Leveraging Component Data to Build Better Design’s Faster

December 17, 2019 Dugan Karnazes

In the business of robust electronics design, it’s not enough to build something that works, or even something that works well. Working phenomenally is the bare minimum in a competitive landscape. A robust design at a holistic level is one that is made of the correct components for the application, all of which are readily available with alternates, that is price optimized and sourceable from multiple suppliers. 

That’s a tall order for a design team, especially when time is of the essence. It’s a monumental task for an individual engineer. Fortunately, there are tools available today that give supply chain insight before a component even makes it to the schematic. Shifting beyond thinking of PCBAs as solely an electronics design and into treating them as a product design is now possible and within the grasp of an individual instead of a department. For our company, this has been enabled by Altium Concord Pro and Altium’s Manufacturer Part Database.

Altium has done a fantastic job of collecting all of the information that an engineer needs to make a component decision into one place. Suppliers, pricing, inventory, 3D models, schematic symbols, footprints, and datasheets are all available within the design environment before a component ever makes it onto a schematic. 

Given infinite time, a perfect design would always be created (hopefully). Let’s take a look at the real process an engineer or designer goes through when they’re under the gun and a design needs to be finished. Lets add some extra stress by assuming that this is an individual without the resources of a purchasing department, component librarian, or mechanical engineer.

Component Creation Process

  • Look for a component that will work in existing library
  • Shake fist in the sky when you realize you have to create a new component.
  • Select a component by searching on a suppliers website
  • Favor packages you already have in your library so you don't have to create a footprint
  • Shake fist in the sky when you actually do have to create a new footprint
  • Search a different site for 3D models of that package
  • Search the datasheet for the package footprint drawing. Save the datasheet in a separate folder
  • Create footprint
  • Create schematic symbol
  • Link them together to create your component.
  • Rinse and repeat for the rest of the design.
  • Curse your job
  • Curse the client

Burnout

Yikes

That process is a little dramatized, but it’s all too familiar. There are a few problems that emerge from a painful component creation process. Some are more obvious than others.

Time consumption

The process above is both painful and time consuming. There’s a very particular kind of personality that enjoys doing that kind of work and I’ve never come across them. Component creation is just one of those things you accept as necessary to create your design. If you’re not billing for it, then it’s expensive. If you are billing for it, you’re not competitive. 

Component or Supplier Bias

If the component creation process is painful, then the easiest part to use can be chosen over the best part when compromises start being made. This is an illustration of bad processes turning into subpar product decisions.

Fatigue

If 50 or 100 parts needs to be created to complete a design, that work is just drudgery and someone has to do it. This takes a hit on some poor souls morale in the worst cases, and gets expensive to outsource in the best cases.

All of these pain points repeat themselves when a component is replaced as well, and they tie up resources the whole time its hurting. This is a terrible scenario.

There’s a better way

Since we adopted Altiums Manufacturer Part Search and Concord Pro into our work flow, these pain points have almost entirely evaporated. The part database has suppliers, pricing, inventory, 3D models, schematic symbols, footprints, and datasheets, and component parameters already cataloged and accessible. Like any blanket solution, it sometimes requires a little tweaking to fit internal standards, which is what Concord Pro facilitates. The combination of these two tools offer a powerful solution to the component management problems faced by engineers and designers.

Even under the gun, our designers can now quickly:

  • Select a part based on its operational parameters
  • Check that its in stock and priced favorably
  • Skip over the model creation process
  • Place it in a design
  • Enjoy their work again

The advantages to this extend beyond just creating a good design though. Using this process we’re able to get our clients 

  • Better information on how much the design will cost to produce 
  • Alternates and suppliers sooner
  • Spend more time on higher level design decisions
  • Deliver more insight and better designs for the same budget.
  • Keep our team happier
  • Deliver results sooner

Companies spend a lot of time reducing redundancies, and the good ones focus on improving their internal processes in a way that benefit their staff and their clients mutually. The companies that figure out how to give the best results most efficiently come out on top. If you don't have a good process for managing your company’s components and supply chain, someone is going to have problems. Concord Pro offers the most compelling solution to these problems that we’ve been able to find and frees up our resources to focus on the kinds of problems engineers enjoy solving.

About the Author

Dugan Karnazes

Dugan Karnazes is the owner of Velocity Research, and an experienced electrical engineer with a background in electronics and engineering physics. Since 2013, Dugan has been focusing his attention on the PCB design process and working on research and development teams with companies in West Michigan to build better products incorporating advanced technologies and new techniques.

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