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Online PCB Data Management to Increase Design Efficiency

Key Takeaways

  • The problems with having too many files to manage.

  • Control your PCB design data, don’t let it control you.

  • PCB data management tools that can help.

Someone’s email with a very full inbox

A very full inbox.

I bet that I’m not the only one who occasionally lets their email inbox get too full. The more that’s in there, the more I don’t want to deal with it. Finally, when I can no longer find those items that are critical, I’ll file the important messages and throw the rest away. This phenomenon is nothing new though; parents yell at their kids for not cleaning their rooms, and married couples yell at each other for piling up junk in the garage. And then there’s that cluttered PCB design directory lurking on your computer at work.

Having a messy design container that is stuffed with too many files can be more than just an annoyance. It can hurt your productivity as well as allowing for the corruption of your PCB design data. Taking the time to clean out the directory structure is good, but like cleaning the garage, it can take time and you may end up inadvertently getting rid of something that you really needed. So, let me suggest a better method of PCB data management.

Sometimes There Are Just Too Many Files to Manage

It is no secret that the PCB design directories on your workstation can get filled up fast with a lot of different files. Here are some examples that you might have noticed:

  • Different design reports like BOM’s and pick and place files.

  • Readme files, which can get confusing if you’ve got outdated ones mixed in.

  • Machine attribute files.

  • Drawing, footprint, and other design element files.

  • Database files.

Not only is this clutter taking up room on your workstation, but it can cause other problems as well. In some instances, design data will link to other files. If those files get deleted or replaced by other data, your design could end up with some serious holes in it. In other situations, an old copy of the design file may unintentionally get used as a new primary design database. I’ve seen layouts that were built upon older databases not intended for use because they didn’t contain all of the latest changes and updates. You can guess what kind of a mess resulted from that.

Keeping copies of older versions, or making backups of your work-in-progress, is always a good thing. What is needed, though, is a better method to manage design files in order to offer protection to the designer from these types of problems.

Cloud-based PCB design data management tools can help with file control.

Controlling PCB Data Instead of Letting It Control You

Let’s take the main layout design database as an example. It is typical to manually make copies of this file, or files, in order to back it all up or to provide incremental checkpoints in the design. For instance, you may have an initial copy, a placed copy, a routed copy, and finally, a finished design copy. Usually, these copies are named and dated appropriately to describe their purpose, but sometimes they aren’t. In that case, a situation like this could cause a designer to have to open up each copy to figure out which one they should be using.

A better method would be to have an automated system in place that tracked the design based on data instead of file names. If this system also used version controls and managed file privileges, you could rest assured that your data was being correctly managed. This would give you real-time design traceability, which is something that simple file copies aren’t able to do.

This goes way beyond simple copies of a few files, however. Consider the amount of manual labor that needs to be done in order to create a directory full of manufacturing files. You have to make sure that the directories are named correctly and have the correct files within them. That can end up being a lot of data to manage that could easily get confusing and out of control. But with an automated system in place that can carefully manage the design based on data instead of file names, this will no longer be a concern. Next, let’s look at an example of how this could work.

The dashboard from Cadence Allegro’s Pulse

Online data management tools put you in the driver seat when organizing your design files.

PCB Data Management Tools That Can Help

The ideal PCB data management tool would be a cloud-based system accessible through a web browser. This would give everyone easy access instead of installing individual sets of design tools. This type of system would also be connected directly to the design tools and have them incorporated into its workflow and search engine capabilities to simplify the process for design engineers. Additionally, an easy to operate dashboard would grant access to designers, allowing for push-button ease when working with and publishing their design data.

The good news is that a data management system like this is already available for engineering design groups to use. Along with their top-of-the-line PCB design systems, Cadence has the Allegro Pulse platform available for PCB data management. With it, engineers have access to search, work in progress (WIP), and data management tools. Pulse provides real-time traceability of design data along with design check-in and version controls. Pulse will also track design similarities, giving the user easy access to like designs for schematic and layout copies. In fact, the engineer doesn’t even have to interact with the management tools at all since Pulse is tied directly into the design tools. A simple design save will transfer the data to the Pulse platform.

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