Plan Your Next Quick PCB Prototype Run in a Unified Design Environment
Building a prototype and initiating a high volume manufacturing run both require compiling your design information into specific, standardized deliverables for your manufacturer. You’ll need to compile a bill of materials and Gerber files, among other manufacturing outputs. Instead of relying on external tools to accurately take information from your design and compile deliverables, try working with Altium Designer, the only PCB design software platform that integrates all of these tools in to a single, unified design interface.
TOPICS IN THIS SOLUTION
A fully unified, heavily rules-driven PCB design package with manufacturer deliverable generation tools.
Building a new electronic device takes a lot of work. You’ll need to build functional prototype of your device to ensure that your concept is actually feasible, thoroughly test it, and then start designing a PCB for your electronics. The PCB design process is a deep dive down a rabbit hole, and you’ll eventually need to move your designs off your computer screen and onto a production line.
Sometimes you need to build a quick, down-and-dirty prototype just to get a better idea of how your board will work. It also helps to see and touch your board if you are not sure how to improve it further. If you are looking for a quick prototype of your next PCB that gives you more insight than a circuit built on a breadboard, you’ll need to send your design off to a PCB fabrication house for manufacturing.
Compiling your design information into deliverables for your manufacturer is the first step in preparing and executing production. It doesn’t matter if you are looking to produce a quick prototype or thousands of boards, your fabricator will need this information regardless. Deliverables for your manufacturer include a bill of materials, CAD drawings, Gerber files, and drill tables. This information should be compiled in a standardized format that accurately communicates your design intent.
Perhaps the most important of these deliverables is your bill of materials. This document lists all the electronic components, connectors, mounting brackets, and any other parts that are required for your Printed Circuit Board to function as designed. A great bill of materials is more than just a list of part numbers. You’ll need to list suitable replacement parts, sourcing information, expected costs, critical specifications, and quantities of each part that appear on your circuit board.
Compiling Deliverables With Your PCB Design Software
Given all of the information you need to compile for you manufacturer, your PCB design software can play a critical role in streamlining the deliverable generation process. There is no reason you should have to manually compile your bill of materials with a word processing, database, or spreadsheet program. You need tools that can take information directly from your layout and component libraries, allowing you to quickly compile important documents.
Building Gerber files and drill tables also requires taking data directly from your layout. There are a number of free online tools and proprietary programs that can take data from budget PCB manufacturing design programs and build these deliverables. But going this route creates a risk of formatting errors, incompatibility, and omitted information. Instead, you need deliverable generation tools that are built into your PCB design platform. This is critical to optimizing your workflow, saving you time and money while preparing for prototyping or high volume manufacturing.
- If you’re looking to quickly and painlessly get your prototype manufactured, you can easily optimize your bill of materials for this task.
Learn more about optimizing a bill of materials for prototyping.
- With all the documents and files that your manufacturer needs to begin production, you can save time if you know how to streamline your workflow.
Learn more about optimizing your deliverable generation workflow.
- Once you receive your prototype, it’s time to test it out and make sure everything works as designed.
Example manufacturing outputs in Altium Designer
PCBs can be complicated beasts, and design updates can require many changes to a schematic and layout. Whether you work in a large organization, or you’re a solitary designer at a hardware startup, you’ll need to document changes in your designs as they are applied. This helps you keep track of every aspect of your design, from component swaps to stackup and layout changes.
If you’re looking to get your prototype into a quick-turn PCB, small quantity manufacturing, or work through a difficult turnaround time for your printed circuit, consider choosing software intended to get you to your final product quickly. No matter the PCB assembly service, PCB prototype service, or PCB fabrication you choose, no matter the small quantity or turnaround time, ensure that your single or multilayer PCBs have the manufacturing outputs they need.
Design Documentation for Your Prototype
Keeping thorough documentation is the best way to ensure you don’t walk around in circles making repetitive design changes. Changes in your schematic should also synchronize in your layout, and vice versa. Documenting these changes not only helps ensure that your design process remains coherent and streamlined, it also helps you keep your fabricator aware of prior design versions in case they recommend modifications to your prototype.
- Building, testing, and modifying your prototypes requires keeping thorough documentation of design changes.
Learn more about streamlining PCB documentation.
- Releasing your ECAD data and accurately communicating design intent helps you standardize the design and update process within your organization.
Learn more about managing ECAD data releases.
- Once you’ve finished your design and you are ready to produce a prototype board, you’ll need to generate deliverables for your fabricator.
Altium Designer’s unified environment
Designing your PCB with prototyping in mind takes the same time and effort as building a PCB for production. You’ll need a way to quickly transform your schematic into a coherent layout, begin arranging components, start routing, and ultimately prepare your manufacturing deliverables. Your PCB design software should include all of these critical features from the moment you first run the program, and you shouldn’t be blocked by a paywall.
This is why you need to work in a unified design environment that is built on a heavily rules-driven design engine. All of the critical design and documentation tools are built on the same underlying architecture, ensuring that they communicate using the same language. These tools grab data from each other, which is the fastest way to design top-quality PCBs and their documentation.
Unified Design and Deliverable Generation in Altium Designer
Altium Designer brings all of your critical design and deliverable generation tools together in a single program. You won’t be left typing up a bill of materials by hand, and you won’t have to search online for an external Gerber generator. All these important tools will help you move from design to production with ease, and you can rest assured that your design intent will be accurately communicated to your fabricator.
- The powerful rules-driven engine in Altium Designer ensures that your new device will meet your design intent.
Learn more about the rules-driven design engine in Altium Designer.
- Even if you’re only looking to produce a single prototype, your manufacturer will produce an array of boards in a panel, giving you multiple prototypes to work with.
Learn more about panelizing your boards in Altium Designer.
- The bill of materials tool in Altium Designer helps you generate standardized documentation in a variety of formats.
Learn more about creating a bill of materials in Altium Designer.
A unified design platform brings these design and deliverable generation features together in a single program. The best way to improve your productivity when planning for production is to work in a unified PCB design environment. You won’t have to flip back-and-forth between multiple programs, and you can plan your next prototyping run with confidence.
Getting started with new design software comes with its own challenges, and you might need some help getting started. Instead of leaving you to read a manual like most software companies, Altium give you access to all the resources you need to succeed. You’ll have access to the AltiumLive forum, webinars and podcasts with industry experts, and a thorough knowledge base with examples.
The best design, documentation, and deliverable generation tools help ensure that your manufacturer understand your design intent, helping you expedite fabrication of your next prototype PCB fabrication drawing. Only Altium Designer offers all these tools in a single design package. These tools all work together using a rules-driven design engine. Instead of compiling documentation and other deliverables by hand, try using Altium Designer.