Creating a Bill of Material with PCB Design Software using Altium Designer
You’ve done it, your printed circuit board is finished and ready for PCB assembly. The schematic is finalized, the layout is checked and approved and you are ready to get this thing built. To do that though, you need to create a bill of materials. Fortunately, we are long past the days where these documents were created by hand. Every CAD system out there will automatically create a bill of materials through some library or other process. But what do you need to do to create it? Here we'll take a look at how to create bill of material with pcb design software.
Using Altium Designer, the creation of a bill of materials (BOM) is a very straightforward process. There are several options available to you so that you can configure and order the information according to your specific needs that are very intuitive. Let’s take a look here at the steps that you need to go through to create a simple BOM report from your design.
Preparing for the Bill of Materials
We are going to use a very simple design for our demonstration with only a handful of parts on it. This will make the report small and easy to work with without a lot of clutter on the screen.
You can create a BOM from Altium Designer from either the schematic capture, the layout, or from Active BOM, a tool used for working directly with the components in your design. The report generator is accessed through the same menu selection for all three of these design objects. With one of the three design objects activated, go to “Reports > Bill of Materials”. Although there are some subtle differences between the three, the BOM report menu is basically the same in all of them as you can see below.
The Report menus from the schematic, layout and footprint in Altium Designer
You probably are already familiar with creating a schematic and layout within Altium Designer, but you may not have worked with Active BOM yet. Active BOM is another portal into your design just as the schematic and layout are. The difference is instead of working with connectivity or place-and-route data, you will instead work directly with the component data of the parts in your board design. To work with Active BOM you must first have an Active BOM document (object) associated with your design by going to the “File > New > ActiveBOM Document” menu command as you see below.
Adding an Active document to the design
Active BOM gives you additional functionality to work with the components of your design, including a cloud connection with your part vendors. This will allow you to gather real-time data and information on the parts that you are using such as cost and availability. You can also cross-probe between Active BOM and the schematic and PCB layout making it an invaluable tool for design reviews and other related design activities.
For our purposes though, we will focus only on the actual BOM report that can be generated from these tools for your required parts or components. To do this we will use the BOM report that is generated from the PCB layout.
Format and Optimize a Bill of Materials
Below you can see the Bill of Materials report dialog box from the layout side of Altium Designer. This dialog box can be configured by dragging objects around to give you the format that you desire.
The Report menu without any grouped columns defined
As you can see in the picture above, each component in our design is listed on its own individual line in the main data area of the dialog box. You have to option however to “group” components together by parameters that you can specify. To do this you will move parameters from the “All Columns” category on the left side of the dialog box to the “Grouped Columns” category right above it. You can see that the “Grouped Columns” category is currently empty.
By positioning your mouse cursor over the “Comment” parameter in the “All Columns” category and using the left mouse button, you can drag it up into the “Grouped Columns” category as we have done in the picture below. Now that the comment is in the grouped columns category, all parts that share the same comment are now grouped together on the same line in the main data area of the dialog box.
The Report menu with a grouped column defined
You also can specify which columns to display in the main data area of the dialog box. For instance, in the picture below you can see where we’ve disabled both the description and designator columns from showing.
The Report menu without the description and designator columns displayed
There are also several other formatting options for the bill of materials in Altium Designer. In the three images in the image below, you first can see where we’ve drug the “Designator” column to reposition it on the left side of the main data area. Next, we’ve used the first little drop-down arrow in the designator column to reverse the sorting direction of the column putting C1 and C2 at the bottom instead of the top.
Finally, we used the second little drop-down arrow in the designator column to filter the designators that are shown. In this case, we’ve filtered out everything except for P1 to be displayed.
Different examples of formatting the Report menu in Altium Designer
As you can see, there are many formatting options available to you. You also have the ability to manipulate other data in the BOM to add or delete features and configure it for design variants.
Exporting a Bill of Materials
Now that the data is formatted the way that you want it, the next step is to export the data. Altium Designer gives you several choices for the output file format:
CSV (Comma Delimited)
Microsoft Excel Worksheet
Tab Delimited Text
Web Page (HTML)
These options are available in the “File Format” pull-down menu in the lower right corner of the dialog box.
When you export your BOM as an Excel worksheet, Altium Designer also gives you the opportunity to use a predefined Excel template by choosing the template from a drop-down list. When exported, the BOM information is loaded into a new Excel worksheet and the chosen Excel template is applied. Altium Designer will then map the BOM data into the spreadsheet using the field and column statements in the template. You can see in the picture below that we have chosen to use the “BOM Default Template” as an example.
The Excel Worksheet options in the Report menu
At this point you are ready to export your bill of materials. In the lower left corner of the Bill of Materials dialog box, click the “Export” button. Altium Designer will open a file navigation window where you can designate the name and location of the file that you want to be written. Once you are ready, save the file and your bill of materials will be exported.
Altium Designer has many functions like their bill of materials report generator that are designed to make your life easier as a PCB designer. By giving you plenty of formatting and export options, you can create the exact output files that your boards need for your required parts and components without having to re-edit your files later on before sending them out for manufacturing.
If you aren’t using Altium Designer yet you owe it to yourself to take a look. You will find that it is PCB design software that has been created with the PCB designer in mind to help you to be more productive in your design process.
Would you like to find out more about how Altium Designer can help you to create the perfect bill of materials along with your other output files in your next PCB design? Talk to an expert at Altium Designer today.