Pass The Baton Well to PCB Design Successors

Altium Designer
|  Created: January 16, 2018  |  Updated: December 2, 2020

One hand holding a rolled document handing to another hand like a relay

Have you ever walked into a new job, first-day energy rolling through your shoulders, only to sit down and look at the notes left from the person who last had your job and know exactly what the problem was: poor organization. Poor organization is usually pretty noticeable in any work process; however, it takes on its most detrimental final form when you are trying to train someone based on the poorly organized leftovers of someone else.

Early in my career, I landed a job as a design engineer; I was ecstatic to pour through the source code for their complicated electronics only to realize that I was going to spend a lot of time trying to get through such poorly organized code. It took me a whole week just to identify a single line I was looking for. But, in a way, having that experience was a slap-in-the-face for me: I promised myself to make the life of my successors easier regardless of firmware or hardware design. By staying proactive and using some critical methods for organizing yourself, you ensure that nobody stumbles or drops a thing when passing the baton.

Maintain Clear And Concise Documentations

I think a fellow PCB will understand more than most that there’s a particular thrill that can get the better when you start working on a new project. Sometimes it can even feel more harmful than productive to slow yourself down in order to do the necessary step of preparing detailed project documentation. But from a proactive approach, if you have any hiccups in your design process whatsoever, detailed project documentation will be the first thing you wish you had. Specifying the purpose and functionality of the hardware and its specific requirements such as memory, communication interfaces, the types of inputs or outputs of the design will be crucial in saving future-designers valuable time in going through your work and learning from what has worked in the past, and where problems were encountered.

You can also help your successor in saving precious time by organizing the datasheets of the components you’ve used in the design. While there is no need for datasheets for every single capacitor or resistor, your successor will be happy for the datasheets of the microcontroller and logic integrated circuits (IC) neatly saved in a folder.

Furthermore, there are bound to be revisions in your designs due to either mistakes or changes in requirements. Keeping the revision number on the PCB itself helps to identify which version the product belongs to. However, that means little for your successor if the changes made in each revision is not properly documented. Making a revision changes documentation note is not complicated. Note down the revision number, the cause of any amendment and the specific part in the schematic where the amendment is made. You’ll be surprised how a simple effort in documentation could help your successor in avoiding your past design mistakes.

Designing With A Modular Approach

While my day one nightmare was squeezing thousands of coding lines in a single page, yours might be having a single schematic document with thousands of components. Lack of structure can result in your successor wasting precious time trying to visualize and compartmentalize the entire design. This is why I prefer a modular approach to my hardware design.

Wooden colored children’s building blocks
Keep things simple with a modular approach

Organizing your schematics into separate blocks such as power, microcontroller, memory, input, and output not only benefits your successor but also service technicians who are trying to pinpoint faulty components from your design. It’s a given that you’ll be working with complicated designs; however, with the proper organizational structure in place, you can make it so that your designs don’t require weeks of preparation to read and understand. A single glance at the overall block diagram should be all it takes to identify the major modules in the design.

Keep Components Libraries Updated

While PCB design software does have its set of component libraries, you may need to create custom libraries for some components occasionally. It’s important to keep the custom component updated with the part number, manufacturer and the associated footprint. What’s more important is that you are passing the custom libraries over to your successor as well. The last thing you’ll want is getting a call from your successor asking about missing libraries when you’ve moved on.

PCB microcontrollers and components on a green board
Don’t lose the custom components you created

Handling Over The Latest Manufacturing List

In some positions, a hardware ’s responsibility goes beyond designing electronics product. Some engineers may be tasked with sourcing the right components to meet production budget requirements. Creating and updating a Bill Of Material ( ) list can be a painstaking effort as it involves numerous suppliers and constant price changes. If you’re going to leave a good impression as you leave your current position, an updated list is definitely the icing on the cake.

Of course, a great PCB design software like Altium helps make project handover easier with its ability to build component libraries with their complete specifications for generating your list with a single click. With real-time component pricing and availability updating, Altium’s will be able to keep your design outputs organized for all to see.

Still, worrying about smoothly passing over your multiple projects to the next? Get more tips from Altium’s experts now.

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About Author

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

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