I’ve been designing printed circuit boards long enough that my family has sadly grown accustomed to me spending more time at work than at home. With a design on deadline, everyone knows that I’m going to be working late nights at the office. I knew that I had to find a way to shorten my design time in order to relieve the stress and spend more time with my family.
A few weeks back it was Halloween and as usual, I had another deadline to hit. This time though, my design was ahead of schedule and I made it home early to everyone’s delight. We trick-or-treated, played games, laughed and had a great time together. Not only was I a hero to my family, but that night I slept more soundly than I have in a long time. Being ahead of schedule helped us all, and I owe a debt of gratitude to something that I have traditionally avoided - the auto router.
I know all the arguments against using an auto router because I’ve been using them for years. These days though, I’m singing a new tune. Auto routers have evolved and are much more useful now than they used to be. Instead of producing a board full of confusing and unusable routing, today’s auto routers are refined for specific needs. Once you learn how to best use these routers, you will be amazed at how they can help you. The world of PCB design software with auto routing has changed, and you owe it to yourself to take a fresh look at it.
Auto routing a PCB used to be a black box mystery
Auto Routers: Out of the Black Box and into Your PCB Design Software
A lot of us have thought of auto routing as some kind of secretive black box technology that we had no control over. In the past we have sent our designs to the mysterious router, only to be disappointed by the results when it came back. Often we discovered that the router had produced a mess of undesirable routing that would take us hours to manually clean up. Problems like these have caused many designers (including yours truly) to lose confidence in using an auto router.
Today it’s a different story though, as auto routers are vastly improved over what they used to be. Many of them are embedded with your PCB design software instead of being a third party black box application. This allows you to use the design rules that you already have set up, and it eliminates the need to interface with another application. Today’s auto routers also function in different modes so that you can target specific areas of your design to work on. Here are a couple of examples:
Point-to-point auto routing: You can use the auto router to connect simple point-to-point nets. You select the nets that you want to route, and the router will automatically route the traces according to your design rules.
Batch auto routing: Similar to the older “black box” auto routers that we remember, these modern batch routers are much more configurable. Since they are usually contained within your PCB design software, they use the design rules that you’ve already set up giving you much better control.
PCB design software with auto routing can help your design
How PCB Design Software With Auto Routing Can Help You
When my peers first encouraged me to look again into auto routing, I initially resisted. Eventually, though my need for help forced me to reconsider, and I gave auto routing another look. What I found surprised me, and I’m betting that you will be surprised too. Here are some of the types of routing that I have discovered where an auto router has really helped me:
Short or long point-to-point nets. These nets used to take a long time to route manually. Now, whether they are short nets from pin to pin or long nets that cross the entire board, the router puts them in much faster than I ever could.
Non-critical miscellaneous routing. At the end of a design when I have a bunch of non-critical nets left to route, the batch router is a great tool to have at my disposal.
Routing cleanup. The auto routers also have a lot of trace routing cleanup routines built into them. These greatly reduce the amount of time that I used to spend doing a manual cleanup.
I am finishing my designs more quickly these days because of auto routing. This has helped me to spend less time at the office and more time at home. I’m also sleeping like a rock now because I don’t worry nearly as much about how I’m going to finish my design on schedule.
Could you use some help to shorten your design time? If so, then take another look at auto routing, it’s changed a lot over the years. Today’s PCB design software with auto routing, like Altium Designer, can help you to get your designs to the finish line sooner. Who knows, you may even end up sleeping better as well.
Would you like to find out more about how Altium’s auto routing can help you? Talk to an expert at Altium.
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About the Author
PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.More Content by Altium Designer