Don’t Worry Over Your PCB Layout Files ASCII Dance, Waltz with Unified Tools

Created: May 4, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Hacker-like ASCII text art

Although competitive partner dancing looks complicated, the technique behind the art is precise. It is nothing like the PCB layout files ASCII dance. Dancers move their feet uniformly in intricate patterns set to the musical beat. If the technique is flawed, steps are missed, and feet collide, ruining the dance.

Error messages are indications of missing steps in PCB layout software. When placing and routing components in the software, error messages only help if they are specific and actionable within the tool. If errors are unresolvable within the tool, a dreaded reboot is required. Having to reboot computers with the risk of losing hours of work is frustrating. So when moving fiducials after cutting a plane, if the software has an issue acknowledging the command, closing down and restarting is unacceptable.

This, however, is the only process available with piecemeal PCB layout software that corporations are, and have for decades been, using. The only solution available to layout designers within these environments are finicky programs that reject commands. Representing hours of work, and in need of moving on, the layout designers’ only option is to perform the ASCII dance.

Old Tools Force Performance of Mysterious ASCII Dance

The ASCII dance is a process performed when some PCB software programs fail to accept appropriately-given commands. An export to ASCII format is required, in addition to closing down your session. There is no guarantee your work is saved. A new session is started and the ASCII file you saved is imported into the new session. Keeping fingers crossed, the commands your software was not accepting in the previous session mysteriously instantiate. If you’re lucky.

The ASCII dance is needed to resolve PADs layout errors

Time to close down your session and call upon the mysterious ASCII dance

Resolving errors with mysterious processes, like the ASCII dance, is not my idea of settling an error message. With a reboot process, there is the possibility of data corruption or loss of data. There is no way to know if everything resolved.

Without participating in the error resolution, by stepping through the actions necessary to resolve the error, there remains the possibility that unseen errors remain. When placing and routing components in PCB software, this ultimately results in defective printed circuit boards. Your project budget suffers, sometimes significantly.

Missed ASCII Dance Steps Cause Data Corruption and Errors

Defective printed circuit boards result when using layout software with different user interfaces, user models, and data constructs. If mysterious processes are required to perform the work, your document files become corrupted. If the document files are corrupted, and the layout software is unaware, the result is unknown defects in your build files. The defects remain unseen until your boards are built.

It is no wonder errors remain unseen in this type of environment. PCB layout designers who use this type of software grapple with keeping track of two layout packages while working on one board. The layout packages have different user interfaces and require switching between each, making the learning and using curves are great.

Secrets to manipulating the software become important and users lose time searching internet blogs for tips and tricks. Time needed for manual operations such as populating a constraint editor from a spreadsheet and for managing different rules environments becomes cumbersome with unintuitive command structures. There exist more opportunities for generating unknown errors with no way to check your work.

Having to rely on mysterious tools that won’t accept commands is difficult. There need to be concrete solutions within the tool to handle command glitches and track rules efficiently.

Make Your Layout Software Your Partner

Having layout software that does its job is important, most would say critical, for getting pristine boards out of manufacturing. When placing and routing components, and their respective nets, one unified tool would go a long way toward improving data capture and document generation.

Capturing data correctly, transparently, would result in correct build documents and successful manufacturing. Having editors within the tool to set environments intuitively would save time and allows errors to be dealt with real-time.

Unifying complex commands delivers ease of use

Step into the future with elegant moves in a unified design environment

Within a unified environment, there is one user interface. The models and data constructs are built to work together, so complex information doesn’t get lost. A solid platform allows each design to stretch and grow with the size of the project. The need for mysterious processes to resolve errors is eliminated.

Tasks, rules, and constraints are defined within the same user interface. Autonomous spreadsheets are not required. Translations from one interface to another would be a thing of the past. Completion of the project would include a final error check, within the environment, allowing direct resolution of issues. The tool would generate error-free manufacturing documentation, and flawless circuit boards would return from manufacturing builds.

No More Dancing with PCB Layout Files with Unified Environments

Altium Designer® contains a PCB Editor that allows simultaneous development of the intricate pieces of your printed circuit board with a workspace that changes depending on the task. Placement of components and routing of nets within the unified environment is accomplished intricately with zooming and masking easily available when designing.

In addition, there is a Design Rule Editor that helps you set up placement constraints for components, nets, and regions to comply with manufacturing needs. The Layer Stack Manager sets up all layers within the board be they electrical, mechanical, or informational (such as silk-screen and solder mask).

It can’t be understated how Altium Designer 18 allows your PCB layout creation to become easy despite the use of complex ideas. The tools are intuitive, available in the same environment, and they give reliable information about errors so you can resolve without having to reboot.

If you’d like to know more, talk to an Altium Expert to discuss next steps.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

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