panelization tool, a trace layout utility, and many more features that will help streamline the design and analysis process. Integrating these features into a single platform allows you to spend more time designing a great product and less time forcing different pieces of software to work together.

Circuit routing on white background

Choosing the best PCB design software

An integrated software package might offer features that you don’t need at the moment. But as you start designing your product, the roadblocks you encounter may have you wishing for more. Correctly predicting potential problems in PCB design requires significant experience, and it is better to err on the side of caution when selecting PCB design software. We accomplish it all with a unified solution that gives you the best of all worlds.

A unified platform means complete features inside one interface. End the constant fatigue from context switching. An integrated platform doesn’t always mean unified, and when you want speed and agility it helps to get everything you need in one place.

Knowledge Bases: Component Libraries and Manufacturing Outputs

When working with a new piece of software, you may run into trouble as you try to gain experience with an unfamiliar interface. Some of the extremely useful features may not be obvious and tend to be glossed over by newer users. A comprehensive knowledge base that includes examples, design tips, and thorough explanations can help users familiarize themselves with features that may seem extraneous or esoteric.

A comprehensive component library enables you to quickly add electronic components to your device. Electrical parameters and footprints are already included in these libraries and you won’t need to spend time building your own component library. You can also easily experiment with different components and configurations during the design phase.

Once you are ready to move to the manufacturing stage, you will need to send Gerber files of your design to your manufacturer. These files are like a blueprint that a fabrication shop uses to build your bare PCB. Your PCB design software should output these files directly from your CAD design.

Screenshot of Altium ’s Gerber File output

Having software that can work with you for your Gerber files is tremendous

And Don’t Forget the Money: Bill of Materials Management

Once your design is finalized, you will need to write up a bill of materials (BoM). Doing this by hand can be tedious work, especially when it comes to PCB design. If last minute changes need to be made to your design, you will then need to update your BoM. Your design software should include a tool that allows you to easily manage and generate your BoM. Managing a BoM on paper is prone to errors, especially if changes need to be made to the design.

More than just a tool, Altium’s Active BOM can ensure that you have real-time updating from your suppliers regarding component pricing and availability, as well as control the output of any of your manufacturing files to make it so that at any stage in the manufacturing process, your electronic can be as easy to read as any schematic.

For the advanced functionality you need to design your top quality products, Altium Designer will meet any demand. Within its unified design environment are all of the tools you need to ensure that your design can push through from any layout stalling to prototyping and batch production. Use the right tools for your design job.

If you would like to find out more about how Altium can help you bring your new product to life? Contact an expert at Altium.

About Author

About Author

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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