PCB Data Management
What is PCB Data Management?
PCB Data Management is the acquisition, storage, verification, usage, distribution and maintenance of all the data connected to the development of printed circuit boards or PCBs.
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In what some refer to as the “Olden Days” of the Electronic industry, it was definitely a different time. There wasn’t much need for PCB Data let alone anything to manage it with. Such tasks like creating schematics, BOMs, drawing, Gerbers were problematic at best.
Many times, such things were done on what can be best described as throwing caution to the wind and hoping for the best. It was very common (still is actually) that a PCB designer would get a crumpled-up napkin with a ketchup stain on it and scribbled on the back would be a barely legible schematic. A little gift from the EE scrawled out over his double bacon cheeseburger and fries at lunch. With that, a PCB Designer would only require a few schematic symbols, footprints, maybe a few component parameters.
Actually, a common practice was to simply copy and paste a single component and only change the value. Entire designs were created in just that way. The amazing thing, it worked, it advanced the entire industry in some extraordinary ways. Which really speaks of the professionalism and skill of those early designers.
In this “Brave new world”, the PCB industry has taken huge leaps forward. The advancements in technology driven by what can only be described as an insatiable hunger by market demands for faster smaller and sleeker products with all the latest bells and whistles is never-ending.
Looking at some running prices for those new devices, money does not seem to be an object. This has brought about a completely different mentality, a “Paradigm Shift” one might say. It has been estimated that electronic technology doubles every ten years and from what I see that is exceeding expectations. This “Paradigm Shift” has required a higher level of ability and competency in every area of the PCB design process and the CAD tools used.
In this “Brave New World”, a huge impulse exists to “keep up” with shorter development times of products from concept to market. In simple terms, we are forced to “get it right” the first time. The days of being able to design multiple Fabrication/Assembly spins of the same PCB design with no clear results or benefits are over. This Brave New World is one with our industry working smarter not harder and the importance of that fact has been brought to the forefront like never before. Those that choose not to go that route are left on the corporate dust pile of history.
In this “Brave new world”, the impact on PCB Data Management has been nothing less than overwhelming. A single electronic component now has endless information attached, various component parameters, sourcing information, availability, 3D models, compliance docs, Datasheets, Company PLM information, the list goes on and on. Then just to keep everyone on their toes, some of that information is in a constant state of flux and change.
This is an ever-changing and evolving area which means the definition is always developing also. It is far more than just managing PCB Data. A good definition would be “The acquisition, storage, verification, usage, distribution and maintenance of ALL the data connected to the development of PCB’s”.
Everything from here on will be structured around this definition and towards that goal.
If someone has been in the PCB industry any period, especially on the Manufacturing side, the main objective of a PCB Designer is not just to design “stuff”. I tell designers all the time that companies do not exist to simply “pay them” to design. Rather, it is the goal of every company to ultimately get that “stuff” into a sales catalog or on a shelf and have someone buy it. To accomplish this, the collection, organization and the distribution of PCB data will be vital. In this “Brave New World”, PCB designs are completely driven by information.
The bigger problem is not the amount of information or even how it is collected. Rather having a system and process to manage all of it. As we will be looking at later, the structure of the Data Management system is far more important than the data itself. If it is not readily available to those that need it, when they need it, the data will be useless.
The famous quote from Creighton Abrams “How do you eat an Elephant? One bite at a time.
This is a principle that has guided my career and one that I will refer to numerous times during this document. In its purest sense, what does it mean? To take something that is complex or overwhelming and may be difficult. Break it up into small manageable parts and simply deal with that single little piece.
This is difficult for some for several reasons. A lot of times, it is because the wrong thing is looked at. No matter hard they work, all they see is how much of the Elephant is still left and get overwhelmed. This principle of Eating the Elephant will be absolutely required if we are to understand this area of PCB Data Management.
The main objectives of this guide are multi-faceted. Initially, want to take a serious bird-eyes view of the PCB industry and what are those issues that are driving things in a new direction causing a huge Paradigm shift.
Next to provide the information needed to setup and manage a successful PCB Data Management System and process. If such a system does not exist for you right now than you will be given the tools and techniques to get started.
Additionally, to show how that data is directly used in your Design process. Finally, to provide the specific tools that are available to put this all together so that it will work for you.
Areas that will be covered in future additions to the guide, include:
To identify the significant and main drivers in the Electronic Industry that have caused influx and sometime down outright chaos. Forcing a new direction and requirements for the entire PCB industry and specifically the Data Management area.
To understand the requirements for all PCB Data Management Systems if they are to be successful. The structure and process of the PCB Data Management Process.
The PCB Data Management system by itself is not the goal. It does not stand alone and really has no purpose if it does not fit into the PCB design process and the Design flow.
This involves more than just how, to whom the data is distributed and when it is required at some point of the process. Rather what roles are involved in the PCB process and specifically what data would be involved in that phase of the design to be successful.
What specific Design tools are available to support, manage and distribute the PCB Data.
The challenge I have for you the reader is, how will you prepare for the massive changes in our industry? I can tell you that it will seem overwhelming sometime. I can promise you if you rise to the challenge it will be so worth it for you personally and professionally.
I recall several years ago sitting in a PCB conference presentation and how amazed people were that 5-mil traces were now going to be fabricated. I remember folks were just awestruck by that. It was like watching science fiction come to real life. Now, that is very common and they are going even smaller.
With all these changes, the burning question is where will we be in another 10 or 20 years? What will be the great breakthroughs of new technology? Furthermore, how will we as an industry provide the needed innovations and education that will launch us forward? Mostly, who will lead this electronic insurgency? Who will be, as I like to say, the Builder of the Dreams?
Are you ready for the adventure? Altium can help. Sign up for a free trial today and discover how Altium Designer can help you succeed.