Don’t Let Unmanageable Tools Deny You the Joy of Designing a PCB

Created: December 7, 2018
Updated: November 11, 2020

There are a lot of “firsts” in our lives; the first time we drove alone after getting our driver’s license, going out on our first real date, buying our first home. These moments, and millions of others like them, are supposed to bring a feeling of joy when we remember them. Another moment of joy for me was that first PCB design that I worked on. I remember routing traces on a design that a co-worker opened up for me the first time I sat in front of a CAD workstation. I was amazed that something so fun as creating lines, shapes, and connecting nets together was actually considered to be “work”.

Interestingly enough though, that first-time design experience that I remember as being so fun isn’t always remembered that way by other designers. If someone was weighed down by problems with how their work was managed, or by design systems that weren’t reliable, or tools that just weren’t easy or fun to work with, they are going to remember their first designs a lot differently than I remember mine. Here’s what I’m talking about.

Work that Isn’t Managed Correctly Can Be a Real Bummer

There’s a lot of different scenarios that can affect that first impression of designing a circuit board from bad management to not being prepared for what you are about to do. Some first-time designers have had to deal with management that doesn’t understand what they are doing or sets unrealistic goals and schedules. Others have had to deal unorganized work-flows and a general lack of design planning. And then there are those that have to deal with software that isn’t designed to help them with their jobs.

EDA software can be complicated to learn and use. If the software vendor isn’t prepared with training, support, and documentation to help, the experience of a first time designer can end up being a disaster. Too often a first time designer will be unable to find answers to important questions and end up looking bad to their bosses or giving up on design altogether.

Screenshot AD 18 Active Route in designing a PCB

Using tools that can help you to easily route multiple traces can put the joy back in PCB design

Inadequate Tools Can Suck the Life Out of You

One of the most frequent factors in ruining the first time experience of a new designer is in the quality of the tools that they are using. PCB design tools that are difficult to work with or break down regularly can quickly suck the joy out of the room. What’s worse is when the tools just don’t have the capabilities that are needed to get the job done. This can be especially bad for the first time designer to deal with. They don’t have the experience to know that the problem is with the tools instead of it being their fault.

Maybe the tools have installation problems, maybe they’re being used for the wrong purposes, or maybe they’re just bad tools. Whatever the reason is, the important point is that this problem could have been avoided with more care being taken with the design tools that were chosen. A more thorough investigation would have revealed what was needed and which tool system was going to provide the best solution. Instead, you have designers struggling to make it through their day vowing to get out of the design business as soon as possible because of their frustrations with their inadequate PCB design tools.

Screenshot AD 18 schematic and 3D layout in designing a PCB

Altium Designer can put the fun back into PCB design for you

Designing a PCB with the Best Tools Can be a Lot of Fun

On the flip side of all of this is that working with a great set of advanced design tools can bring a lot of success for both the design department and the individual designers. For the first time designer this can result in a high level of satisfaction with their work, and help them build a solid foundation in becoming a fully qualified PCB designer. And let’s face it; working with a great set of PCB design tools is also a lot of fun.

In the PCB design software that we use there are a lot of useful and productive features that are fun to use. For instance when I want to route a trace I don’t need to go through a bunch of elaborate menus and commands, I just click on an icon in my Active Bar and I’m off and routing. Another fun feature to use is being able to easily go into the 3D environment while I’m in layout. This allows me to see how my placement, routing, and even my imported mechanical shapes are all fitting together. Some CAD tools require that you go through an elaborate process to enter 3D (if they even have that functionality to begin with), but in my system I simply press the “3” on my keyboard. The keyboard/mouse commands to move around in 3D are simple and it gives me a great view of my work.

For PCB layout computer-aided design tools, you’ll want to ensure that there are important features like in-circuit test or rules-driven design networking to ensure stability and security on top of properly placed circuit board components. Furthermore, having layout software that can transition between PCB layout and schematic capture is paramount. Look for a printed circuit CAD software capable of keeping your components on-track.

We are using Altium Designer® which is a great system of PCB design software. With it, our productivity has soared, while at the same time our departmental job satisfaction is at an all-time high. Altium Designer is a fun PCB design system to use, but it is also extremely powerful and able to handle all of our design needs.

If you would like to find out more about how you and your design department can experience the same success and joy in your PCB design work, talk to an expert at Altium.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

Or sign up and try Altium Designer today.

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