PCB Online Banking: Your Bill of Materials Report Can Be So Much More Than a Simple Statement

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

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I just finished going through my bank balances and I am very grateful for the online utilities that my bank provides. It used to be that you could only get an account statement in the mail from your bank that you had to reconcile with your checkbook. Today’s online banking systems are far superior with different utilities to help you track and organize your finances. With these tools you can move money around, create and monitor budgets, as do many other banking functions as well. It is a vast improvement from those simple paper statements.

Interestingly enough though, in the world of PCB design we still often settle for working with simple printed paper statements. I’m talking about the bill of materials (BOM) reports. These reports are typically generated from our PCB CAD tools during the design process. Like a simple account statement from your bank, these reports will give you only the basic information about your design that the manufacturer needs to build the circuit board. As you know though, there is so much more data involved with PCB design. It is about time that our BOM tools step up their game and allow us to work with all of the design data.

Like a present that has been wished for and then suddenly appears, PCB design teams now have the gift of advanced BOM management tools available to them. These tools do much more than just report basic design information, they are packed full of advanced functionality that let you interact with the BOM as part of the design. Let’s look at some of the things that they can do and how these utilities can help you.

BOM Management Tools are an Active Part of the Design

BOM management tools are much more than the simple BOM report generators that CAD systems have traditionally been equipped with. BOM management tools are integrated into the PCB CAD system and are therefore able to offer a greater array of benefits:

  • Live connectivity to the design: BOM management tools are connected to the design in the same way that the schematic or layout tools are. Each of these tools performs a specific design task, and they are all interconnected.
  • Full feature menu: Unlike a report generator, whose limited functionality is activated with a few menu commands, BOM management tools are operated with a full featured menu.
  • Design changes are automatically updated in the BOM: Since the BOM management tools are live, integrated parts of the design database, any changes to the design are immediately reflected in the BOM. This eliminates the need to generate a new BOM in order to see these changes.
  • Cross-probing: As part of the design database, BOM management tools allow cross-probing functionality as you would normally find with the schematic and the layout. By selecting a part in the BOM management tool application window, the corresponding parts in the schematic and the layout will also be selected.
  • Supply chain management: With the live connection to external data sources that the BOM management tools provide, the designer has access to component manufacturers for part lifecycle information.
Close up of  on a PCB
BOM management tools will give you better control over the used on your PCB design.

BOM Tools are Configurable for the PCB Bill of Materials Report

Although BOM Management tools will give you a tremendous amount of new design functionality, at the end of the day you will still need to generate regular bill of materials reports. These reports will go to different manufacturers, test engineers, field technicians, or anyone else that has a need to see a parts list for your PCB design. These various groups tend to want to see their BOM data formatted differently. To accommodate this, design teams have traditionally used tools such as spreadsheets to sort the BOM information; however, editing data in external tools from the design environment can lead to errors.

BOM management tools give you multiple ways to sort and report your bill of materials data. In addition to that, you will be able to add custom items to the BOM as well. Items that aren’t usually added to the schematic such as mechanical parts, mounting hardware, glue, and identification labels can all be easily added to the BOM management tools. This will give you the ability to configure your bill of materials reports to satisfy the needs of your end users, all while still in the design environment.

Picture of one hand on a computer keyboard and the other holding a credit card
BOM management tools will allow you to customize your BOM reports

BOM Management Tools are Part of Your Design Environment

BOM management tools allow you to work with your bill of materials data in the same way that your schematic editor allows you to work with connectivity data. Schematic editing, board layout and the BOM management tools all work together within the same unified design environment. This environment gives the BOM management tools the ability to do some functions that a simple report generator could never do:

  • BOM checks: You will have the ability to check your bill of materials data against the complete design data to ensure that it is correct.
  • BOM data is available for output files: In addition to being able to generate a standard bill of materials report, you will be able to funnel BOM data into other output files as needed.
  • BOM data available for manufacturing drawings: Data from the BOM management tools can also be used in the creation of fabrication and assembly drawings. If your company’s drawing standards include BOM data, the BOM management tools will help to make that task a lot easier by inputting the data directly into your design tool’s drawing editor.

In the same way that an auto-router will enhance your ability to design higher levels of PCB technology, BOM management tools will help to elevate your design abilities as well. Just as I discovered a whole new level of functionality by switching from paper bank statements to online banking tools, you too can discover some incredible benefits with modern BOM management tools.

Altium Designer is PCB design software that has all of the benefits that I’ve described here. ActiveBOM is an advanced BOM management system that is part of the entire Altium Designer unified design platform. Find out more about how ActiveBOM can help you by talking to an expert at Altium.

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