One of the greatest eras in human history was the Renaissance. It was then that we began our transformation to a more humanistic view of the world and our place in it. This awakening, which took place during the middle of the last millennium, was the launching pad that has brought us to the age of technological marvels that we utilize to improve our lives today. Clearly, a major contributor to this is the printed circuit board (PCB), a central element in virtually all of our electronics based devices and systems. The history of PCBs began humbly, but now there is an entire industry dedicated to designing and manufacturing circuit boards.
Typically, PCB design and manufacturing are performed by at least two different entities as each requires different tools, equipment, and levels of expertise. For PCB design, a software program or package is used by designers and engineers to transform ideas into circuit designs for imprint on buildable boards. The manufacturing or fabrication and assembly of these boards usually involves multiple machines and processes, although some may be software-driven. For the boards to be made, your circuit design software must produce design file(s) that can be accurately interpreted by your contract manufacturer’s (CM’s) tools and include specifications that fall within their equipment’s capabilities.
The best circuit board design and manufacturing or PCB development occurs when you have a software package with capabilities that allow you to perform prebuild evaluations and fully incorporate design for manufacturing (DFM) rules and guidelines that are synchronized with the CM actually building your boards. But before defining what these capabilities are, let’s lay out the basic functionality that your circuit design software tool must have in order for your boards to be manufacturable at all.
Basic Circuit Design Software Requirements
Taking a circuit design idea from a mere concept to a state where it can actually be realized requires circuit design software. This is necessary because you have to generate a design file package that your CM can interpret. Although there are programs that can convert from one format to another, it is easier and more advantageous to have this capability in the same package that you use to generate your design. With this capability included, the essentials for your circuit design software are listed below.
🖳 Schematic Creation
All but the simplest circuits require that you first create a schematic containing all of the components of your design and their associated nets. You should be able to build component libraries, including symbols with pin connections for your schematic and corresponding footprints for your PCB layout, and check to ensure your circuit is fully connected.
🖳 PCB Layout Design
Once your schematic is completed, you should be able to convert it to a PCB layout format. Most programs have auto-routing functionality and give you the ability to route your own traces. You also need to specify your PCB stackup.
🖳 BOM Compilation
For PCB assembly, a list of all the components or a BOM for your design is necessary. Your design tool should be able to compile all of the information needed by your component procurer.
🖳 Design File(s) Export
It is essential that you are able to generate a comprehensive design file package in a format that is usable (or can be converted to a usable format) for your chosen CM. Currently, most CMs accept at least one CAD file and Gerber file format. Consequently, most circuit design software packages can generate and export these files.
In order for you to design your PCB and create the files necessary for its manufacture, the capabilities listed above are essential. However, there are additional capabilities and functionality that, if available and implemented, can elevate the quality of your design and enhance the entire development process.
Selecting the Best Circuit Design Software Tool for Your PCB Manufacturing
If you are working with circuit design software that only has the essentials, you will be able to get your board built. However, there are a number of potential problem areas that could extend the turnaround time for your boards. These include having to convert your design files to a usable format for your CM, extended back and forth for clarification or redesign to meet your CM’s capabilities, and waiting for out of stock or back-ordered components. On the other hand, the most advanced circuit design software tools include advanced capabilities and functionality, such as those listed below, that can eliminate these concerns and even aid in improving the speed and quality of the development process.
💻 Circuit Simulation with Schematic Capture
The ability to test your circuit by running functionality analyses not only validates your design but also verifies your nets and connections. For this to be useful, you must be able to import/export netlists and component packages between the simulator and schematic creation functions.
💻 DFM Import
The ability to import DFM specifications from your CM in a format that your design tool can recognize directly into your circuit design software ensures that your design is buildable and should eliminate virtually all errors and clarifications.
💻 Unified Design with Integrated BOM
When designing your PCB, it is normal to have to work between the schematic and the PCB layout. Any changes made in one have to reflect on the other, which typically requires conversion or back annotation. With a unified design environment such as Altium Designer, which includes the BOM, changes made in either are reflected throughout your design.
💻 Real-time Component Data
Having real-time component data allows you to verify component availability prior to incorporating it into your design.
💻 Panelization Design
Creating a design for the panels used for the manufacture of your boards frees the CM from this task and allows us to establish how your boards will be separated or depanelized. This is especially helpful when your design includes board edge connectors.
💻 Board Analysis and 3D Visualization
Having a design package that allows you to perform board analysis, such as power distribution and thermal analysis allows you to identify trouble spots that can be corrected before any runs are made, saving time and unnecessary costs. 3D visualization is a great aid for mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD) integration as you can view your layout from all perspectives.
|Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service|
Does it matter what circuit design software you use? If you are a seasoned PCB designer, then you may think this is a rhetorical question. If you have basically only used a single package then the answer is an emphatic yes! The right software tool allows you to take a broader approach to designing your PCB layout that will result in a smoother, more efficient process.
Tempo Automation is the industry leader in quickly building high-quality PCBs, and we will work with you to make the best use of your design tool capabilities to incorporate DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.
If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on circuit design software or how to select a design package that best suits your PCB manufacturing needs, contact us.