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How Modern Electronics CAD Engineering is Redefining PCB Design

An old, corded telephone with a dial keypad


I showed a picture of a rotary dial telephone to my son, and I was greeted with an expression of confusion and amazement. After all, a phone to a modern child is a piece of glass and plastics with dozens of app icons that we probably never used. Technology has come a long way in the past decades, and the same goes for electronics CAD engineering.

The software, methodology, and approach that I’ve employed when I launched my career in the early 2000s may seem alien to PCB designers who are taking on their first project. As professionals in the industry, it helps to understand what drives the evolution of electronics CAD engineering and how can we be prepared for the possibilities in the future. 

The Days Before Electronics CAD Engineering

CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design. Modern PCB designers have various electronics CAD tools at their disposal when creating a design from scratch. With the aid of a software, PCB designers have the luxury to draw traces digitally and the flexibility of undoing changes when mistakes are made.

If you’ve grown up always having a mobile phone, you’ll be terribly insecure if you step out of your home without carrying one. But that’s nothing compared to having to route hundreds of components without an electronics CAD design software. Just the mere thoughts of manually laying the hundreds of traces send shudders down the spine of seasoned modern PCB designers. 

But as unimaginable as it is, PCB design is a manual process before the electronics CAD software existed. Placements and routing are mechanical and manual processes. Of course, the complexity of PCBs wasn’t as it is today, but getting to know what electronics design was pre-CAD era helps us to be grateful designers.

How Electronics CAD Engineering Has Evolved

The change in electronics CAD engineering is pronounced even in the short span of fewer than two decades. In the early 2000s, through-hole components still rule the industry. Microcontrollers are introduced in PDIP package, and it’s quite common to have a 40+ pins IC on the PCB.

The growth in mobile communications has spurred the demand for smaller PCBs, which caused SMD components to take over their through-hole counterparts. Electronics CAD design software starts equipping itself with the latest libraries that relate to these newer versions of components.

In terms of functionality, electronics CAD engineering software has evolved from mere tools of getting the job done to a comprehensive solution that mitigate potential post-deployment issues. Schematic and PCB capture software is complemented with analysis tools that are simple to operate.


Graphic of IoT icons spread across the globe

Technologies like IoT drives electronics CAD engineering.


In recent years, the rapid growth of technologies like IoT, medical electronics, virtual reality, and mobile communications has further shifted the landscape of electronics CAD engineering. PCB designers are faced with demands for a smaller, yet efficient electronics. 

Flex PCB has become an important discipline in electronics CAD engineering as it requires different skillsets from conventional PCB designers. PCB designers also found that boundaries of their job blur as they need to work closely with mechanical designers and manufacturers. 

What Should You Look For In An Electronics CAD Engineering Software

As electronics grew more complex, the choice of an electronics CAD engineering software becomes more significant. Fundamental modules like schematic capture and PCB layout are expected to be seamlessly perfect. PCB designers need electronics CAD software that has the right tools to cut short development time.

Analysis tools are essential as PCBs become smaller and more power-hungry. With the right tool, you’re able to pinpoint potential heat trap on the PCB or be alerted of signal integrity issues. 


Graphic of technology and light on a cyan background

Analysis tools are essential in minimizing PCB design risks.


Electronics CAD software that supports flex PCB design is preferable as the world demands flexible electronics that conform to their body. The components supply chain should also be supported in the PCB software for better cost-control and part management across projects.

Ultimately, you’ll want an electronics CAD engineering software that grows beyond mere circuit-making tools. Features like Cadence’s SI analysis available within OrCAD PCB Designer optimizes your circuit board design and minimizes risk associated with impedance and coupling analysis. 

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts