PCB Design - It is a Team Sport

September 10, 2019 John Watson

Introduction

A poem by John Donne is the source of a phrase we are all familiar with: “No man is an island.”  Although he was speaking of how human beings do rather poorly when isolated from others and need to be part of a community to thrive, this principle is especially true when it comes to the PCB Design process. That no single person—or better said, roles—are involved in the PCB design. I would contend that for any PCB Design to be a success it must be a team sport. 

For many years, I have had the great opportunity to watch the tremendous advancement of innovation in Electronics. The very backbone of this industry has rested solely on the shoulders of the PCB Designer. We are the ones that take the engineering plans and make it a reality. One thing that is guaranteed is that what worked for us yesterday may not work today, and we must always be willing to change and develop what we do and how we do it.  

 

Roles and PCB Data Management 

There is a sort of symbiotic relationship between the PCB data and the roles involved. First off, understand these roles. This is not mainly about individuals or positions they hold, but instead the tasks and stages involved.

As we have seen before in other blogs and material, the PCB design process begins with the Electronic Component. Within that component is the unified data model, which holds all the data necessary to create a PCB. The first role involved in the PCB design process is the Librarian. I have always believed that the librarian holds one of the most critical positions and roles. The first rule is to always be best friends with your Component librarian. 

A little review is in order when we break down that component; we see that it has two major categories: the information and the models. On the information side, there is the general component information of Name, Description, the specific component parameters, and the sourcing information. On the model side, there is the Schematic symbol, Footprint, 3D Model, and sometimes (If you can get them) simulations or IBIS models. Each of these items in the unified data model plays its part at a specific point of the design process. 

 

Importance of Collaboration 

A typical scenario during the PCB process is to have multiple people working on a single design, usually at the same time. It can become rather challenging to mesh the PCB Data with a specific role. If not handled correctly, it could turn into a significant problem. 

It is all about collaboration, which refers to the act of specific individuals working together as a team in an intellectual endeavor or working directly with one another to perform a specific task. 

There are endless advantages to developing collaboration within a team. But it does need to be developed; it is not something that happens naturally. Folks tend to be islands and to handle things on their own. 

Leverage of talent

Of first importance is the leverage of talent. Everyone has their strengths and weakness, and by joining forces, it develops the overall team. It’s said that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. During this process, the hope is that we can learn from each other. However, what are we talking about with sharpening? “Abrasion", which is a process of wearing down through friction. It is inevitable that when people with various personalities discuss how to do things, there is friction. Which causes us to learn from each other. Which is right in line with the following advantage. 

Develops better communication

The key to collaboration in PCB design is communication. Being able to effectively connect to another individual and get across a certain point. When people work together it requires them to learn new things from the other and in that way exposes them to different points of view.

Expediting the projects

Time is usually a prominent driver in any PCB project. The big question is ‘when’. More hands truly do make for light work—the addition of each designer multiplies the work effort, and fortunately, the results. The real key to successful collaboration in PCB design is to assure that one designer’s work does not overwrite the other’s. This can be handled in several ways. Either can place work areas or zone for each designer to conduct their work. 

Another way is to work with a design repository. When multiple people are working on a single design, once the first person commits the design, the others must conduct a comparison and merge of the changes. That way, changes from every team member are maintained. 

 

Tools for Collaboration

Altium for some time now has been on the cutting edge of providing the needed tools to support the collaboration between various designers. They understand the importance of having and supporting a team effort throughout the process.

Some of the best tools Altium has provided include ways to improve communication through the placing of comments and tasks directly into the schematic and PCB design, which can be assigned to specific people on the team. Better yet a full collaboration tool that connects designers in the workspace with immediate notification of changes that each designer is making. 

 

Conclusion

The result of collaboration in PCB design is far more critical than just having a high-quality design at the end. More importantly, it also develops the team mentality, and with that comes more responsibility. Because it isn’t that really what is essential? That it’s not about us as individuals, but the individual parts to be a team and moving forward to reach a particular goal. 

Have more questions? Call an expert at Altium or read more about how anyone that uses Altium Designer® can benefit from adding Altium Concord Pro™ to their list of design tools to successfully use integrated PCB Libraries and schematic capture.

About the Author

John Watson


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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