Using Library Search Features for Easier Component Selection

Altium Designer
|  Created: December 14, 2018  |  Updated: December 17, 2020

 Blue IC in tweezers

Components are those critical elements in your PCB that keep it ticking along and doing its job. Your component libraries contain all the information about available components in a single location, making it easy to add components to your board and use component information with your simulation and rules-checking features. Other design software packages like to separate these features into different programs, or they force you to use an external third party tool to search components and access sourcing information.

Instead of relying on multiple, separated programs or trying to integrate a third party service into your workflow, your design and component selection tools should appear in a single, unified interface. You’ll have easy access to extensive component libraries with searching features that make it easy to find and select the components you need for your next PCB. You won’t have to switch between multiple programs just to find the critical components you need for your PCB.

The component libraries in Altium Designer® include component searching and selection features that make it easy to find the components you need, add them to your board, and include component sourcing information in your bill of materials. All aspects of your design are placed in a single program, making it easy to pass design data between different features. The rules-driven design engine and consistent data format prevent errors that occur in other design programs and help you keep track of every aspect of your design.

Adding Components to Your Schematic

Building any PCB starts with building a schematic. When you work in an integrated design platform, your design tools are built to keep your schematic and layout in sync. Changes in your layout will need to be updated in your schematic, and vice versa. This type of synchronization between these important design documents prevents you from manually making the same design changes twice. Altium makes all of these tasks easy.

Component selection begins with finding the components you need for your schematic. Once you locate the components you need, you can add them to your schematic and start building connections. Down the line, you might find that a different component is a better choice for your device, and you need to find a replacement component. This is where component searching and selection features can help you find the replacement you need and easily add it to your layout and schematic.

When you’re ready to send your board off for production, you’ll need to create a bill of materials for your board. You don’t have to do this manually; you can compile a list of components into a standardized bill of materials and compile sourcing information for each component. You won’t have to search for distributor websites and add this information manually. Instead, your design software should import this information automatically based on the components that appear in your schematic and layout.

Starting to add components from your to a blank schematic you’ve opened in Altium ought to be your next step. You’ve likely downloaded a number of component libraries from outside sources, and you’ll need to install them before you can access your components. Altium will show you a “Libraries” tab on the right-hand side of the screen. Once you click the “Libraries...” button, you’ll be able to see which component libraries you have installed and can add more component libraries.

Clicking on the “Libraries…” button will reveal a window that looks like the figure shown below. So far, there are a number of libraries that are installed, but we want to add another to the program. If you click the “Install…” button, you’ll be able to browse through your hard drive and locate the one you would like to add to Altium. Note that you can add multiple libraries from a single window.

Screenshot of the Available Libraries viewer in Altium

Available Libraries viewer in Altium

We’ve gone ahead and added the “Freescale Microcontroller 32-Bit ARM.IntLib” from the hard drive. Once Altium finishes processing, you’ll see this appear at the bottom of the list. Now you can go back into your main interface and add a component from this to your schematic.

If you click on the dropdown list at the top of the “Libraries” panel, you’ll see a long list of all your installed component libraries. This list is presented in alphabetical order, making it easy to scroll through and locate the Freescale Microcontroller 32-Bit ARM. Once you click on this, you’ll see that it contains a total of 64.

Manually locating components in Altium

Manual part searching in Altium

Now that you’ve selected the one you want to work with, you can scroll through the list of available at the top of the “Libraries” panel. Here, were going to select the “MAC7121MAG40” microcontroller. Once you click the “Place” button in the upper right corner of the “Libraries” panel, you’ll be able to drop each part into your schematic. Now you’re ready to start wiring each of the symbols in your schematic.

Placing the MAC7121MAG40 microcontroller in your schematic in Altium

Adding the MAC7121MAG40 microcontroller to your schematic

Component Searching

In some cases, you may not know which component libraries you should use or which libraries contain the part you need. This is where you can take advantage of the search features in Altium. If you click on the “Search” button in the “Libraries” panel, you’ll see a search dialog appear. You can type in the keyword for the component you want to add to your schematic and search within selected libraries. You can also access this dialog by clicking on the “Tools” menu and selecting “Find Component…”

If you want to search within a single manufacturer, you’ll need to choose a path that contains the libraries you want to search. Alternatively, you can limit the search to libraries you have already added to Altium by selecting the “Available libraries” option in the search dialog. Here, we’re going to search for a NAND IC within the root directory that contains all available component libraries on the hard drive.

Screenshot of the component search dialog in Altium

Searching for a NAND IC in Altium

Obviously, this search will bring up hundreds of possible components with NAND gates. If you’re looking for a specific component, you’ll want to limit yourself to specific libraries on the hard drive or just limit yourself to the libraries you’ve added to Altium. This will help you drill down to a component from a specific manufacturer.

If you need to access the datasheet, packaging specifications, or any other information from the manufacturer of a component, you can easily access this information without having to use a search engine. Altium compiles this information into your component libraries and allows you to access it quickly.

If you right click on a component and move the cursor down to the “References” option, you’ll see a menu pop out with three items. This allows you to access the datasheet packaging information and the manufacturer’s website. Clicking on these options will open a browser window and will send you directly to a web address that contains this information.

Accessing information on a component in Altium

Accessing component information in Altium

At this point, you can continue to add components to your schematic using the search features until you’ve added everything you need. Once you have finished adding components, you can capture your schematic as an initial PCB layout. The unified design environment in Altium ensures that your PCB schematic and layout remained synchronized: any changes you make to one document can be easily synchronized into the other document.

If your schematics start to get messy, you can separate different functional blocks into their own schematics and link them together using hierarchical schematic design. You can also manage variants of your schematics within Altium. This is a much better idea than using the file system on your operating system to try and manage variants of your schematics.

Altium Designer gives you access to extensive component libraries and integrates your component data with your design, management, and simulation tools. The integrated environment in Altium allows all your tools to communicate using the same rules-driven design engine. Top-notch CAD, simulation, and data management tools are exactly what you need to create the best PCBs.

If you want to learn more about Altium, talk to an Altium expert today.

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About Author

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

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