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The Role of PLM Software in PCB Design

Key Takeaways

  • Product lifecycle management is part of enterprise planning and should guide product development roadmaps.

  • PLM software is used to track lifecycle status for products.

  • PLM software helps product managers plan their development, manufacturing, and distribution roadmaps.

PLM software

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software is an important tool used in product development. These software suites aggregate the product data needed to engineer, develop, manufacture, and launch products. In this way, these systems are really tracking a product throughout its useful lifetime, ranging from initial inception to its final manufacturing run. The electronics industry uses PLM software in many of the same ways as other industries: to provide visibility into all aspects of the development, production, distribution, and change management process throughout the useful lifetime of a product.

How PLM Software Is Used for Electronics

The role of PLM software is often described in a very abstract way. In short, a PLM software suite is meant to provide a single source of knowledge for all information associated with a product. For electronics, this includes technical information and lifecycle status information for everything from individual resistors to the enclosure and assembly. Technical manufacturing data, documentation for customers (e.g., datasheets), and even testing results for each revision can be tracked with a PLM software solution, often by integrating with a version control system.

With all of these tasks provided by a PLM software solution, a product management team can gain a system-level view of a product, including the lifecycle status of all components that make up the product. Some software solutions can integrate with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and inventory management system, giving a comprehensive view of a product’s lifecycle, progress on manufacturing orders, and status on change orders.

Some of the important product data that can be tracked in PLM software includes:

  • Functional, mechanical, and electrical requirements
  • ECAD and MCAD data as well as parts libraries for CAD software
  • Vendor and supplier information on each part in the BOM
  • Fabrication and assembly data, including drawings
  • Firmware and software supporting the product
  • Testing and compliance documentation

Within PLM software, the basic mechanism for tracking and cataloging important data for an electronics assembly is its lifecycle status. Each lifecycle status (in production, obsolete, EOL, etc.) carries other information with it, and the UI in PLM software should make it easy to see all associated data that comes with a given lifecycle status. For electronics, lifecycle statuses are assigned and tracked at multiple levels, ranging from individual design documents to elements in the PCBA.

Where Lifecycle Statuses Get Assigned

Lifecycle status for a product can be assigned at multiple levels, including individual parts, software/firmware for an application, and an entire assembly.

Assembly level: Several factors can contribute to assembly-level obsolescence, such as obsolescence of mechanical components in the BOM, or an outdated user interface or HMI. Over time, many products have adopted more streamlined packaging, more compact assembly, and lighter materials like hard plastics instead of metal. In addition, products may need to be redesigned due to changes in manufacturing processes that help reduce costs and address defects. Any of these factors can prematurely limit the lifecycle of an assembly and drive design changes.

Over time, entire assemblies may change to accommodate new market demands, user expectations, or shifts in technology. As product managers and designers monitor the usability and competitiveness of a product, they must eventually update its lifecycle status and track a product as it nears end-of-life. PLM software is the primary tool that product managers will use to track this lifecycle information and production scheduling for an entire assembly.

Application level: The advanced products and systems of today are not simply widgets that exist in isolation, they often interface and network with other systems. Applications that are embedded on the device or deployed in the cloud must be constantly updated as their dependencies get updated or as new capabilities become available. Designers and product managers should consider application obsolescence as part of a product roadmap to ensure a product can remain competitive over time.

PLM software)

Source code is one element of a product that might have a lifecycle attached to it.

Part or component level: This is the one area of PLM that receives the most attention from PCB designers, manufacturers, and service providers. Part-level obsolescence and end-of-life can be a simple matter of swapping with a newer part number from the same vendor or a pin-compatible part number from an alternative vendor. Some generic part numbers will have long lifetimes and will be at low risk of obsolescence, while others will have similar capabilities and application requirements.

In extreme cases, such as when an entire product line is marked obsolete or is no longer supported by the vendor, obsolescence risks spread to the assembly level and part level. If the part is no longer supported in terms of development resources (libraries, IDE, etc.), the part will need to be replaced, which generally requires an entire redesign of the PCB. Significant modifications may also be needed with regard to an embedded application, web portal, or both, should the alternative components in the board require custom driver development.

Lifecycle and obsolescence risk are two factors that inhibit competitiveness, and companies producing innovative products must consider the useful lifetime of their products in their technology roadmaps. Over time, all products must change and adapt to meet shifts in market demand, adopt the newest technologies, and simply replace outdated components. PLM software helps companies track and manage these risks as well as manage their design and development resources in order to stay competitive and continuously improve their products.

If you are looking for a scalable solution, consider Allegro Pulse. Pulse features include a workflow engine, data management, security protocols, and search capabilities. And, Pulse integrates seamlessly into many design tools, allowing it to manage the design data behind the scenes, freeing up engineers to focus on their work instead of juggling design files.

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