Old Software Doesn’t Need a Leash for New Supplier Parts Updating

Created: May 11, 2018
Updated: May 19, 2020

Components on printed circuit assembly

Keeping track of component updates is a big job, what with change announcements coming in from vendors and distributors in random announcements and emails throughout the year. Keeping track of random notices and having a good process for implementing them is also difficult.

Using schematic and PCB editors, along with local and global libraries in an organized manner helps keep component information organized and available. Use of component databases and a unified system for managing updates is managed from schematic and PCB editors as well.

Time-Consuming Component Updates by Old Tools Leave Local Frustrations

Updating component parameters are time-consuming. The information comes into corporations piecemeal, sometimes directly to purchasing managers and sometimes directly into engineers. The news trickles to the PCB Librarian, who has to set aside time to make updates. It is frustrating, then, that after getting information changed in the central library, the change remains local on the librarian’s computer.

As the PCB software isn’t able to propagate the component change to all instances of the tool, we’ve had to come up with another plan for sharing this valuable information. A custom script was written to ensure any component changes were implemented, transparently, when users activate their instances of the design tool.

The process has become painstakingly full of redundant processes just to ensure that any member of a team can access the data necessary to continue on with their instance of the project.

Non-Collaborative Data Formats Yields Time Away from Design and Production

Local might sound good for an ice cream stand, but from a designer’s perspective working within a team of other designers and people responsible for buying parts, packaging, and manufacturing - local sounds like an absolute nightmare. Local document files mean that anyone opening the document container from another computer will not have the component updates. Imagine the flood into email-boxes, double-checking if someone’s using the right file.

Even our workaround process of crafting a script, which in itself is a hassle, comes with its faults. With tool versions coming in throughout the year, we constantly have to manage the script to ensure it stays current with the tool updates. It causes extra management for the already complicated task of part management.

After some research it was found that the PowerPCB.ini file is local

Central changes stay local

Script updating also prevents customization of changes. Sometimes we want to affect a global change to a component and at other times we want to keep the change local. There are different combinations of updates needed, and this complicates efficient management of the changes.

Automated Component Updates Would be Good

It would be better if we had access to both the project libraries and databases for components, either directly or from the project containers. This way, updates could be customized using a hierarchy to effect changes where they best support the design process. Having options for updating components globally, or adding alternates and substitutes both globally and locally would be helpful for driving competing needs for the component updates.

Having a variety of choices for making component changes is somewhat ubiquitous by design to enable flexibility. We can’t allow for the flexibility to enable disorganization, though. We need parallel hierarchy structures to suit component update needs. The hierarchies would flow from the document editors, from the library files, and from the component databases. The schematic and PCB editors would pull from each other and from the library files instantiated to the project.

Component databases would also be accessible via link files to enable designers access to the plethora of worldwide parts and their organizational tools. My design team would be grateful not only for avoiding the constant refreshing of change logs and upkeeping with purchasing but also for being able to spend more time actually working on their designs.

Unified Tools for Local and Global Component Updates Would be Better

Altium has efficient options for making changes to parts, be they updates to parameters, model links, symbols, or footprints. And there are a variety of ways to employ options suited for your design need. Variety is crucial as some changes wouldn’t be appropriate globally while others would benefit from global update. Variety within Altium for component updates can be accomplished in one or more of the following places: the Schematic editor, the PCB editor, and/or Library editor Tools menus.

Altium  18 Schematic Editor’s Update From  dialog

Update From dialog in Schematic Editor

Although flexible in choice of where to effect the change, the ultimate place to make the change is at the source. The source is dependent on where the component was placed from, and these include the following:

  • From an integrated library - the source libraries are extracted, the change made and then the integrated library package is compiled to generate the revised integrated library.

  • From a Database Library - for a parameter or a symbol/model reference, the change is made to the corresponding record for the component in the linked external database. If the change is a graphical one - to a symbol or model - it is carried out within the referenced source library.

  • From a Schematic/PCB Library - the change is made to the component or footprint in the corresponding library from which the component/footprint was placed

  • You also may have linked a placed component to an external database using a Database Link file (*.DBLink). The symbol and model changes are made in the source libraries. For parameters, changes are made in the database.

To access the source libraries, or link files, listed above, use the Tools pulldown from the schematic, PCB, or library editors. Tools are accessed within respective editors and open into dialogue windows where selections are made. Selections are refined within the resulting dialogue windows which are organized into schematic sheets, PCB layers, components by parameters, libraries or databases, and settings and actions.

After selections are made and actions taken reports are available for verification followed by engineering change order acceptance of changes. The tools you’ll be navigating to, depending on where you begin your change are: Update Parameters From Database, Update From Libraries, Update From PCB Libraries, Update Schematics, Update PCB With Current Footprint, Update PCB With All Footprints, and Parameter Manager.

So how do you select the method for the component change? Its dependent on what you want to change and where you want it to propagate. You choose whether to keep it local to one Project container or to allow the update to all other Project containers and/or to the corporation’s central library.

When updating parameters, the dialog windows where changes are made will give indicators to help you understand how the change will propagate. There are eleven types indicated with unique icons within the cell. Take a moment to verify that the change represented by the icon is what you need, and if all looks good, accept the changes. You’ll be able to guide the changes with commands to allow synchronization with libraries and/or databases before you accept.

You can say goodbye to your unnecessarily redundant solutions to unnecessarily slow software problems when using Altium Designer. Not only touting some of the best tools for design in general, Altium Designer also has built itself around the idea that there’ll always be more than one set of eyes on the board being worked on.

If you’re looking to know more about how Altium Designer’s software can repair your broken communication structures, find out more and talk to an expert at Altium today.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

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