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Product Data Management Software: Features and Solutions

Key Takeaways

  • Product data management software is at the core of PCB CAD.

  • Internet integration has further enhanced software solutions.

  • Support features help attract new users.

Association chart of data management graphics

Product data management software localizes a variety of different data in a central location

Product data management software is one of the central pillars of electronics design. Without a robust system to handle data and associations, modern circuit design would be infeasible. Feasibility should be the bare minimum of what data management software aims to provide, and luckily, software solutions are now far more robust in features and accessibility. 

In addition to providing the necessary digital scaffolding for board file design, data management software has a wealth of options to analyze and build-out projects. Support systems have also taken massive strides and are expected to be a value-addition to users instead of an afterthought. All of these features must coalesce into a design platform that enables users' functionality without sacrificing convenience.

The Ins and Outs of Product Data Management Software

Product data management software must neatly encompass all aspects of the design process, providing robust toolsets and features for the individual steps of the workflow. Data management software needs to offer robust solutions for the sub-processes of design that are able to communicate and interface well. Most important will be updating the flow of the design; dependent on the direction, it can be known as either forward or backward annotation. Both methods will be necessary during the development process; generally, the workflow will proceed in the forward direction until changes cause an update at a later stage that requires a backward annotation. 

Revisions, especially those correcting runtime issues or manufacturing rework, will likely proceed backward from the board to an earlier point in the design. Regardless, it is imperative to have a controlling document that defines the current revision state of the project. This is usually at the schematic level, as it represents a more abstract and generalized model of the circuitry without consideration for placement and features. 

What links the design documents and all supporting data is the netlist, the electrical roadmap between every node in the design. The advantage of formatting the data in this way is the overall portability–with a relatively small amount of code, it is possible to describe all of the connections and net attributes of the circuit. 

While a product data management system may sound slightly nebulous at first, it is best to frame it in terms of the documents that serve as its defining aspects:

  • Design specifications - Provides the designer and manufacturer with relevant physical information such as the board thickness, material selection for Dk values, and similar parameters.
  • Technical drawings - Able to provide more detailed instructions beyond specifications, such as dimensioning of features, circuit schematics, and other highly visualized data.
  • Bill of materials  - A centralized list for part information included in the design; serves as the purchasing list for the board.
  • Engineering documentation - Artwork and drawings that are provided for the purpose of fabrication and assembly.

Easing Design With Enhanced Online Functionality

Some of the most important features of product data management software are complementary to the design process itself. A noteworthy example is a parts database: with online integration, it’s easy to search out a component that provides the characteristics for a signal’s performance. The benefits of this system cascade further when it comes time to move toward production. With the manufacturer’s part numbers associated with the design, users can quickly output a bill of materials that is enmeshed in the design, greatly reducing the chance of error when ordering parts. Simulation software allows for immediate crossprobing from schematic to SPICE environment with component attributes already applied. In this way, new features are not self-contained novelties. Instead, they integrate into the existing framework of the system to provide a more thorough solution to current and future design challenges. 

With any data management software, speed and reliability are paramount to supporting the work of designers, but this becomes further magnified in a cloud-based setting. Fortunately, cloud-based EDA solutions have made remarkable strides in recent years and now serve as models that are more than capable of keeping pace with the standard model. Besides performance, the other historically great inhibitor to cloud software adoption has been security, but it is important to note how far data security measures have come within recent years, not to mention the amount invested in these measures by companies offering cloud-based computing solutions.

Man operating calculator

Automation of BOMs reduces entry and calculation errors

Support Features Aid Users

While every seasoned designer wants a toolset rich in features and power, it is important not to overlook those new to the field. Support for toolsets comes in many forms, and it’s important for product data management software providers to anticipate and respond to the needs of their clients. Data management software with foresight is invaluable for both attracting and retaining users–not only welcoming them into a new software environment but providing them quality service throughout their usage. Below is a noncomprehensive list of features to entice user adoption:

  • Live support - The foremost driver of retention is the option for users to talk with another person when hashing out technical issues. While this shouldn’t be the only method for users to troubleshoot, it is a necessary “panic button” provision when solutions are elusive and timeframes are limited.
  • Driver updates - Addresses known hardware compatibility issues to ensure functionality.
  • Free trial/freemium version - Try before you buy is a huge incentive to new users. They can access the CADl’s functionality (likely with some restrictions) and know that any time invested will transfer over to the full product.

The best product data management software is all-encompassing in scope as it relates to electronics design. Cadence’s PCB design software offers the tools and feature integration capabilities to amplify your design workflow while delivering a clean user interface. 

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