Make Sure the PCB Layout Software You Use has All the Tools You Need

Altium Designer
|  Created: December 13, 2018  |  Updated: November 27, 2020

Picture of small plane flying in PCB layout software

When I was learning to fly part of my training included a long cross-country trip to practice the fine art of aerial navigation. Being a student pilot I, unfortunately, got a little lost, and before I got myself headed in the right direction again it was much later in the day than it should have been. Here I was; a student pilot that was lost flying an airplane and it was getting dark. I have never felt so alone in all of my life.

Since I’m writing this it should be pretty obvious that I made it back home again in one piece, but that sense of being totally on my own without much in the way of help was a profound experience. I figured that I would never feel like that again, and for the most part, I have been right; until I got lost trying to design a circuit board with a CAD package that didn’t have the tools that I needed. In an eerie repeat of my “lost flight” I realized that here I was; a young alone trying to finish a PCB design without the right tools to do the job, and I was so far behind schedule that it had actually been dark for several nights now.

Alone and in the Dark Trying to Design Without the Right Tools

When you don’t have the right tools to adequately design a printed circuit board, it can quickly become a nightmare. Everyone expects to be able to place on their schematic and connect them together or place and route a PCB layout. But when some of the more advanced PCB design tool options aren’t available to use, it can make your job a lot harder.

Not having the ability to check data and information on you want to use in your schematic can slow you down. You’ve got to wait until you can get someone from procurement to do the checking for you before you can put the part in your schematic. In the same way, not having circuit simulation tools at your fingertips can also be an annoyance. Sure there are other tools that could be used, but who wants to export their design to another CAD system if they don’t have to go through all that trouble.

On the layout side, it is a great benefit to be able to see and work with your placement in full 3D. I also love being able to pull in mechanical files to see how my board is going to work within its enclosure, and I’ve even pulled in other system boards to see how they are all going to connect to each other. If I couldn’t do that I would be forced to going back to rely on mechanical mockups and prototype builds. Yes, not having all these tools in your toolbox can cause you a lot of pain while you look for alternative methods to get the answers you need.

Screenshot of AD18 3D layout and schematic in PCB layout software

Working with designs in 3D can help with DRC’s and visualizing how your design goes together

It’s Getting Late, and You’re Behind Schedule

What’s worse though is what happens downstream from all of this hassle. Since it takes time to export your design to other tools or wait for answers from other team members, your design schedule is going to slip. When you are losing time in a tight schedule, who is it that will eventually have to make it up? Yes, you’ve guessed it; you are. You are going to be working late nights and weekends in order to get the job done by its expected due date. And while you are struggling to make this schedule work you are also going to be dealing with the tension of other departments and team members demanding explanations so that they don’t fall behind in their own schedules.

Ultimately we all have to answer for it when we are late with our work, and that may be the worst thing of all. No one wants to be in the “hot seat”, and even though these problems are caused by inadequate design tools, that still may not be enough to get us off the hook. The answer to this problem is to make sure that we don’t get lost and stuck in the hot seat in the first place, and that takes a fresh approach to what design tools we use.

Screenshot of AD18  assembly drawing in PCB layout software Productivity enhancement tools like this drawing generator in Altium  can really help

Find Your Way Home with the Right Tools in One System

They key is to use PCB design tools that have all of the functionality that you need in one system. This will keep all of your tools right in front of you where you need them, and with all the tools working together in the same system it will make you more efficient and save time. A complete system like this will have all of the schematic, layout, simulation, and high speed design tools that you need to take your design from start to finish so that you don’t get lost again trying to work around tools that aren’t there.

If you’re looking to make electronic circuits with a user interface intended for easy use and a low learning curve for any PCB creator, make sure you’re considering all the features and tools you’re going to want to have. Keep track of your needs from PCB footprints and schematic generation to your circuit boards and their output files for production.  

PCB design software, like Altium, has all of the functionality that we’ve been talking about here. From schematic to layout, and everything else between, Altium is the most powerful contained PCB design system that you can find. It has kept me from getting lost trying to get a design done on time, and I bet it will do the same for you.

Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you to find your way home again to successfully completing your PCB designs in time and under budget? Talk to an expert at Altium.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

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About Author

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

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