Customer Success Stories

History Lessons with Bil Herd

“One thing you find very quickly with Altium Designer is that the engineer part search is reversed. Normally, this is something you’d do post-design, but with Altium Designer, it’s like frontloading on the back end. Now, I get to pick parts from stock as schematics are created, without having to use multiple tools to get the job done.”

Bil Herd
Electronics Design Legend

Back in the Day

It may be hard for some to fathom, but PCB design software—and electronic design automation in general—has only existed for a short time.

Less than 40 years ago, the electronic devices we can’t live without today were few and far between. Personal computers were rare, software programs were scant, and smart technology was the stuff of science fiction and James Bond movies.

Few understand what it was like back then quite like Bil Herd, a veteran computer engineer who was the principal designer of the most iconic 8-bit home computers of the 1980s, the Commodore C128. He also was integral to the development of computer chips used by Apple well into the mid-1990s.

Herd has been working on computers since the 1970s, when the PCB design process involved hand-drawn schematics that had to be cello-taped together to view from end to end. To prevent smudging the delicate draft paper that he used, Herd would often rest his elbows on sweatbands whenever he had to make changes.

By the early 1980s, while technology was moving forward, PCB design methods remained much the same. As Herd recalls, “I started working on the Commodore C128 using the same hand-taped methods. I still work with some of the same guys today, but we’ve all moved onto using state-of-the-art PCB software.”

When the time came for Herd to invest in his own PCB software tool, he only considered one brand: Altium.

"With Altium Concord Pro, I can get full part data on everything, and see what’s a safe bet right from the start of a project, so part picking is now much, much easier.”

Bil Herd
Electronics Design Legend

Finding the Right Fit

Over the course of his expansive career, Herd has used every brand of PCB software on the market. “You name it, I’ve used it,” Herd says with a chuckle. “At Commodore, we had one system that used scratch pads that I had to edit by using my fingernails. From there, we moved onto three more systems, each with pluses and minuses.”

Herd and his peers stuck with free PCB software tools for their own personal projects, which left much to be desired. Herd’s friends increasingly became avid Altium Designer aficionados.

“One of the things that attracted me to Altium was that my friends were all using it, and unlike many other systems, it wasn’t priced so high that only big companies could afford it. I actually bought Altium Designer using my own credit card,” laughs Herd.

“Altium 365’s viewer tool is great for my customers; they can just see what’s going on with their individual projects. I’ve also given other engineers access, and that’s been going great so far.”

Bil Herd
Electronics Design Legend

Frontloading on the Back End

Herd quickly found that his investment in Altium gave him something no other tool had managed to before: a whole new way to design. 

“One thing you find very quickly with Altium Designer is that the engineer part search is reversed. Normally, this is something you’d do post-design, but with Altium Designer, it’s like frontloading on the back end. Now, I get to pick parts from stock as schematics are created, without having to use multiple tools to get the job done.”

Altium Designer’s unified design environment also gives Herd the ability to go from schematics to manufacturing boards faster than ever. “To this day, I still don’t count on getting a design right on the first try, but with design rule changes that update automatically inside Altium Designer, I’m 99% there every time, and can pretty much go straight into production. I couldn’t do that with any other tool I’ve used.”

Herd has also harnesses Altium Concord Pro to streamline component management. With access to thousands of different distributors, Herd can always count on finding exactly what he needs for different projects.

“Altium Concord Pro has been really helpful because I can see all of the distributors, which helps me find the right part. I’m a hardware designer at heart, so I’ve learned how to tell when parts are in stock quickly; if I see very few parts in stock, I know there’s something wrong. Maybe there’s a part number error, maybe there are very few parts left, maybe the part’s gone obsolete—but that’s taken lots of educated guesswork over the years. With Altium Concord Pro, I can get full part data on everything, and see what’s a safe bet right from the start of a project, so part picking is now much, much easier.”

Shifting into the Future with Altium 365

Herd recently began using Altium 365, the world’s only cloud platform for printed circuit board design and realization. Altium 365 creates seamless collaboration points across the PCB development process, making it the most connected design experience in the industry. Altium Designer users like Herd don’t have to change the way they work to take advantage of Altium 365; it compliments and extends what they already do, making the parts that are hard—like knowing what component parts to avoid—easy.

For Herd, that means avoiding end-of-life issues. And, with Altium 365, he can get the most up-to-date part data directly from IHS Markit, the world’s most accurate component intelligence resource.

Herd also has been using the platform to share designs with customers and co-engineers on different projects. “Altium 365’s viewer tool is great for my customers; they can just see what’s going on with their individual projects. I’ve also given other engineers access, and that’s been going great so far,” he reports.

As an industry veteran, Herd is acutely aware of the limitations of cloud technology, particularly in the area of data security, but with Altium 365, he adopts a purely common-sense approach. “The ‘cloud’ is just another word for using other people’s servers—I like the idea. Altium 365 just keeps on working, no matter what. I’m a hardware engineer at heart, so I know when there’s a problem—I’m hardwired to look for bugs at all times—and I’ve only seen the tool go down once, and that was just for routine maintenance!”

Herd is particularly fond of how easy it is to use with his Altium 365 Pro subscription plan, which enables him to use Altium Designer and Altium Concord Pro simultaneously. “I’m a big fan of subscription services,” Herd adds, “And I’ve even recommended Altium subscriptions for my clients!”

Herd’s come a long way from the days of cello-tape and sweatbands—and he’ll keep moving forward with a little help from Altium.