Design Reuse: Methodologies and Best Practices for Re-Applying Previous Boards

Created: August 31, 2018
Updated: December 21, 2020

Image of PCB circuitry in a reuse symbol

It’s to reuse items related to our work. Chefs reuse recipes, seamstresses reuse patterns, and engineers reuse circuitry. The problem is that our design tools aren’t always on the same page with us when it comes to re-applying previous boards and circuitry.

The benefits are obvious; reusing work will save time and money. Additionally, there’s the benefit of using circuitry that has already been through the debug process and is known to work. I once worked for a company that designed complete system boards for their products. Each time a new board was required we would just reuse schematic circuitry from other boards for functions such as the power supply or the fan control.

And yet our need for an easy method of reusing circuitry isn’t always as simple as we would prefer with the PCB design tools that we use. I’ve seen disastrous attempts at design reuse result in bad circuit boards. I’ve also seen engineers that would rather take the long way around and recreate their circuitry from scratch instead of trusting the reused circuitry. Often there’s a lot of pain associated with the words “reuse” that just shouldn’t be there. See if any of these examples sound familiar to you:

Keeping Track of all the Pieces is a Pain

For years PCB design reuse in the EDA world meant simply working with copies of your data. Those software vendors that did offer specialized design reuse tools would often charge for this functionality as a separate product. Trying to justify spending more money on your CAD tools to your boss for this luxury was often an experience in frustration that most of us happily avoided.

That left using copy and paste functions within the tools for PCB layout design reuse. You often didn’t have much control over the final copies with this method, and those copies may inadvertently include unwanted circuitry elements or completely miss important details. A copy and paste function was also usually restricted to one design which was very frustrating when you wanted to recreate that circuitry in a new design. Additionally, some design systems would duplicate reference designators and or net names, and you would have to carefully track what you were doing and be extra diligent about checking for errors.

You could call copy and paste “design reuse”, and many vendors did, but it could be a real pain to work with.

Screenshot of AD18 3D layout

Why reinvent the wheel when an effective PCB layout reuse tool can cut your design time and costs

Fixing all the Broken Pieces is an Even Bigger Pain

In some situations, designers would try to institute a design reuse system by copying specific design files. This meant that the circuitry that you wanted to copy would have to reside only on those sheets, or you could miss of your circuit. You would also have to be very careful to fix any broken links, and make sure that you copied all the data, system, and files required. Designers would sometimes have to become system administrators just to accomplish this type of layout design reuse.

An even bigger problem would pop up if you were trying to do this with a design system that consisted of multiple tools and design environments. Maintaining design synchronization in this case could be a real trick and many designs were ultimately broken causing a lot of manual effort to rebuild them. A lot of design teams managed this process, but it was an extremely difficult task to accomplish when the design tools were not created to do this in the first place.

Screenshot of AD18 snippet tool in layout

Snippet tools like this help with the design reuse process

Re-Applying Previous Boards in Altium Designer® Removes the Pain

Fortunately, PCB design systems like Altium Designer have been created to make PCB layout design reuse easy. A unified design environment really helps so that the sheets, the schematic, and the layout all easily synchronize with each other without having to be forced. Altium gives you different options to work with when doing PCB design reuse including:

  • Managed Schematic Sheets: This allows you to keep sheets of circuitry available for use in a managed content server for all in your organization to have access to.
  • Device Sheets: Sheets of circuitry are stored as a normal schematic sheet in a designated location giving your users the ability to place a symbol on their schematic that will access these sheets.
  • Design Snippets: This allows you to save any selection of schematic or layout circuitry to be reused elsewhere.
  • Copy and Paste: You still can use the standard copy and paste functions to recreate circuitry as needed.

Altium gives you the ability to access the design content that is stored externally and recompile it to work in your design. This will allow you the option of either referencing the data remotely, or keeping the data all local within your design. The best news of all is that all of this functionality is part of the core Altium system.

Altium Designer is an advanced PCB design software system that has been created to make our lives as a PCB easier and more productive. If you are tired of dealing with software that requires you to jump through a lot of unnecessary hoops in order to reuse board design circuitry, take a look at what Altium has to offer.

Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you to design a DFM compliant PCB? Still want to know more about design or schematics reuse? Talk to an expert at Altium.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

Related Resources

Related Technical Documentation

Back to Home
Thank you, you are now subscribed to updates.