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Best Methods of Protecting PCB Design Project Data with Secure PLM Tools

Key Takeaways

  • Security and the importance of protecting PCB design project data.

  • Lost data means lost time, which costs you money.

  • How PCB project management tools can help with PCB design data security.

A security camera mounted to a building

There is an increasing need for security in all aspects of our lives and work these days

A while back, my neighbor asked me if my outdoor cameras had been operating the night before because he had noticed some activity in his driveway. My cameras were working, and sure enough, they recorded someone prowling around his cars. I sent the footage to the authorities and I hope it helped to end some of the late-night robberies that we’ve experienced in my neighborhood.

Security is important because as you know, any area of work and life can be a target for theft and vandalism. But, good security is needed for more than just that. It is also crucial to protect intellectual property and to prevent unintentional corruption of data. Here is where using a secure design data system has become a very important part of our everyday workflow.

There have been many times in my career when I’ve had the misfortune of discovering that my design data had become corrupted, or had been overwritten. I couldn’t tell you now whether those problems were because of a system failure or a process error, but what I do remember is my fervent hope that I had made a copy somewhere. To prevent these sad occurrences, a better method of protecting our PCB design project data is desperately needed.

The Importance of Security and PCB Design Project Data

Security has always been a concern for companies that engage in design. Everyone wants to guard their intellectual property, and for those who build sensitive equipment for military applications, the security is even tighter. In some design groups, external networks aren’t even allowed, and the design systems are operated on stand-alone computers. While this is a very effective deterrent against data theft and corruption, it does make life more challenging for designers who need to exchange data with vendors and other external partners. 

The problems with data hackers aren’t the only threat that needs to be guarded against, however. Data can be lost, corrupted, or overwritten in a variety of ways throughout the normal workflow:

  • Data can be overwritten inadvertently.

  • Files can be accidentally deleted.

  • Designers can mistakenly work from old or incorrect data files.

  • Hardware failures can result in lost designs.

  • Links to important libraries and CAD files can be corrupted.

All of these situations can create some very large problems for engineering design groups.

The Pulse cloud-based project management tools

Cloud-based PCB project management tools can help with a lot, including data security

Lost Data, Lost Time, Lost Revenue

 When it comes to PCB design, there’s nothing worse than losing the design data that you’ve been working on. Not only do you need to recreate what you’ve already done, but many times it is all but impossible to get the schematic or layout back to that perfect way as you remember it. To further complicate the problem, your project schedule usually doesn’t allow for problems like this. Not only are you trying to recreate something that just isn’t going back together the way that it should, but you are running out of time as well. And since the old saying “time is money” is true, this lost data can end up costing you a fair amount as well.

On a corporate scale, it becomes much worse. Lost legacy PCB design databases are usually not easily recreated. Often, those archived databases are the only source of information for that design available. To lose that data means that an existing product may have to be completely redesigned, tested, and certified, which could cost huge amounts of money, time, and effort. Then there are the security concerns of data that is stolen. At the least, those designs could be used to give a competitor an unexpected market advantage, while at worst, they could sink a project or create holes in national security.

The urgency of protecting proprietary PCB design data is very high, but fortunately, there are some tools available that can help with this.

The dashboard of the Pulse project management tools

An example of the dashboard in the Pulse project management tools

Project Data Tools to Secure Your Design Data

Traditional design systems rely on file manipulation for project management, and as we have shown, that process can result in security problems with the data. When the PCB project management is data-driven, however, you have a much more secure system with which to work. For instance, saving design data to one or more files will eventually require that those files have to be copied or moved in order to manage them. A good project management system will transfer this data in real-time without the need for manual file manipulation. In addition, these systems will track the design data using automated check-ins and version controls to make sure that the users are always working with the correct data.

Online cloud-based project management systems like this can offer a lot of benefits to their users:

  • Being tied-in directly to the CAD design system means that engineers and other users can seamlessly interact with the project management tools without leaving their design systems.

  • These tools offer formalized and automated workflows that can be easily tracked by project managers, negating the more traditional methods of work in progress reporting.

  • Users can share and team design securely without having to worry about copying design files between them.

  • Design information is dynamic and documents will update automatically as design data changes.

  • These tools are web-based and, therefore, are available on a number of platforms such as mobile devices, instead of being restricted to only workstations.

  • Design reuse is accomplished easily, and the tools will even track design types and technologies in order to offer similar designs to work from.

Project management tools like these offer their users a lot more than just enhanced data security. They provide a common environment where processes and tools can be shared collaboratively by the entire design team. At the same time, project managers can use the workflow check-ins to keep track of the work in progress and automatically report on different design metrics.

To accompany their high-performance PCB design systems with project management tools, Cadence offers its Allegro Pulse platform.  Pulse is a web application that includes workflow, search, WIP data management, and security features. All of these capabilities are built into Pulse in a modular fashion allowing you to integrate them into your environment over time in accordance with your needs. Pulse features an easy-to-use dashboard-style interface and is designed to enhance the performance of your design team, not to complicate it.

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