How Integrated PCB Design Software Helps you Manage Documentation and Outputs

Altium Designer
|  Created: February 1, 2019  |  Updated: November 23, 2020

Manually writing out documentation

If you’re like me, then you’re a hardware fanatic. You’re the type that enjoys creating and watching your ideas come to life before your eyes. The last thing you want to do is sit behind a desk and create change orders, bills of materials, and assembly plans for your new product. What if there was a way to cut down the time required to generate these important documents?

With deliverables and documentation requiring standardized formats and containing important information, you need PCB design software that makes it easy to compile this information. This allows you to spend more time designing a great product instead of typing up documentation. When your design tools interface directly with your documentation, management, and manufacturing output features, you can rest easy knowing that your team and your fabricator have the information they need to bring your ideas to life.


How Documentation Aids PCB Design

Simpler PCBs can be envisioned, designed, and taken to production by a single person team. More advanced devices with a variety of functions or even multi-board systems inevitably require collaboration among multiple people or multiple teams. The more complex your system becomes, the more documentation is required to ensure that all team members have the same information.

Working in any collaborative environment takes data management strategies that ensure everyone remains aware of design or feature changes. Whether you work in hardware, electronics, software, or any other industry, information updates must be tracked and maintained with a coherent management strategy. Documentation versions need to be maintained and shared throughout your organization.

Online collaboration and documentation tools have been a major help to design teams as they allow updates to be shared throughout an organization. But when it comes to PCB design, these types of documentation tools create a new bottleneck as they cannot directly interface with your design data. You’re forced to manually write out each change to your design, making these tools less bad than a word processing program. If you’ve made extensive design changes to a large portion of your layout, you’ll quickly find that writing out these updates becomes intractable.

Instead, your design software should play a major role in compiling and sharing documentation on your PCB. If these tools are built directly into your design software, your documentation, bill of materials, and other deliverable tools have instant access to your design data. You’ll be able to quickly compile the information into a standard format and access documentation on prior changes within your software. You can get a realistic view of each change in your board and easily go back to an old version.

3D view of a board assembly in Altium

3D board assembly in Altium 


Realizing Where the Pain Comes From

Generating documentation and manufacturing outputs is a process that should be semi-automated. Your design software should also generate this information in industry standard file formats. Unfortunately, some design packages fail in these critical tasks because they are not truly integrated environments. Tools in these packages are not capable of communicating with each other in a consistent data format.

Most PCBs are complex beasts that require collaboration among multiple designers and engineers. Even if your design software can generate consistent documentation of your data, tracking this data throughout the design process requires a comprehensive management strategy. When your documentation is not linked directly to your projects, you’re forced to adopt an ad hoc documentation strategy. This makes it difficult to track design changes and variants, and you have no guarantee that everyone on your team has access to the same information.

Other design software enforces a convoluted process for building a bill of materials. You’ll have to export a file from one program, import it into another program, manually enter component information, and wait for the program to spit out a TXT file for your bill of materials. It’s amazing that some design software won’t even export your bill of materials as a PDF or XLS file. What’s worse, you won’t have access to real-time supply chain information unless you enroll for a third party service. Even if you do enroll, you’ll only have information from a single distributor, giving you a woefully skewed view of your supply chain.


The Best Data Management and Deliverable Tools

Accessing supply chain information without surfing the internet or consulting an outdated internal database requires design package that integrates directly with distributor databases within your software. This provides supply chain visibility right alongside your design and bill of materials tools. Your PCB design software should integrate all of these features into a single program.

Design software that tracks your documentation alongside your actual design helps you and your team keep track of critical changes in functionality and layout. It also allows you to track outputs from your signal analysis tools, giving you the ability to directly compare how design changes have affected device functionality. This gives you and your team a full view of the capabilities of your device, and this information is instantly accessible inside and outside your design software.

When your design environment integrates your design data and documentation tools into a single program, you won’t have to write up change orders or bills of materials manually. Instead, these tools access your design data directly and compile this important information into a concise, standardized format. You’ll also have access to critical supply chain information directly into your design software, helping you avoid manufacturing delays and obsolescence.

Screenshot of assembly drawing export in Altium Designer

Generating project outputs is easy with Altium Designer


The New Age of PCB Documentation

Modern PCBs can be part of larger multi-board systems and can be complex beasts, requiring collaboration among multiple teams. The documentation features in Altium Designer® make it easy to compile information on your board in a standardized format and easily share it with other designers. You won’t have to write up this information manually in a word processing program, and you’ll be able to create documentation in many standard file formats.

Making sure that you can move to production without errors or delays requires a comprehensive management strategy and tools that allow you create the standardized deliverables your manufacturer needs. Your software should make it easy to manage components and design variants, helping prevent design errors, errors, and repeated redesigns. Your PCB design software should be flexible and allow you to implement the component and management strategy that fits your organizational goals.

No one wants to spend time searching for component sources and copy this information into a bill of materials with a word processing program. You shouldn’t have to rely on a 3rd party software application or service to access current component sourcing information and compile it in a bill of materials. Altium gives you real supply chain visibility and can compile this information into a standard bill of materials. You’ll also be able to generate Gerber files, assembly drawings, and other deliverables your manufacturer needs to produce your board.

If you’re looking for the best PCB design software package that includes integrated documentation and deliverable generation tools, you need to try Altium. These documentation tools are present in a single interface and access your design data directly. You’ll be able to generate standard deliverables and documentation for your project in custom or standardized formats.

Altium also offers the best design, simulation, and management tools on the market. The plethora of design features in Altium are built on a single rules-driven design engine, ensuring that your tools can communicate in a consistent data format and giving you a customizable design experience.

Altium knows that you might need resources to help you get started and eventually become a success. When you use Altium, you’ll have access to useful design tips and examples, the AltiumLive forum, webinars and podcasts provided by industry experts, and a video. Altium is the only PCB design software company that is fully dedicated to your success.

Now you can download a free trial and find out how Altium can help you. If you want to learn more about Altium and its plethora of design, documentation, supply chain visibility, and manufacturing output features, talk to an Altium expert today.


About Author

About Author

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

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