PCB Creator's Digital Library Management for Circuit Boards: More Than a Few Shelves

Created: July 20, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Records kept on  shelves

When you hear the word “components”, it’s natural to think about ICs, LEDs, resistors, and all the other electronic hardware that goes into building a PCB. But in terms of PCB design software, there is a lot of information that goes into any component. Every component has an associated symbol, footprint, pin arrangement, and other properties that are used by your PCB design software.

With so many components available on the market and with electronics companies producing new components, managing a component library becomes one of the important duties of a PCB designer. Designers commonly create customized components for use in their electronics design library, including footprints and simulation models.

Bringing this information together so that you can take your PCB from the electronics design library to production requires the best design software on the market. When you work in a unified design environment, your design software will seamlessly integrate your components libraries with your schematic library, and updates to your components libraries are easily passed to your schematic.

Managing Your Digital Libraries

Library management is a broad term that refers to managing components, suppliers, life cycles, and schematics for use in your design. With the massive number of components on the market, no one has time to compile information in these libraries on their own. There are many companies that specialize in creating software that compiles this information for you, making you more productive and allowing you to spend more time on your designs.

Component libraries contain more than just a long list of part numbers. A great component library should contain associated schematics symbols, footprints for your layout, SPICE models for use in simulations, and electrical specifications. These libraries also include 3D models for use in a 3D viewer. When all of this information is compiled in a single interface, it greatly streamlines the design process.

Component libraries also need to contain associated supplier information, including costs, lead times, and suitable replacements. This gives you the information you need to generate parts lists and a bill of materials for your manufacturer. Your bill of materials generation tool needs to take information directly from your design before you move to production. You owe it to your circuit board to manage your vias, copper, and components as effectively as possible.

Managing your electronics design libraries takes more than just maintaining lists of components and schematics. Your libraries need to synchronize with component supplier information and life cycle management tools. Life cycle management tools give you the information you need to replace obsolete components with suitable replacements. All of these tools work best when they are integrated into a single environment, rather than being separated into different modules.

Supplier data access in Altium )

Supplier data access in Altium Designer

Realizing Where the Pain Comes From

Some PCB design software packages allow you to create new libraries that contain a specific list of components that you use often. When you have a component library that grows to thousands of components, updates to components are almost never seamless when you use software that operates with disparate component models. Digital library design should be created with users and user intention in mind, with access to the resources and knowledge required from the library.

Translating between updated versions of your software can wreak havoc on your component library. An update can change the file structure of your component library, forcing you to organize and update your components manually. Some software packages have a components information system that helps you manage your libraries, but you have to purchase this as an add-on. There is no reason such a critical tool shouldn’t be included in your PCB design software.

Library management is about more than just updating footprints and symbols in schematics. You need to leverage supply chain availability and lifecycle information to ensure your designs remain up to date. Imagine opening up that PCB you created 6 months ago and sending deliverables to your manufacturer, only to find that half of your parts are unavailable or obsolete. Lifecycle states allow you to catch and replace obsolete parts in your designs.

Unified Digital Library Management

Working in a unified design environment means more than just presenting all the tools you need in a single piece of software. Data management in a unified design environment uses unified component models that can be reused when you define new components. These component models should serve as templates for new components, saving you time when you need to add new capabilities to your design and your part library.

Your design software should also increase your productivity by providing updates to component libraries and supply chain information. Designers shouldn’t have to spend time scouring the internet for component updates or supply chain information, and they shouldn’t have to rely on an unreliable 3rd party service for these critical updates. A unified design environment also allows you to seamlessly transfer any updates onto your schematics.

If you need to make revisions to the footprint of a unified component, your PCB design software should present a visual side-by-side comparison of your footprint changes. Any symbol, pin arrangement, and schematic changes should be easy to compare as well. The same idea applies to component templates. This ensures that component changes within your component library will be accessible to everyone in your organization.

Many components share common properties, such as capacitance, mounting style, and rated voltage. When you work with a great component manager, you can assign these properties to individual components easily within a single interface. As well as adding them individually to each component, you can also use the Parameter Manager command to add them to multiple components. Your circuit board and your digital library design can be managed for effective content creation and storage. 

Accessing the schematic  in Altium

Accessing the schematic in Altium

Library Management in Altium Designer

If you’re looking for the best component library management tools, you need a PCB design software package like Altium Designer. Working in a unified design environment links your component libraries, schematic libraries, component models, simulation tools, bill of materials, and layout tools within a single design interface. Whether checking your circuit for vias and component placement or understanding the needs for a rigid-flex PCB, software matters.

Designers should spend more time designing and less time searching for supply chain information or relying on an external service to provide updates. With Altium Designer, your supply chain information, library updates, and new components can be delivered directly to you through the design software. Changes to components in your library are easily applied to your schematic and layout. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your data is up-to-date and easy to manage.

If you work in Altium’s unified environment, changes to component libraries easily propagate to the rest of your schematic and layout. Component modifications can be applied individually or in batches within a single intuitive interface. The search features allow you quickly sift through a massive component library and locate only the components you need for your design. Manage your circuits better with a stronger digital library design system. 

Altium wants you to succeed as a designer. They also want your design experience to be streamlined and productive. If you ever need help with your designs or with the software, you can access the AltiumLive forum, video library, and webinars provided by industry experts. Altium’s dedication to its customers sets them apart from other PCB design software companies.

Now you can download a free trial of the PCB layout software that you want to use for your designs. Talk to an expert at Altium today if you want to learn more about how Altium Designer can help you manage your digital library design.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

“I decided to move from both Orcad Capture/Layout and National Instruments Circuit Design Suite to Altium for the following reasons:

1. Massive component libraries, updated on a regular basis

2. Ease of use of both the Schematic and PCB design modules

3. Simulator capabilities

4. Price”

James Crabill, 
President at Electronic Design & Consulting Services, L.L.C.

Related Resources

Related Technical Documentation

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