Printed Circuit Board Design Software that is Productive and Painless to Use
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When I was young, a new hospital was built in my community. It was easy to get to and provided a great service. Over the years however, the hospital has grown and added more clinics and services. To accommodate this growth the property has been drastically altered for the construction of buildings and parking lots. Now there are narrow driveways, reduced parking, and areas blocked off by cement barricades. If new equipment is being delivered as it was when I was there the other day, the main through streets get blocked off while workers unload the trucks. I love the hospital, but using it has become a painful experience.
I’ve also experienced this same effect with printed circuit board design software over the years. I would have a set of tools that I loved working with, and then the tools get acquired by another company and blended into the new vendor’s existing tool set. Soon there would be new features and functions embedded in the tools to cross-connect the old tools to the other systems offered by the vendor. Growth is good, but losing the ease and functionality that I was used to in order to become a “mega” tool set was very counterproductive for me. Has this happened to you? If so then what follows will probably sound familiar.
Often when design software is acquired by another software company, it is to fulfil a missing need in their own lineup of tools. This is a pretty normal occurrence, but can be a headache for users of the original tools. Soon the next releases of the tool will involve new features in order to blend that tool with the functionality of the parent company’s tools. If you don’t have any need for those features, or actually didn’t like them in the first place, you are now stuck with your favorite tools going in a direction that you didn’t want.
This usually means that the user interfaces that you have worked with for years will change. These changes are often subtle at first, but then will get more and more dramatic over time. I’ve heard more than once from my application engineers that there’s no need to worry, that the core functionality of my favorite tools will not be affected by the merger. Yet months later everything starts to change and I’ve got to change along with it in order to keep up.
When it's crunch time, you don’t want to worry if your design tools are changing
The irritation of having to relearn how to use a favorite software tool doesn’t even begin to compare though with the outright anger I’ve felt when the tools no longer like they used to. Sometimes the tools have actually been broken when there is a compatibility problem between the old tools and the new system. After several iterations of bug fixes and software updates these problems will often be ironed out, but not without the pain of having to go through additional translation processes or other work-arounds.The simplicity of a previous design process sometimes is lost with the need to force the old tools to work within the new system.
Sometimes the direction taken by the new software vendor has broken my design process. At one point in my career I was working on a set of design tools that was acquired by another vendor, and they absorbed its functionality into their existing tools. While training on the replacement tools I asked the trainer why a certain process for manipulating the display was no longer available. His answer was stunning; “why would you even want to do it that way when our way is better?” Apparently, the new software vendor didn’t have much concern for the scores of users that were used to a specific way of working within the design environment, and they simply made it “go away”. As they say; if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Designs like these need a powerful set of design tools based on a solid foundation
I have found that the way to avoid the stress and angst of these kinds of problems is to stick with a software vendor that has built their tools from the ground up to work together. Any new functionality or additional features are carefully managed so that their introduction into the design system doesn’t break the existing workflow of the users.
Working with tools like these removes the stress of wondering what will change next, and instead, new functionality and enhancements are carefully implemented to improve the user’s productivity instead of hurting it. Components, design rules, schematic capture, and layout software all are in place so you, the design engineer, can move forward without hesitation. Make sure you have the software that can keep your components on your electronic circuits.
The PCB design software that we use is Altium Designer®. The engineering team at Altium has done a great job throughout the years making sure that the growth and changes of the tools are part of the natural evolution of the design system. This gives us the kind of tools that we can rely on to take care of our design needs on a daily basis as well as keep up-to-date information on components. Find the schematic software without a massive learning curve.