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Automated Product Data Management: The Next Step to More Efficient PCB Design

Key Takeaways

  • Manual design data management and the problems it creates.
  • Automated product data management features that help.
  • Using Allegro Pulse for the automation of PCB design product data management.

Automated product data management is the key to successful PCB design

Automated product data management is essential for efficient electronic design

With the increase in printed circuit board design technologies, complexities, and quantities, the challenge has now become managing all of the generated data. To achieve the next level of excellence in PCB design, PCB engineering groups use automated product data management systems.

The goal of every PCB design group is to create high-quality circuit boards that out-perform their expectations. To that end, PCB designers, along with their assortment of tools, have fine-tuned their craft into a real work of precision engineering that is truly artistic. However, with all of the advancements that have been made in PCB design, there is still one fatal flaw that can derail the success of any design group—the management of data.

The amount of product data that can be created during the PCB design process is staggering. Not only are there the expected database files, but also the attributes, graphics, artwork, manufacturing, drawing, library, and readme files—and that’s just the shortlist. Additionally, each of these files can exist in multiple versions, some good and some bad, and be owned by different users with various rights. The management of PCB design data often turns into the elephant in the room that no one takes responsibility for. As such, the data is often mismanaged, causing expensive delays to already overburdened design schedules.

Fortunately, Cadence already has the answer for solving PCB design product data management problems—the new Allegro Pulse system.

The Problems With Manual Design Data Management 

Prior to automated systems, PCB design data management was a manual process that required a lot of oversight from CAD managers and operators.

Manual data management relied on adhering to published procedures and cooperation between all stakeholders, and errors could still easily slip through. Here is a description of those manual processes and some of the problems they created.

Manual Data Management of Project and PCB Design Data

The design and introduction of new electronics into the market creates an enormous amount of data. When you consider all the different aspects of an electronic device, such as the mechanical design, software development, and PCB layout, you can gain an appreciation for just how much data this amounts to. In PCB design alone, the amount of manufacturing data can be overwhelming, with all of the artwork, NC drill, drawings, and readme files that need to be organized, cataloged, and sent to different vendors.

All of this data requires management, and traditionally this task has been done manually. While most PCB design tools will assign unique names to their manufacturing files, it still requires human intervention to make sure that the files are ultimately organized correctly. File naming structures typically include project names, part numbers, or other specific identifiers, and they need to be bundled together for the specific vendors that they are targeted for. 

However, the management of PCB design data goes way beyond the manufacturing files we’ve just described. Individual projects must also carry the appropriate part numbers and revisions to ensure that designers know which is the correct product to work on. Documentation, readme files, and other instructions must be updated to correspond with the project they represent, and a host of system files must be kept pruned to avoid further confusion. With the addition of personal backup files and copies, you can see where all of this manual data management can easily come off the rails.

The Problems With Manual PCB Data Management

As the amount of design data grows, the chance of data management errors and mistakes grows with it. For instance, consider these potentially problematic scenarios:

  • An abundance of files: The sheer number of data files in an electronic design project can be staggering. There could also be alternate versions of any or all of these files, along with accompanying manufacturing files from other projects. All of these files have to be managed, which includes organizing them, renaming them, and moving them to the appropriate output directories for compression and shipping. With this many files to manage, it is not unusual for mistakes to happen.
  • File ownership: Data files will carry the ownership rights of the user who has created them. The problem here is what happens when those files are locked for access by other users. At a minimum, this is an annoying problem to deal with, but it also has the potential of bringing the project to a complete halt, especially if the primary user is no longer available.
  • Data security: Many design companies engaged with sensitive projects and data will enact another layer of security over their work to completely isolate the data. While this may be appropriate from a security perspective, it can create real problems for designers that have to exchange their design data with outside vendors.
  • Overwritten or deleted files: Losing a day’s work through an inadvertent deletion of a work-in-progress (WIP) file can create a lot of frustration for a design team. But what is worse is when the lost data belonged to a legacy design. In many cases, there isn’t any way to recreate this data, and design teams are left scrambling to redesign something that never should have been lost.
  • File versioning: Many designers create multiple backups of their work to mark certain milestones in the design. While this is an excellent operational procedure, it also can be risky if the user chooses the wrong file version to work on. Once again, the design data may be irretrievably lost, causing additional delays and expenses.
  • File compilation: When a design is completed, there are many manual data management tasks that need to be done. Manufacturing files need to be compiled together, outdated information pruned, copies made, and the project archived. With all of this data management being done manually, it opens the door to additional opportunities to accidentally delete critical files, move data into the wrong locations, or omit essential data.

While there have been many attempts in the past to automate the manual management of design data with varying success, the design community has still been waiting for a truly automated product data management system. Fortunately, that system is now available from Cadence.

Allegro Pulse Dashboard

Allegro Pulse dashboard

Helpful Automated Product Data Management Features 

Manual data management processes can create a lot of problems for design groups. The sheer number of files that have to be managed is just the start of it, followed by ownership, security, and version control problems. Thankfully, these problems can all be reduced or eliminated with automated data management solutions. Here are some of the benefits of automated data management that design departments are looking for to realize new gains in productivity and efficiency.

File Control

The number of files generated through the electronic design process is massive and will continue to grow as advancements in technology increase the intricacies of each new design. While this growth adds to the complexity of manual product data management processes, it is a scenario that is efficiently controlled with automated PDM systems. Not only are the files easily managed, but an automated system will assign ownership and privileges according to the parameters it is programmed for. This allows access to appropriate stakeholders while protecting the files from unauthorized access. Additionally, automated file control through the PDM easily provides real-time design traceability, a feature that typically requires more human labor when managed manually.

Project Management

Good data management goes hand in hand with project management. Many of the automated data management processes that designers need are directly tied to the project management features within a PDM system. Here are some of the project management features that will also be helpful for design departments:

  • Data collection: Traditional data collection for project management has relied on a system of E-mails, phone calls, reports, and even paper documentation. This manual process of gathering data is time-consuming and prone to errors. However, with a data management system already in place, project managers can see real-time information of where each project is within its design cycle.
  • Data reporting: The data that is gathered within the PDM is readily available and easily processed for report distribution. The reporting system within an automated PDM system provides more reliable information than traditional manual reporting systems do and only takes a fraction of the time.
  • Project timelines: While the schedule for a design is usually published by project managers for their teams, this has traditionally been a paper schedule that has to be constantly updated to reflect changes. With automated project tools tied directly into the data management system, these timelines can be easily altered to reflect changes. Additionally, automated timeline tools help project managers with planning around projected delays and give them a more accurate and efficient method of forecasting their schedules.

Unobtrusive Data Management

Most design engineers will agree that although they would like the benefits of automated data management, they also don’t want to get pulled into another process or system that takes up their time. Engineers should be spending their time on designing electronics, and not on managing data or operating a PDM system that has a lot of complex and confusing operational overhead. To help engineers focus best on the tasks of designing electronics, an automated product data management system needs to do its job behind the scenes.

Here is where a cloud-based data management system brings enormous benefits to a design group. With access through a common web browser, designers have easy access instead of learning a whole new set of installed tools. The system also interacts with the current design tools being used and does its file management behind the scenes where the users don’t have to interface with it. This workflow allows designers to simply open up their design tools and work as they usually do, and only access the PDM system when needed for online project reporting. Otherwise, the automated product data management system owns the database files and control generated manufacturing files, and all the user has to do is execute a simple menu command to publish their work.

Universally Controlled Product Data Management

An effective automated PDM system doesn’t end with just the management of PCB design files—it also interacts with other design systems as well. As part of an overall PLM system, it manages the data coming from mechanical design, software engineering, and other design teams to coordinate the entire product design. This may seem like a huge undertaking, but as we are about to see, Cadence has already created this product data management system with Allegro Pulse.

Allegro Pulse for the Automation of PCB Design Product Data Management

For the automation of product data management in the design of printed circuit boards, Allegro Pulse has the capabilities and features that corporations need for precision and efficiency. With the ability to solve the problems of manual design data management, Pulse can move your design group up to the next level of excellence.

What Is Pulse?

Pulse is a work-in-progress (WIP) product data management (PDM) system for printed circuit boards and system in package design. Pulse manages design data and information from different engineering teams throughout an organization through its server-based architecture in the cloud. Pulse’s primary attributes include a powerful workflow engine with search capabilities, WIP data management, and an assortment of security protocols that give visibility and workflow management throughout a corporation’s domains. Pulse also extends its capabilities into its user’s supply chain and provides data traceability and compliance tracking.

Pulse’s workflow management removes the individual users from data management tasks, allowing them to focus on what they do best—designing electronics. Instead, Pulse checks all design data into its management system for ownership, organization, version control, and data security. Cadence’s design tools still operate as they always have, but Pulse will control the data they create. Not only does this establish an efficient workflow and better file security and protection, but it also creates the structure Pulse needs for its design data traceability and project analysis tools.

Where Does Pulse Fit Into the Client’s Design Environment?

Pulse is not a product lifecycle system but instead fits into a company’s PLM processes to manage electronic design data. However, Pulse works with more than just the PCB design data that teams produce. It uses Cadence’s proprietary workflow and process automation IP to integrate all data into one cohesive workflow, helping all engineering and project management teams to work better together. With Pulse in place, design engineers no longer have to manage their data, and project administrators can more efficiently manage their projects thanks to the wide range of capabilities that Pulse provides, including:

  • Projects data integrated into the design environment for real-time updates.
  • Automatically collects and processes data to generate project metrics.
  • Combines project and user metrics with key performance indicators for project management.
  • Logs and tracks issues inside of the Allegro design environment or in the Allegro Pulse platform.
  • Displays issues within customizable dashboards.
  • Processes and distributes strategic parts lists to all stakeholders.
  • Analyzes parts usage to optimize BOMs.
  • Facilitates design reuse of intellectual property through a searchable, shared storage location.
  • Online project discussion platform to eliminate non-secure E-mail.
  • Common project documentation storage.
  • Integrated with the Allegro design environment, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and other non-electrical CAD tools.
  • Easy to access browser-based platform for non-engineers.

One of the key advantages of Pulse is how it fits into existing PLM systems. Pulse is built to work together with other systems to enhance the entire engineering environment.

Allegro Pulse)

Allegro Pulse 

How Allegro Pulse Can Help Your Company

Pulse does a whole lot more than use its automated product data management features to monitor your design data. Yes, Pulse does provide a user-friendly structure for ensuring the safety and security of your sensitive design data and information, but that is only the beginning of what Pulse can do. 

Pulse provides a shared environment where the tools and engineering processes are available for the entire design team. On the administrative side, Pulse gives project managers the tools they need for tracking and analyzing the work in progress to lead product development in the right direction for success. 

Here are some of the benefits you can expect from incorporating Pulse into your engineering environment:

  • Pulse is intuitive to use and doesn’t require specific training. 
  • Pulse’s automated file control eliminates manual data management errors, resulting in faster times to market.
  • Pulse provides all stakeholders a real-time status of the work in progress.
  • Pulse’s automated data management features isolate engineers from data administration.
  • Pulse integrates into your engineering environment seamlessly behind the scenes.
  • Pulse provides a structure to fully document your design IP and protect your valuable assets.

With Pulse taking over the management of your product data, your engineering and project team members can focus more on the jobs they were hired for to get your products to market on time and within budget.

To find out more about how an automated design workflow process IP would be an asset to your company, talk to our team of experts.