The Wild West of PCB Design - Part Choice Showdown

David Marrakchi
|  Created: February 21, 2017  |  Updated: December 31, 2020

Does your part selection process ever feel like a wild west showdown, where every stakeholder is out to protect their own self-interests at the expense of your own? Learn how to turn your part choice selections into a win-win for your entire design team with a new feature in Altium Designer® 16.



Does your part selection process ever feel like a scene from a wild west movie, where every stakeholder is out to protect their own self-interests at the expense of your own? This is the Wild West of PCB Design, and it’s not a pleasant scene. In this world, mistakes happen on a daily basis, and those left standing after the dust clears are forced to clean up the mess. In the Wild West of PCB Design, there’s a showdown about to go down, and only one man will be left standing.

Setting the Stage for a Part Choice Showdown

At the center of this conflict is you, the Schematic Engineer, and you've got choices to make - you need a part that fits your specific parametric requirements, but you’ve got stakeholders that need part numbers and material selections. What are you going to do?

Steve from Procurement stands to your left, glaring at you beneath the rim of his weathered, wide-brimmed hat. He wants the best price and availability on his components, and he’s going to get them one way or another, even if it involves you spending the entire weekend redesigning your board. To Steve, if there’s not a part number in his ERP/MRP system, then it’s dead to him.

And then there’s Dave, your PCB Layout. He stands confidently in front of you. His long, black duster coat ripples in the breeze as his right hand rests on his holster. Dave always wants more information from you about your component selections. If a component isn’t fully spec’d out with a complete parametric profile, manufacturing number, and manufacturing data, then he can’t do his job.

Regardless of which way this showdown turns out, someone is going to lose. But does it need to be that way? Why can’t there be a different approach to our part selection process where casualties and rework aren’t part of a daily design process?

The Current Reality of a Part Selection Process

Part selections aren’t easy, and there’s a number of concerns to keep in mind depending on your priorities. As a Schematic, your early-design focus is on selecting components that meet specific engineering requirements. Rarely do you think about where your components will be supplied from, and as far as you’re concerned, any 1uH inductor will get the job done. But here are the problems that arise with this approach:

  • The waiting game. The longer you wait to fill in your part information, the more of a potential backlog you create for your procurement team.
  • Incomplete layouts. Without complete component data, your Layout is sitting idle, unsure of what materials to select or what footprint sizes to use in his board layout.
  • Last-minute decisions. The next thing you know you’re at the end of your deadline forced to make a series of last-minute and ill-considered part selections that can delay your production cycles and delay getting your product to market on time.

So what are you going to do to solve these problems? When a sizeable portion of the components you use on a design are brand new, how do you make part choices that will satisfy your schematic design, board layout, and procurement needs?

The solution isn’t to immediately decide on specific part numbers. As Schematic Designers, we all know this isn’t a practical approach given the evolving nature of our design process. The only way out of this win-lose situation is to work with a flexible, centralized system that provides every stakeholder in your part selection process with the information they need, right when they need it.

How About an Alternative Part Choice System?

In Altium Designer® 16 we’re introducing a brand new Alternative Part Choice System that will evolve your part selection process from a win-lose to a win-win for everyone involved. Here’s how it will work:

  • As a Schematic Designer, you’ll be able to specify primary and alternative part selections directly in your system. Those alternative part choices will then be automatically swapped if a primary component is unavailable or incompatible.
  • Your Layout will be able to get to work immediately on his board layout, knowing that he’s got a complete list of components with defined parametric data and precise footprint specifications.
  • Your procurement team will never have to bother you again with back-and-forth emails and phone calls, asking if they can swap your component for another because you’ll have already provided them with a list of options.

The bottom line is this - with the new Alternative Part Choice System, engineers can stick to making engineering decisions, and procurement can stick to making their supply chain decisions. Each stakeholder gets what they want out of the part selection process, with no communication showdowns or shooting from the hip decisions. With this new feature, everyone will have access to the information they need, right when they need it.

Learn More About the Alternative Part Choice System

Your part selection process doesn’t need to be a wild west showdown where someone always loses. In this age of connected product designs, it’s becoming more important than ever to work together seamlessly across every engineering and purchasing discipline. We’re excited to see how you’ll take advantage of the new Alternative Part Choice System in Altium 16!

Want a sneak peek at all of the new features in this release? Learn more 

About Author

About Author

David currently serves as a Sr. Technical Marketing Engineer at Altium and is responsible for managing the development of technical marketing materials for all Altium products. He also works closely with our marketing, sales, and customer support teams to define product strategies including branding, positioning, and messaging. David brings over 15 years of experience in the EDA industry to our team, and he holds an MBA from Colorado State University and a B.S. in Electronics Engineering from Devry Technical Institute.

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