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Ducks in a Row: Process Control and Document Traceability in One Place

Created: May 1, 2018
Updated: May 20, 2020

Technology interconnected with a globe at the center

Louis Pasteur captured the essence of complicated endeavors when he stated that “fortune favors the prepared mind.” Don’t miss opportunities for excellence when faced with complex tasks.

Designing and building printed circuit boards and their assemblies is a complex task, made up of many meticulous endeavors. You could say that unified PCA documentation and communication favors successful outcomes when building products. Document types and formats, not to mention tools needed to read PCB information, can be complicated. Formats and locations of that information are paramount for multiple uses.

It is necessary, however, to have all files in correct format and order, so that fabrication and assembly houses can efficiently build the boards. Your product team can only execute the documentation process with the tools available, so preparation of containers able to serve different process houses is important. Means for using and tracing information rewards processes with easy accessibility to complicated information.

Maintaining PCB Documentation can be Cumbersome

Many hands are involved in the design and build process of a printed circuit assembly and the product into which it is integrated. The process involves system architects, circuit design engineers, mechanical design engineers, component engineers, PCB design drafters, purchasing specialists, fabrication houses, and assembly houses. I get a headache thinking about how many CCs go into each email throughout the process.

But each role necessitates information documented for their unique purposes resulting in differing software formats. Most software formats don’t talk to each other, so PCB designers and partners have been tasked with translating file types for use by all to differing purposes over the life of the product. Talk about cumbersome and time-consuming.

Varying File Formats Leads to Too Many Hands in a Cookie Jar

Along with Assembly documents, there are fabrication outputs including the Netlist files, Bills of Material and other information necessary to support sourcing activities, and if design simulation occurred, many would benefit from access to those files throughout the life of the product. Historically all these file types were located in differing directories.

When enterprises wanted to evolve their design through leverage, collecting previous documentation became inconvenient and in some cases impossible. Instances of interdepartmental communication and collaboration turned into step-by-step procedures crawling for days, or even weeks. The resultant work would be delayed, the designer became a full-time translator and there would be less actual design-work.

Screen capture of Altium Designer’s Bill of Materials toolDocument traceability eases printed circuit board assembly

Generating and Organizing Documents for Multiple Audiences

Fortunately, Altium designed a system for favoring document processing that allows universal format generation while organizing each output, and specific collections of outputs, into one place. Altium’s Output Job File is designed to efficiently collect and manage document deliverables in one place, over time, and in formats and collections efficiently available for use by various teams. It is the one place where all originating documents are located.

Containers are defined here, sub-collections of originating documents for sending to assembly houses, or fabrication houses. Directory paths are assigned and logged in the Output File. You choose and name the container, or containers, and where they will be stored. Storage may occur inside your corporate directory structure, or containers may be stored on shared sites with your assembly and fabrication houses.

Process control and document traceability occur in the Output Job File, where all documents exist in their originating formats. This is where those documents may be processed and sub-collected for specific purposes. It is where your containers are named and populated. Without the Output Job File, you would spend inordinate amounts of time collecting documents from scattered locations.

Supported File Types for Process Control and Document Traceability

The Output Job File allows collection of all documents that may be generated in designing and documenting a printed circuit assembly. The files are collected into needed formats for producing hardware. There are a variety of fabrication formats available, so you may tailor your output container to include particular documents for either your local fabrication house or your overseas fabrication house. All the assembly instructions are located here as well, and you are able to put all into a pdf form for high-level communication in your release documents.

You also have access to a comprehensive Bill of Material here that has been populated with the most up-to-date sourcing information available during post-processing of your design. Using given templates, costing is also available, so you can see the total cost of each design. This allows use by your Purchasing and Supply Chain organizations, so your IT department no longer needs to support separate MIS software.

Finally, you have access to a Report Project Hierarchy, indexing all the outputs for perusal in one place. It is what you have always dreamed of PCB document process control and traceability.

Screen capture of Altium Designer’s PDN analyzerTranslating simulation files would be even more painful without process control

The world is becoming unified and the need to build time into your schedule for post-processing design documents is quickly becoming a skill of the past. With prepared documents accessible in one place, your fortune will grow.

Using Altium’s Output Job File feature, you have direct access to your design documents in one place. Rather than spending your time collecting documents from different directories, you will now spend your time formatting and building fabrication, and other, containers in no time.

If you want to grow your fortune using Altium’s Output Job File, call an Altium Expert today.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

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