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    Why PCB Data Management is Important

    John Watson
    |  May 19, 2019

    Recently, I celebrated a birthday. Although I do not want to give away my age, let us say I can easily order from any senior menu in a restaurant. I realize the older I get that either I am slowing down or things are speeding up. I concluded it was a bit of both, but much more of the latter. In the words of Charles Dickens in the literary classic A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.” Those in the electronics industry can fully relate to what Charles was saying. We are watching one of the most exciting times ever in recent history, but also it’s one of the most challenging. The biggest challenge being; how do we keep up?

    A little spoiler alert. It involves us changing with the demands of our industry does things, and I can say that understanding the importance of PCB data Management is at the very heart of it.

    Innovations in Product Development

    For decades, what seemed to be a slow trickle of innovation and change is now a full-blown flood. With advancements in electronics touching every area of our lives, what is new and modern one day is quickly obsolete the next. Plus there is no sign of this slowing down any time soon. As new products hit the market, of course, it comes with a hefty price tag. However, people still stand in line waiting for the “latest and greatest.” for days on end.

    For example, a significant leader in the phone industry just announced that they would be selling a foldable phone which goes from being a smartphone to a tablet. It comes at what I would consider a hefty price tag of $2,000. Surprisingly, the presales are high even at that extreme price.

    Time to Market

    The question on the mind of every level of management is not intricate details of what it takes to develop a product, but rather when. Which is entirely understandable, everyone wants to have the most significant piece of the pie of the market share, and the first one to market wins. Few words send shivers down many a PCB Designer’s spine faster than… TIME TO MARKET. From concept to production, Time to market for new products has reduced down to just a few months. That means, there is neither the time or the money to conduct re-spins of designs. They must get it right the first time.

    Hitting a Moving Target

    This seems to be the constant learning cycle of PCB design–the industry is in a continual state of flux. Just about the time you think you have “nailed it down”, it changes. Which, personally, is why I enjoy working in this field. It is constantly changing. There is always something more to learn. That is of course, if you want to stay on the cutting edge of your industry, which if you don’t, will be glad to leave you behind.

    What Does This All Mean For Us as Designers?

    All these challenges require us to first change how we do things. It’s not business as usual. (Whatever that was). The environment we now work in involves a constant review and changing of the processes (of course as needed) used in your design process.

    The Integrity of Data and Designs

    More than ever, the data you use is more important than how you may do something. If we are to rise to the challenges that face our industry, our PCB data can either serve as a stepping stone or a stumbling block to us. The integrity of the design is directly related to the quality of the data.–we all know the well-known adage; garbage in garbage out.

    All this is a mindset you follow from the very first component created to the last file placed in your Fab and Assy package. Quality and accuracy are essential. I don’t know many companies that allow the testing of the accuracy of data by doing a fabrication build and determining where the mistakes are. Which means those checks are all done beforehand.

    What Do We Mean When We Say Integrity?

    When we speak of the integrity of the board and by proxy the integrity of the Data, we are sometimes satisfied with “just getting by.” We take a collective sigh of relief at the end and think, “We made it.” However, many times; just because something got ‘through” does not necessarily mean that it was the very best we could have done. Many times it just means we got lucky.

    The definition of integrity is the quality or state of being complete or undivided. I like that when you look at the PCB process and the data used. There is a link that connects everything in that design. For example, the datasheet is the foundation of the component; the component is the basis of the schematic, that then feeds into the PCB and also where we get our BOM, from the PCB we get our Fabrication, Assembly Drawings, and of course the Fab/Assy data.

    It still amazes me how what were just colored lines on my screen weeks earlier, is now sitting on my desk as a completed board. It all began with the simple datasheet for that first component, which speaks of the enormous importance of those simple datasheets.


    I would conclude by saying first; don’t be afraid of change. Change is an essential part of our industry. It is not something to shun, but rather embrace. When we’re not willing to change how we do something, we no longer benefit our companies, but hinder them. This fast-paced industry has no problem with leaving you on the dust pile of history.

    Furthermore, quickly identify the data used in your design process and determine if it is of the highest quality. Almost every problem that I have seen on a PCB design can be directly linked back to the library components. So, begin to fix any issues that may exist on that level.

    Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you with your next PCB design? Talk to an expert at Altium and learn more about making design decisions with ease and confidence.

    About Author

    About Author

    With nearly 40 years in the Electronic industry with 20 of them being in the field of PCB Design and engineering, John has stayed on the cutting edge of the PCB industry as a designer/Engineer and more recently as a trainer and mentor. His primary work has been in the Manufacturing field but it has also expanded to several PCB Service arenas. As a veteran, he proudly served in the Army in the Military Intelligence field. John is a CID Certified PCB designer. Presently pursuing his Advance CID certification. Now as the Senior PCB engineer at Legrand Inc, he leads the PCB Designers and Engineers in various divisions across the United States and China.

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