‘Where does it hurt?’ Addressing the pain points in Schematic and PCB design

By Jeroen Leinders, Global eCADSTAR Solutions Leader and Chris Hambleton, General Manager Zuken Ltd
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Design Automation is a concept that puts increased productivity front and centre. Design challenges should be reduced, errors should be minimized and time-to-market shortened. Schematic and PCB design presents very specific challenges in this regard, as the BOM may call for many different components each requiring their own models. The internet has helped, of course, but still solutions can be far from the ‘seamless experience’ which is often promised. A new approach, using a browser embedded into the Schematic and PCB design software, brings the design out of its isolation into the internet-connected world. Web connectivity enables tools to be very interactive, and it is this attribute which is helping to solve the pain points that many designers endure, especially when trying to create prototypes. 

Pain #1: So much to learn, so little time 

In many companies – especially small or medium sized enterprises – engineering staff have to be able to address a number of disciplines. PCB design will be just one of many skills they require, and they won’t be using design tools on a daily or even weekly basis. In order to get engineers up to speed with EDA tools quickly, the software they are using must be intuitive with, if possible, a familiar-looking user interface.  

Zuken’s eCADSTAR is a native 3D PCB design solution with simultaneous 2D representation. This means that users can have multiple screens, cross-probing between the Schematic and PCB design as well the Constraint Browser. Enabling them to split a layout over two (or more) screens and view it from different angles, working in 3D or 2D depending on the task in hand.

2d 3d pain points eCADSTAR 2021Combined Multitab

eCADSTAR has been designed to provide a unifying environment that’s recognisable, independent of the soft application being used, similar to Windows. Word and Excel applications, for example, look relatively the same, but each have their own functionality for each application – that’s the experience eCADSTAR is looking to deliver. eCADSTAR provides a coherent, structured application set with uniform GUI. If the designer is using a library editor or a PCB editor, the colours change but otherwise all is familiar. Also, everything is cross-linked, so if a component is selected in the schematics editor, it will be highlighted in PCB editor, and vice versa.   

Pain #2: Building a library slows down prototyping  

Building a library always takes time. Creating a footprint, adding a schematic symbol, aligning a 3D model – especially if it is a complex component such as a QFP or BGA with 300 or more pins. Each new project can have hundreds of components that a designer has not used in the PCB software tool before. It has been estimated that on a design that takes five days, easily one to two days is spent on library work alone.

One of the key differentiators of eCADSTAR is that it includes an embedded internet browser. Therefore, using the tool, designers can very easily access any libraries they have created. But also, Zuken has signed partnerships with major third-party component suppliers and model providers including Allied Electronics, Arrow, Digi-Key, Mouser, RS, FindChips, SamacSys and Ultra Librarian. eCADSTAR’s ‘always connected’ embedded browser allows the user to visit their preferred component supplier – while staying in the eCADSTAR program – to easily find and download the part and model they require.

eCADSTAR Partners_2021_articleElectronic Component Partners

Other tools do offer a similar ability to search their online database and their partners’ databases. But users have to download the zip folder, unzip it, select the correct file, place it in their library. eCADSTAR does all this for the user. It has the intelligence to know where their library is located, and it knows which file in the zipped folder is the footprint or symbol etc, and where in the library each element should be stored. It carries out all these tasks in the background, then calls the required element from your library to the user’s cursor position – ready to place – in seconds. 

Another difficulty can be finding the right components. Parts are also sometimes selected that are not in stock, which can cause delays. The search facility in eCADSTAR is very granular and because the browser is embedded, multiple vendor’s databases can be reviewed and alternate parts which may be more readily available can be added to libraries. Users can request quotes and purchase components from manufacturers and distributors directly from within the design tool. 

Pain #3: Collisions detected late; Creepage not addressed in 3D 

In some PCB design tools, the design rules and 3D are not joined up. In such software, although routing of fast, dense circuits will be easiest to accomplish in 2D, designers will have to check 3D rules separately This means that collisions may not be identified until late in the process and compromises to creepage parameters as well as EMI considerations may not be obvious.  

creepage pain points eCADSTAR 2021Creepage eCADSTAR 2021.0 Release

In eCADSTAR, as components are added, the 3D model will be updated in real time, automatically highlighting any difficulties where the dimensions of neighbouring parts may cause collisions, or where the creepage and clearance requirements are affected. Simultaneous, multiple 2D/3D viewing optimises design visibility, and simple edit tabs speed up operation. Designers can easily run creepage and clearance checks to make sure that everything is according to the design rules. All the way through the process, the software will identify errors or possible conflicts, offering predictive tool tips and prompts, so mistakes or impossible layouts are easily and quickly identified and rectified. 

Pain #4: Separated working leads to errors 

Another benefit of the connected nature of eCADSTAR is that it enables and encourages collaborative working and team building. eCADSTAR connects team members who may well be in different physical locations, and in different company departments, facilitating the creation of an extended virtual team. Thanks to its native 3D design environment, MCAD and ECAD engineers can work together and individually throughout the design process. Designers can share circuit blocks and even physical design blocks easily without duplication. eCADSTAR also allows engineers to work in parallel on their own sections of a board or functional circuit element, greatly reducing the design time.  

This feature of eCADSTAR has become even more valuable, of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic when home working has become the new normal. But even as vaccination programs roll out around the globe and designers are able to return to more centralised locations, the world of work has changed. So some companies and individuals will prefer for business and personal reasons to continue to have decentralised working practices. eCADSTAR can help make sure that everyone remains connected. 

Prognosis 

It’s hard to put a firm metric on the exact improvement in productivity that can be achieved by using a tool such as eCADSTAR, which is not only internet-enabled, but which has embraced web connectivity and used it to deliver new functionality at a system and human level. But certainly huge savings in time result from the tool’s ability to remove manual file manipulation. Once user estimated that where previously a PCB design for a new prototype might take five days, this was now possible in under two days. 

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