Collaboration by Design: The Role of PCB Design Tools

Written by Rich Tighe

Collaborating effectively and efficiently with colleagues throughout the design cycle leads to better results.

Rapidly designing and building successful electronic circuit boards is always helped by good communication and collaboration among engineering teams (internal and/or external), purchasing departments, and EMS providers.

Collaborating effectively and efficiently with colleagues throughout the design cycle leads to better results. Parts selection and availability have always been important, but they have become a primary concern during the global pandemic-induced shortages. By using circumspect design techniques and a design tool that facilitates collaboration and provides clear insight into the supply chain, PCB designers can stay on top of parts issues and produce successful products.

Sharing Access
From the beginning of a new design through its completion, many colleagues can contribute to its success if provided access to the design. This may include mechanical, system, manufacturing, and service engineers. Sharing access to the design in a cloud-based depository, such as Altium 365, lets each team member review the design according to their perspective and needs. They can add comments or questions in the schematic or PCB views which become visible (and resolvable) by the designer in the CAD software. This makes reviewing the design and adding changes or answering concerns a breeze.

I have long enjoyed turning the mechanical engineer’s MCAD PCB STEP model into the board’s shape (mounting holes and all) with a button push. I’m no longer nervous waiting for the board to arrive or surprised when it looks and fits exactly as intended. Being able to do this while iterating between the ECAD and MCAD tools has sped several recent designs. No more emailing STEP files back and forth or sifting through shared drive storage for the Tuesday 3 p.m. file.

One design had particularly tight and variable height constraints and needed all the space it could get. When the design was ready to send to manufacture, both the EE (me) and ME were confident it was going to be right the first time. The mechanical engineer can validate the 3D PCB when the design is completed with all the parts (including 3D bodies on all the components) to have the final, accurate model to include in their assembly.

Outside Contributors/Consultants
I recently had the opportunity to coordinate the design work of several consultants and bring their finished designs into my company’s repository. They were able to do their work in our version-controlled cloud repository, which gave us all the benefits mentioned early (visibility, MCAD validation, and parts availability monitoring). The version control is implemented so well that it is almost invisible. We added the company templates and part numbers so that when the design was done, there was no final cleanup or documentation work needed.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the September 2021 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.