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    How to Select the Best Tool for PCB Design Collaboration

    Alexsander Tamari
    |  February 9, 2017


    Today’s products are designed by a team of experts, and without the ability to collaborate time is wasted and errors are introduced. Learn about how to select the best tool to make PCB design collaboration easy.

    There was a time when once a circuit design was completed, it was handed off to “the PCB designer”, who then produced the board layout. Now, with products as complex as tablets, smartphones and even electronic games, there is no single person involved with the PCB. Products are designed by teams of experts and without the ability to effectively collaborate, time is wasted and errors introduced. With collaboration at the focus of your design process, how can you select the best PCB tool to get the job done?

    The Top 4 PCB Design Collaboration Challenges

    The number one challenge in a collaborative atmosphere without the proper tools is communication. Ineffective communication results in obstacles, delays, and failures within the design process – costing time and money. Here are four serious problems that have a significant effect on a collaborative design environment.

    No Synchronization of Design Data

    Without PCB design collaboration tools, designers can inadvertently change the same part of the design, resulting in fatal data conflicts. Team members can be left with the choice of unknowingly working with obsolete versions, redoing unnecessary work or attempting to sort through the inconsistencies.

    Design teams that are a bit more sophisticated and actually use exchange files between their MCAD and ECAD designers in PCB design work, employing a static file transfer of the database. Although using exchange files is better than nothing, it is extremely difficult to determine what data has changed, and where changes were made and by whom. Without this information, true synchronization cannot occur and the same problems arise.


    Inefficient Teamwork on the Same Design

    Being able to view all the work taking place on a design is critical for efficient workflow. All engineers involved need to understand each other’s intent and vision, which requires comprehensive communication.

    However, email threads, notes and other kludgy communication methods disrupt efficiency and productivity within the workflow. The process is cumbersome and information can be lost if someone isn’t cc’d on the message – and even when they get the email, they might not read it on time.

    Intermittent or rare data exchange often results in issues down the road with the final product, which means designers have to retread their steps, determine the source of the violation and re-work their design. Team members are essentially doing the job twice to ensure the overall design can achieve final signoff.


    Communication Across Different Design Domains

    While the job of the PCB designer centers on the board as just one element of the complete, final product, there are actually many people involved. Electrical and mechanical engineers and CAD technicians have their jobs to do, while – on the manufacturer side – there are manufacturing specialists, and logistical and supply chain experts.

    Each group that touches the design uses different design domains, making it nearly impossible to communicate in the same “language” while interpreting the data in their own native application. There’s no integration of the multiple domains into a single, streamlined workflow, so multiple designers with access to the same board may impact the work of others who have access to the project – creating conflicts that result in costly, time-consuming mistakes.


    Lack of Accountability

    A team not working in an atmosphere that encourages PCB design collaboration will be frustrated when they reach the end of the project, only to find considerable conflicts that mean it’s back to the drawing board. Mistakes were made due to lack of communication and failure to synchronize design data. But because there’s no way to track changes to the design and find the source of the error in a non-collaborative work setting, there’s no accountability or transparency. Worse, team members may make mistakes may not know it. So, the errors will continue – causing additional costs and more time, impacting productivity.

    lack of accountability

    Solving Your PCB Design Collaboration Challenges

    You can reap the significant benefits of connected, communication-rich collaboration by implementing the right PCB tools to suit your needs. When considering your options for the best PCB collaboration tool, you’ll want to make sure your tool includes 6 primary features.

    Want to learn about what these 6 must-have features are and how they will increase your PCB design collaboration? Download a free white paper now.

    About Author

    About Author

    Alexsander joined Altium as a Technical Marketing Engineer and brings years of engineering expertise to the team. His passion for electronics design combined with his practical business experience provides a unique perspective to the marketing team at Altium. Alexsander graduated from one of the top 20 universities in the world at UCSD where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

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