Integrated Design Software vs. Access Databases For Bills of Materials

Altium Designer
|  Created: October 3, 2018  |  Updated: September 25, 2020

File cabinet in a laptop screen

Building databases in programs like Access is easy enough. Access databases deserve a lot of credit for helping organize tons of information in one place. But adapting these programs to electronics design can be a real challenge.

Any PCB that is intended for manufacturing must have a corresponding bill of materials. This document is critical as it lists all of information about your PCB in a standardized format. Your bill of materials contains a master list of all components that will appear in your PCB, as well as sourcing information. Database software can be useful for building a bill of materials, but it takes time to develop compared to a tool that interfaces with an integrated components library.

Database Software vs. Integrated Design Tools

Database software like Access is extremely useful in many applications and has helped revolutionize the way businesses operate. You can design a custom database that catalogs anything you like, including electronic components for use in your PCB. Plenty of businesses use these database tools to track inventory across their organization, including electronic components suppliers.

Despite its usefulness in a variety of areas, database software is just like any other piece of software: it is great for its intended application, but it can create problems if used outside of these core areas. When you compare the required capabilities by PCB design software and manufacturers with the core capabilities of database software, the drawbacks of using database software for bills of materials become apparent.

PCB design software needs to pull information from your component libraries so that you can create a full layout of your device. Your design software then needs to compile component information in your bill of materials before you move to production. When you use a 3rd party database format, you’ll be stuck manually moving information between your component library and bill of materials when you prepare for manufacturing.

 PCB assembly and testing

PCB quality assurance is necessary for any assembly or production stage.

Reinventing the Wheel

Taking an Access template and adapting to a bill of materials for your next electronic device, or building a new template from scratch is not a difficult task. The difficult and time-consuming task involves importing your electronic parts information, specifications, and sourcing data into this database. You’ll need to import this information from another database, enter it manually, or retrieve it directly from component suppliers.

In effect, you are building a components library from scratch, despite the fact that many of these libraries already exist. Great PCB design software will include a components library that provides all of this information. These libraries are designed to integrate with your PCB design software, whereas an external database file does not have this functionality.

When creating your bill of materials in a database program, you’ll have to import information from your library database into your bill of materials database. But this creates the risk of falling victim to obsolescence. Unless your database program can obtain sourcing and lifecycle information from component suppliers, you risk including obsolete or un-sourceable components in your PCB. Inevitably, you won’t find out this has happened until you are on the cusp of production, forcing a costly redesign and database updates.

If you ever go to update or build a new version of an old device, you create the same risk all over again, and you’ll have to go through the same database updates. This consumes more time on the front end with database updates, it could potentially consume more time on the back end with redesigns, and cuts into your overall manufacturing budget.

Person typing on a laptop

Forget about updating component information manually

Using An Integrated BOM Tool Over Database Software

The major problem with using database software for your component libraries and your bill of materials is time lost due to lack of synchronization with your design, and lack of obsolescence and sourcing information. Even if you do use a service that provides an updated component library in a database format, you’ll have to manually search suppliers for sourcing information and copy this information into your bill of materials.

Sure, you could write a program that accesses supplier information and updates it into your database, but you’ll just be reinventing an inferior wheel. Your design software will still be unable to synchronize with your components database and your bill of materials database, forcing more manual entry of information in these files.

Rather than writing custom software to integrate database formats that were never designed for use with electronics design, an excellent PCB design software platform can do this for you. Your design software platform should periodically update your sourcing information, ensuring that you and your fabricator can access the critical components your PCB needs to work properly.

Great design software can take unify your schematic, layout, and component data in a single interface. This information is then used to automatically generate your bill of materials, and you can rest assured that your manufacturer will have all the information they need to begin production.

You can take your next PCB from idea to a real product when you use a great piece of PCB design software like Altium Designer. The ActiveBOM tool and your component libraries are unified with your other design tools, allowing you to generate industry-standard layouts, your bill of materials, and manage your components.

To learn more about product management and how Altium Designer can help you bring your next device to production, 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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