Creating printed circuit boards (PCBs) that meet all design requirements can be a highly-technical and time-consuming process – not to mention costly. Design engineers are tasked with turning concept into reality in the shortest time span possible to speed time to market with quality, reliable products.
PCB design can now be streamlined through the use of sophisticated software that helps designers transform ideas into working boards in the least amount of time with the highest level of confidence that designs can be fabricated with the intended functions.
Technology of PCBs is continuously evolving as electronics are incorporated into new models of existing products such as smartphones, smart televisions, drones, and even refrigerators. These advances in electronics require increasing complexity of circuits with ever-smaller footprints including high density interconnect (HDI) and flex boards.
Designing for manufacturing (DFM) is a concept that designers must incorporate with their PCB designs to ensure that board designs are in reality capable of being manufactured. Design software meets the needs of DFM by detecting design issues that will raise a red flag to the fabricating resource. This is a critical feature that reduces back-and-forth questions between the manufacturer and designer, speeding manufacturing and reducing the overall cost of the project.
PCB Design Software Advantages
Creating PCBs with design software provides many advantages for engineers:
- Quick start – design software can store prior designs and commonly-used templates for reuse. Selecting an existing design with time-proven reliability and functionality, then adding or editing functionality is a quick way to get a project moving forward.
- Component libraries – software vendors provide a library that includes thousands of known PCB components and materials available for inclusion on a board. These can be edited to add new materials that become available or to add custom components as needed. As new components are offered by manufacturers, libraries are updated accordingly.
- Intuitive routing tools – place and move routing easily and intuitively. Automated routing is another important feature that saves time in development.
- Quality improvements – design tools provide a more reliable result, improving quality.
- DRC – Design Rule Checking is a powerful tool that examines the PCB design for integrity issues related to both logical and physical characteristics. This function alone can save considerable time in eliminating rework and validating the board design.
- File generation – once the design is completed and validated by the software, designers have a simple automated method of creating files the manufacturer needs to produce the product. Some systems further include a file checker function that verifies all files needed for production have been generated.
- Time savings – flaws or questionable design elements can slow the production process with questions between the manufacturer and designer. Each issue adds time to the manufacturing cycle, and could result in rework and higher cost.
- Design for manufacturing – DFM tools integrated into many design packages provide analysis of the design against manufacturing ability. This can save considerable time in fine-tuning the design before it ever gets to the fabrication process.
- Engineering changes – as modifications are made, changes are tracked and documented for future reference.
- Collaboration – design software facilitates peer review and suggestions from other engineers through sharing of designs throughout the development process.
- Simplified design processes – automated placement and drag-and-drop functionality allow designers to create and edit designs more efficiently and accurately.
- Documentation – design software generates hard-copy documents for PCB layout, schematics, component lists, and more. Manual creation of these documents is eliminated.
- Integrity – integrity checking of PCBs and schematics provides alerts for potential defects.
Through the combined advantages of applying software technology to PCB design, there is another significant benefit: management becomes more confident in the established timelines and budget for development projects.
Potential Problems Caused by Not Using PCB Design Software
Most PCB designers today are utilizing some level of software to develop and analyze board designs. It becomes apparent very quickly that there are considerable disadvantages to not implementing computer aided design (CAD) tools in PCB designs:
- Missed deadlines and slower time-to-market – the competition is using such tools as a competitive advantage. Management expects products on schedule, and within the established budget.
- Manual methods and back-and-forth communications with manufacturers impedes the process and increases cost.
- Quality – without the analysis and error discovery provided by automated tools, there is a much higher potential for reduced reliability and quality. In the worst-case scenario, defects may not be detected until after the final product is in the hands of customers and consumers, causing lost sales or recalls.
Putting sophisticated PCB design software to work in creating or updating designs will speed the design process, accelerate manufacturing, and reduce costs.