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    How Bill of Material Software Can Protect You from Unintended Errors

    Altium Designer
    |  August 10, 2018

    Picture of recreation of STTOS characters in bill of material software

    Editorial credit: Willrow Hood /

    OK, I’ll admit it; I like the original Star Trek just as much as the next guy. Even with its laughable science, cheesy effects, and starships constructed with painted plywood for bulkheads, it still had relatable characters and compelling stories. But one thing that always bugged me was how our heroes could be all the way across the galaxy and jump into an alien spaceship and drive it like a pro without even so much as looking at a user's’ manual. How wonderful it would be if everything in life was so simple and worked as it should. If it wasn’t for the curse of the “red shirt”, I would want to be in Starfleet too.

    The real world for you and me, however, is quite different and without help, our plans and intentions can fall apart really quickly. I’ve seen the consequences of this over and over again in printed circuit board manufacturing where the that were intended to be used on the board don’t match what was actually assembled. Fortunately, there is help to protect us from errors like this with modern bill of material software control. Here’s how it can help you as well.

    Access to Your Preferred Part Vendors

    One of the most annoying problems that can happen is selecting a component for your PCB design that is not approved or available. Usually design engineers have to wait for approval of before they can use them, and while they wait they may use a temporary “place-holder” part. If this place-holder part is not updated later on it will cause problems for manufacturing. If the design engineer decides not to wait and uses a part prior to its approval, they may find out that it isn’t available or costs too much. There’s another manufacturing problem that will have to be dealt with.

    software can help with organizing your components from raw materials to item and quantity necessities to supply chain and inventory management. Materials management is a key part to any assembly and manufacturing process, so being sure to have software that can get your products off the assembly floor and into consumer hands is important. After all, your item isn’t meant to be stuck in a work center, it’s meant to complete its product process.

    On the other hand, bill of material software with an online connection to your preferred part vendors can solve these problems. Your design engineers can get real-time information on the that they want to use in order to make intelligent component choices based on price and availability. They also will have access to the latest part data sheets and specifications so as to know if this is the part they really want or not.

    Screenshot of AD18 cross select in bill of material software

    Using tools you can get current component data and information from your vendor

    Work Directly With the in Your Design

    Another problem that can happen is working with lists that are generated by one part of the design team, and then managed by a different part of the team in the CAD tools. The schematic capture application will usually be able to create some sort of list and the layout tools will generate a bill of materials report, but without good management software these reports can get unsynchronized. This is especially true in design departments where multiple CAD systems are being used for schematic capture and PCB layout.

    The advantage that you get when you use bill of material software is that it will plug in and work together with both the schematic capture and PCB layout sides of the design. In a single CAD tool environment this is especially beneficial as the tools will work with both sides of the design simultaneously assuring that what’s being used in the schematic will match up with what’s being used in the layout.

    Another benefit is that the design team members will have yet another point of access to their design data. By using the tools to select and report on in the design, the design team will have direct access to the component data that is being used in the design. Additionally selected in the tools will highlight those same in the schematic or layout which makes tasks such as design reviews much easier to accomplish.

    Screenshot of AD18 cross select in bill of material software Using tools you can find and select the same components in the schematic or layout

    Bill of Material Software to Create an Accurate Report

    Bill of material software tools will allow you better control over the part data in your design. Through the tools you can make changes to the in your designs, or query them for their specifications. The tools will also present the part data to you in easy to manage formats allowing you to create the bill of materials reports that will best suit your company’s needs.

    No matter the software is always going to be an invaluable tool for your product structure. Organizing components and keeping your supply chain clear and understood will ensure that no product gets left behind when moving out of your design hands.

    The bill of material software tool that we use is Active , and it is part of the Altium suite of PCB design tools. Because Altium contains all of the design tools that we use, all of the tools work smoothly together within Altium’s data environment. Altium ’s tool interface and data environment allow Active to easily communicate with both the schematic and the layout side of the design giving you all of the advantages that we have mentioned here.

    Altium is the PCB design software that we chose because of advanced tools like Active . Now that we are using these tools we are seeing error free bill of material reports being created, and our manufacturers are experiencing greater efficiency because of it. If Active sounds like it would be a good solution for some of your problems, talk to an expert at Altium for more information on how Altium could help you.

    About Author

    About Author

    PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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