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How to Create a PCB Part Numbering System

pcb part number

Pro PCB design teams have to do many things very well, and you might think that all of those are focused around engineering and design. But in fact, pro design teams at large and small organizations can implement some very simple steps for data management. In fact, data management is one aspect that they need to be quite good at, whether it's working with original products or when working on client projects. There is a very simple way to do this: create a part number system for design data.

What we often call a part numbering system is really a lot more than just numbers assigned to parts. While it is true that parts (in terms of the PCB assembly) do need to have some designation or numbering applied to them, we also have to distinguish among documentation that makes up a PCB project. This also means that a document numbering system should be created alongside a PCB part numbering system. Here's how to do it without creating excess confusion.

A Simple PCB Part Numbering Scheme

Freelance designers and design firms will know that part numbering can sometimes look very complex. The alphabet soup of part numbering designations can sometimes be difficult to memorize, and it may not be very intuitive. These are two of the things you should immediately try to avoid when creating a part numbering system:

  1. Make the part number system easy to memorize

  2. Write down the part system; it should take no more than 1/2 a page to explain

No part numbering system is perfect, nor will it be perfectly intuitive, it should be a concise system that is easy to decipher with minimal guidance.

A simple PCB part numbering system could look like the following simple example:


While it may not be obvious, this is a common kind of format used to create PCB part numbers, where the term “part” refers to a bare PCB or a PCB assembly (PCA). The part number system listed above has three components:

  • PCB – this tells you the type of part, in this case referring to a bear PCB
  • 123456 – this is the unique identifier for the PCB or product where the board is being used

  • R–001 – this refers to revision one of the particular PCB being designated with the part number

In a simple part numbering system like this, the simplicity is actually very powerful. This part numbering system should be quite easy to memorize, be searchable inside of a database, and it distinguishes between the type of item and the specific item in question. It also tracks revisions to the item, which is very important as changes get applied to the design between review cycles or prototype runs.

Within the database that makes up this particular part number, we can have something else that's very important: a document numbering system.

Documents Numbering System

A document numbering system essentially provides the same functions as a part numbering system, but with the difference being that a document numbering system applies only to the design documents that are used in a PCB project. Document systems for PCB projects can become quite more complex because of the number of different file types that make up a typical PCB design database. For example, document numbering systems could apply within the part numbering system to any of the following design documents:

  • Schematics
  • Bill of materials

  • PCB layout file

  • Gerbers and drill files

  • Mechanical drawings

  • Fab and assembly drawings

  • Requirements documents

PCB numbering systems tend to obey a similar simple format listed above, but this may not be the case for a document numbering system. Document numbering systems may apply different formats to different design documents, and clearly it can get a bit confusing. The more variations in numbering that exist, the greater chance there will be for errors in documentation creation or tracking.

Although document numbering and tracking systems are quite important, the fact that they are error-prone causes some companies to create guidance on creating documentation. This is where the role of a PCB librarian and the company’s data management tools will expand to cover quality control of documentation. This comes with the territory of running a large enterprise that produces many products, or a services firm that produces for many clients over long time periods.

Project and Document Revisions

How can companies keep track of revisions to projects and documents created in a database? The answer is with a version control system that is integrated with design tools. Entire design databases can be placed into version control after export of design outputs. This consolidates a part numbering system and document numbering system into a single revision chain, where all outputs and corresponding documentation are tracked simultaneously.

When you’re ready to streamline your documentation tracking and version control for company projects, use the best PCB design features in OrCAD from Cadence. If you’re ready to take even more control over net logic and board layout, you can graduate to Allegro PCB Designer for a more advanced toolset and additional simulation options for systems analysis. Only Cadence offers a comprehensive set of circuit, IC, and PCB design tools for any application and any level of complexity.

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