Scaling, Not Sinking Your Electronics: BOM Management Advice

June 11, 2018 Altium Designer

Picture of a circuit board on a boat


The most stressful part of owning a boat was when it came time to launch or recover it from the river. The boat was large and together with the trailer and truck, there was a lot of equipment to maneuver up and down the ramp without making any mistakes. If some kind of problem came up I would end up with the boat, the truck, or me sinking into the water. That sense of anxiety was very similar to the feelings I’ve experienced working with electronics BOM management.


As engineers, we put a lot of time and effort into creating the circuits of our printed circuit boards. We are usually trying to come up with something new and innovating, and the best way to do that is to incorporate the latest components that we find from our part vendors. The problem is that what we want doesn’t always mesh up with what’s available, and if that is the case it can leave us up the creek without a paddle.

The Problem of Selecting Components Without Current Information

When creating a new design we will often find a new part that will allow us to design circuitry that is faster, smaller, and more efficient. We’ll want to use this new part of course, and submit it to our purchasing department for validation. This is where the problems begin. Since we are under the pressure of meeting our schedule goals, we often will go ahead and assume that the part we need will be acceptable even though that isn’t always the case.


While purchasing is doing their validation we will continue with the design. Then, the real pain begins when we get the notification that purchasing is unable to validate the new part. Perhaps the cost is too much or the part isn’t available yet but we cannot use it. This causes us to have to redesign the circuitry in order to use a different part taking extra time for the project at hand and impacting other projects that now have to be bumped into their schedule.


Electronics BOM management screenshot of AD18 Active BOM

Many of the problems with part selection can be solved with BOM management tools




An Incorrect Component Choice Can Get Worse

Design schedule impact is just the beginning of the pain that we will experience. The need for a redesign could result in a negative impact on the performance of the designed circuitry. When you consider the domino effect that can happen by switching parts; different performance specifications, different costs, different thermal impacts, etc., you can see how painful this problem can actually become.


Additionally, if the board has already gone into layout when we get the news that the part has to be replaced, it will impact the layout schedule as well. In our company, layout time is a priceless commodity and it is never good to have to use it up for something like this. On top of that, having to redesign something is demoralizing for the engineering staff. Nobody likes to redo work that has already been done because of an unexpected part change.


There are even times when changes like this result in the design being put on the back burner and the motivation that had been in place to move this project forward is diminished or lost.


Electronics BOM management screenshot of AD18 Active BOM part selection 

Making an informed choice of the parts to add to your schematic using Active BOM

Component Selection Solutions with Electronics BOM Management

The solution to this kind of problem is to get real-time component information into the hands of the design engineers when they are making their part selections. This takes the question mark out of the equation when engineers have access to cost and availability information so that they can make informed part choices.


The best way to accomplish this is to have good BOM management tools in place along with the design tools. In this way, your design engineers can work productively on their new designs instead of letting them sink in the waves of uncertainty due to unexpected part changes.


We have been using Altium Designer for our entire platform of design tools. In addition to all of the other advantages that these tools offer us, Altium Designer comes with Active BOM. This is a bill of materials management tool that not only gives our designers an additional portal into their design data but also offers a cloud connection to our preferred part vendors.


An intuitive tool like Active BOM gives our design engineers the edge they need to stay on top of their designs with accurate and immediate component information while they design.


Altium Designer is one of best PCB design software platforms available today, and the functionality in Active BOM is an example of Altium’s commitment to their users. If the real-time connection to current component information such as pricing and availability with Active BOM sounds like it would be helpful to your design engineers, then Altium’s design solution might be the answer that you are looking for.

Find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.

About the Author

Altium Designer

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

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