Put the Power of a BOM Template to Work for You

Created: February 22, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Picture of marketing board and bill payments

One of the dictionary definitions of the word “template” is; anything that determines or serves as a pattern or a model. Without realizing it, I bet that we all rely on a lot of templates in our lives. I have certain document templates that I use for work, and my wife has hundreds of patterns that she uses when sewing. I even have a designated pattern set for my Christmas decorations so that I can quickly put them up and then easily take them down for storage.

We all are so accustomed to using templates in our lives that, for the most part, they go unnoticed until we find ourselves stuck in a situation where having a template would be really useful. For instance, have you ever found yourself wishing that you had saved specific documents, facts, and figures from the previous year when doing your taxes? That is a classic case of where a template could really come in handy.

Another good example is when you are creating a printed circuit board bill of materials (BOM). Having to create the spreadsheet document for the PCB BOM is time-consuming enough to say nothing about having to remember which columns and elements need to be included for each different vendor that you are sending the BOM to. BOM management software can save you time and effort, plus eliminate the hassle of having to re-create the same document each and every time you generate output files.

Make a Template for the BOMs That You Know

For years we’ve been stuck with PCB design tools that didn’t give us much in the way of options when it came time to create a BOM. These tools treated the BOM as an output file, not as a part of the overall design process. From either the schematic or the layout (and in some cases, these BOM reports were only available from the layout tools), you would have a menu selection to simply “Write BOM.”

Often these tools would give you some limited options when writing the BOM. Like the color choices of the original Model-T Ford, where you had the choice of any color you wanted as long as it was black. You typically could name the columns of your BOM, and you might be able to move the columns around. You might even be able to add some user-defined columns that pulled in part attributes to add to the schematic or layout, but that would be the extent of it.

Picture of an old style BOM
PCB BOMs from older CAD systems were pretty generic in their makeup

What Kind of BOM Would You Like to be Able to Create?

In a perfect world, then, what would a premium BOM tool look like? First of all, it would be much more than a simple report generator. It would be an actual BOM management tool that would allow you to interact with the parts of your design at the same level as the schematic editor or the layout tools. You would have access to online part services, as well as other advanced functionality that would give you remote access, library access, and cross-probing.

When it came time to generate the actual BOM document to be distributed, you would have a full functioning tool that allowed you to organize the BOM the way you wanted it to look like. You would still be able to name columns and add user-defined elements as you’ve always been able to, but there would be so much more as well.

You could change the format of the BOM in how it presents the data. This would give you the ability to easily customize the report for the different vendors that you use. And most importantly, you could save these settings off in a template so that you could go back to that style and format for future jobs.

Picture of Active  customization menu
Altering the format and look of your report is easy with Altium’s Active

PCB BOM Templates That Work for You

The good news is that this level of BOM management is available to us now. You can open up a BOM menu in your design tools and manage the components in your design just as you would edit the schematic or lay out the board. BOM management tools give you the ability to create the BOM that you need for your vendors, and then save these templates for future use.

PCB design software, like Altium Designer, has the advanced bill of materials management functionality that we have been talking about here. Active BOM is more than a simple output file function or report generator, it is part of the entire unified design platform that Altium offers. With Active BOM you have a companion tool that works alongside both your schematic editor and your PCB layout giving you more control and power with your design.

Find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.

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