Strength of BOM Applications for Everything from Hobby Boards to Large Systems

Created: July 2, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Cartoon of construction workers building a PCB in  application

I’m currently building a new tool shed and I was fortunate enough to find some plans for exactly what I need. Or at least I thought that I was fortunate until I started noticing some errors in the plans. At one point it instructed me to cut two door headers to a precise measurement, but that measurement was wrong and the headers ended up too short for assembly. I must confess, I may have uttered a few choice words concerning those shed plans on my way back to the home improvement store to re-purchase more lumber. 

When you are building a printed circuit board (or even a shed), there is nothing more important than having the correct bill of materials (BOM) to work with. Whether you are designing a hobby board for a weekend project or creating a monstrous system design with thousands of intricate details, the last thing that you need is incorrect or missing data that could jeopardize your build. You need a BOM PCB application that will give you a correct materials list in a format that you can work with. Here are some ideas to consider when it comes to your BOM in construction of a PCB, and how it streamlines the PCB manufacturing process.

A Bill of Materials is Pointless if it Can’t be Used

The most important thing to keep in mind with a bill of materials in PCB assembly is this: if the BOM file is in a format that you can’t use, then there isn’t any point to it. Yes, you could spend time reformatting it by hand, but we should be long past the time where someone is required to spend hours cutting and pasting rows and columns of information just to make a BOM usable. A good quality BOM application should allow you to configure the materials information by whatever criteria you need for your PCB assembly: 

  • Sorted by part numbers

  • Sorted by reference designators

  • Formatted so that each part is on its own line

  • Grouping parts together by common attributes 

These are just some of the different ways that you might want to configure the display of electronic components information in your bill of materials. There are many other ways to sort and format the data, and the BOM application you use should be able to conform to your needs. PCB manufacturing can be difficult enough already with the hordes of component choices and components information out there, on top of getting production to coincide with your device.  

In a PCB assembly, another feature of a good bill of materials application is that it should give you a wide range of output options. You would expect of course that it will print a hard copy of your bill of materials or create a text file, and there should be other output formats available as well. Some examples of that would be web page or spreadsheet formats. Another bonus would be being able to apply custom spreadsheet templates to further optimize your PCB BOM output.

Screenshot of old  text output mockup in  application

If this is all that comes to mind for a application, it’s time to consider new possibilities

Compatibility with Your PCB Design System

As part of your PCB design system, it is important that your BOM application is fully integrated into the entire system. Some bill of materials generators only work with the PCB layout tools leaving you hanging if you need a preliminary BOM from your schematic. A good BOM PCB application should be part of the entire PCB design system giving you access to your part data whenever you need it, whether you are in the schematic or the layout of your design. 

Additionally, a good BOM application should offer tools that can help with your design and not just serve as a report generator. The part data that you are extracting a bill of materials from is another key portion of your design. Many BOM applications now are designed to give you access to that data so that you can search through it, edit it, and select it in addition to the usual BOM function of creating a materials list report.

Screenshot of AD18 cross select from  to schematic in  application

Cross selecting a part on the schematic by selecting it within the application

The Best BOM Application Will Do It All for your PCB Assembly

From helping you with your part selections all the way through providing you with the formatting options that you need, the best BOM applications can do all of this for you. BOM applications have become much more than simple report generators, and if you aren’t using yours to its fullest extent see what else it can help you with. No matter what size design you are working on or what its purpose is, using a full-featured BOM application can make all of the difference. 

We have found that using Active BOM in Altium Designer gives us all of the benefits I’ve described plus much more. Active BOM has a cloud connection so that we can get real-time electronic component data and information from our part vendors on those parts that we are selecting for our design. Active BOM also serves as another design portal alongside the schematic capture and PCB layout applications within Altium Designer. This allows us to cross-select parts from Active BOM into the schematic or layout and has been a great help during our design reviews. 

Altium Designer is advanced PCB design software, and Active BOM is an important part of the overall Altium Designer system. If you are struggling with generating your bill of materials, then perhaps Active BOM is just what you have been looking for. In addition to Active BOM, there are lots of other tools with powerful features within Altium Designer that can help you with your PCB designs. Find out more information about the best BOM application, PCB manufacturing, or PCB design software functionality by talking to an expert at Altium.

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