When I was a boy I really enjoyed reading the “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” mystery books. These books were a contemporary to “The Hardy Boys” mystery books and I filled a lot of my free time reading about “The Secret of Terror Castle”, “The Mystery of the Screaming Clock”, and many other frightful enigmas. A few years ago I ran across some of these books, and now I collect as many as I can find.
Another avid fan I know said it well when he said; “finding these books is like being reacquainted with an old friend.” As a boy, I trusted these books to make me part of their marvelous world. Believe it or not, I’ve developed this same trust with my PCB design tools, especially the ones I use less frequently but still trust immensely. This trust is that they will get me through what I need to accomplish. And for better or worse, the tools have gotten me through quite a bit.
One aspect of my PCB design activities that was something less than a trusted friend was the process of creating a bill of materials (BOM). This used to be a frustrating manual process that often was plagued by discrepancies and errors. Now with bill of materials management tools, it has become something that I can trust again due to the automation that I am able to use. With automation, my BOM process has earned itself my trust again.
The Not So Friendly Management Process of Creating a BOM Manually
It used to be that the PCB bill of materials was nothing more than a text file that was generated from the CAD tools. In order for this document to become useful to the other departments, it had to be manually verified and corrected. It would also have to have any additional parts not represented in the CAD database added in as well. After that, it had to be reformatted per the needs of whoever was going to be using it and then distributed.
Because this was a manual process, every time the design was changed we would have to go through the same steps to make sure that the BOM was correct. If someone didn’t receive their messages that day they might miss out on the latest update and continue working from an outdated BOM. There was also the very real possibility that with all of the manual changes that were made to the document that it might get out of sync with the actual design database.
Creating and recreating a PCB BOM in order to capture design changes can lead to errors
The PCB BOM Creation Process That was Desired
What I was looking for was a PCB BOM whose creation and update processes was something that I could trust. I wanted a BOM that was more than a simple text document and that would work globally for all departments. I also wanted a BOM that was available during all phases of the design instead of it only being available after the layout was completed. It would be really advantageous, for instance, to query parts from the library while still working in the schematic.
Most of all I wanted the BOM to be something that I could work with that was part of the overall design process instead of it being just an output file. I wanted to be able to interact and work with the BOM entries the same way that I work with parts on the schematic. And on top of all of that, I wanted to be able to do all of this easily without having to jump through a lot of different hoops to get there. I know, it seemed like I was asking for a lot.
Bill of materials management from the design tools will give you more control over your design
Bill of Materials Management Automation that Gave Me what I Wanted
Fortunately, I have found what I was looking for. The BOM management tools that I am now using have given me the level of automation that I was hoping for. The days of manually compiling a BOM are gone. Instead, the BOM data is managed throughout the entire design as another part of the design toolset instead of it being a simple output file. This allows the BOM to interact with every other design aspect from schematic to layout to manufacturing drawings.
The BOM management tools that I am using have given me the ability to select parts within it to highlight the same parts in either the schematic or the layout. Not only has this been very helpful to me during design, but in design reviews as well. I am also able to synchronize accurate BOM information with other departments.
The management tools allow me to research components for detailed part information and then pass that data on through the BOM to purchasing and manufacturing. This has helped us to make sure that the correct parts are ordered and ready for the assembly line. Finding user-friendly automation that we could trust to solve problems in our manual BOM creation has been a major relief. Software like Altium Designer’s Active BOM may be the answer that you are looking for too.
If that’s the case and you’re interested in how finding software with tools you can trust will help your design process, find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.
About the Author
PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.More Content by Altium Designer