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Managing electronics design data — from concept to production

As the process of developing electronic products has increased in complexity and involved more engineering domains, managing the huge array of design data that’s sourced and generated has become a crucial part of the task.
Beyond the traditional notions of electronics design – developing hardware and software – engineers are spending an increasing amount of time sourcing, storing, reusing and releasing a wide variety of design data.

Maintaining the integrity of that design data across the entire product development process is an increasingly necessary part of today’s electronics design process, and its effectiveness can make the difference between commercial failure or success.

This is largely about eliminating risk. The familiar risks associated with introducing a new, unproven part into your design, but more importantly, the risks associated with reusing existing design data – from the most basic design elements such as component models though to high level blocks of functional circuitry and design output released to manufacturing.

Successfully managing that risk and maintaining the integrity of existing design data will mean that a pool of proven design elements becomes available for new designs. The elements, from components to complete design sections, have been used in fully-developed, debugged production designs and are therefore known, trusted entities that can be dropped into new designs with a high level of confidence in their integrity.

The low design risk associated with this approach carries the cumulative benefit of being able to progressively build up higher level design elements (for example, blocks of circuitry) from known, trusted elements. When successfully used in a production design, that higher level design data can become the basis of even higher level design elements. Each stage of increasing design abstraction in the reusable elements is based on proven, high integrity sub elements.

With the right data management systems in place the traditional risks associated with meaningful design reuse can be vastly reduced, and the task of taking a design from concept to production will become easier, safer and faster. What’s needed is a design data management system and methodology that allows robust data integrity and design reuse to exist in harmony with innovation, design freedom and productivity.

Design reuse – manage and reuse existing design content

With Altium Designer, design content can be released from the design space into a secure storage vault as a unique, traceable revision. Based on server technology, the managed vault system exists separately from the design system’s own project data storage, but can be accessed easily and directly through the design environment itself. The content is stored in a single location and shared with authorized members of your organization.

From a design reuse view it means that you can reuse stored design content such as blocks of circuitry, components (and their constituent models) and templates with full confidence in their data integrity. You will know that an item is the latest revision, can be confident it hasn’t changed since it was released into the vault, and you can see where it’s already used in other designs thanks to powerful ‘where used’ capabilities built into the system.

By addressing the key issues of data integrity, the approach avoids the design risks associated with reusing even high level, multi-layered design sections. It opens the opportunity to structure the electronics design process around Design for Reuse, where all design elements (from component models to complete designs sections) are released to the vault then reused accordingly.

With a Design for Reuse approach, reusing elements becomes the essence of the electronic design process, as opposed to it being just an adjunct or added design capability option. Vaults are central to the design methodology, where all design content is ultimately released from the fluid, creative design space to a managed, secure release vault.

Subsequent, more complex design content can then be built up from those released elements, creating verified high-level IP that can be reused repeatedly with full confidence in its integrity.

Component management – from design through to production

In itself a long-established form of design reuse, applying and managing the typically large collections of component models and information goes hand in hand with maintaining their integrity and validity.

With vault technology, collections of components can be released into the vault as tracked, lifecycle-managed revisions, they are mapped to real-world manufactured parts and suppliers. Approval states of the vault-hosted components, such as Design or Production, can be defined and managed from within the electronics design environment, so you have control over their lifecycles and where they can be used. You also have full view of where components have been used in previous designs, lowering the risk and costs associated with component choice even further.

Supply chain management – parts availability and cost information, in real time

Selecting the right component during the design stage means knowing that its supply is assured for production, that its current cost is appropriate, the model information is correct and more. Altium Designer provides live links to component supplier information, so the vault-based revisions of approved components can be used in new designs with up-to-date knowledge of their lifecycle state, manufacturer, vendor and their current pricing and availability.

Collections of released components or assemblies can be built to create a catalogue of company-ratified, approved parts and equivalents that provide the data and supply information you need to reuse those design elements with confidence. The result is that fully informed parts choices can be made at design time and from within the design environment, allowing you to plan for production earlier and eliminate potential delays or errors.

Lifecycle management – from component models to complete board assemblies

Along with providing a secure, yet easily-accessible storage system for configured design release output, Altium’s vault technology includes integrated, permission-based lifecycle management. Implemented at a basic or advanced level (to align with company ERP, PLM infrastructure), the system allows you to control the state of released vault items (from constituent component data to complete board assemblies) as defined by what stage they have reached in their life and therefore what they can be safely used for.

The vault hierarchical data structure allows parent-child relationships to determine lifecycle states based on dependencies. So if a child item (say a component footprint model) has only a ‘prototype’ status, its parent item (a unified component) cannot be advanced to the higher ‘production’ state. The approval state of design content can be accessed and managed from within the design space itself, where you can make informed decisions while you design with full confidence in the contents suitability and integrity.
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Author: Volker Brandstetter, Manager Field Applications, Altium Europe

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