Parts Time

Sunstone this week released v4 of its award-winning PCB123 CAD tool.

The no-cost, license-free tool features parts outlines for 500,000 components, automated BoM and integrated DRC/DfM rules. But what’s most interesting is that users can automatically get availability and pricing info for each component registered in Digi-Key’s database.

This development is fascinating in two respects.

First, that a modest-sized PCB fabricator, not a billion-dollar EDA company, is pushing the envelope on electronics design software.

Second, for engineers who now must not only draw the electrical circuit but also lay out the board and order the prototypes, built-in parts procurement is a huge time saver. Which begs the question, why aren’t the big CAD companies offering this too?

This entry was posted in Hot Wires and tagged , , , , by Mike. Bookmark the permalink.

About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

5 thoughts on “Parts Time

  1. Ah .. if only it were that simple….

    This was done about 12 years ago between Digikey and Orcad ..

    But then this nice feature went … ” the way of the DODO bird” (obsolete).

    The only way PCB123 / Digikey provides meaningful improvement.. if the CAD user is willing to use their numbering system… and/or the rest of the company is willing to translate their part number to their internal system.

    This is not ideal.. just an improvement.
    The PCB123/Digikey solution is only modest improvement from what most Engineers have in place.

    I would love to reference just one number and have all the related info available ..
    not just schematic shape
    not just pcb layout shape.
    not just pricing / avail info.
    full 3D details.. Thermal performance detail, simulation details, pick and place details, alternate sources..

    This will not happen anytime soon.
    reasons are many:

    – no universally held vision of what a schematic is … ( a representation of the functions and connections? or a representation of how to connect components for pcb layout?)
    in other words.. is it for a tech/engineer? or for a pcb designer?
    I don’t believe you can always address both needs with one schematic… you have to choose.
    Up until the mid 1980s… schematics did not try to convey how a pcb was to be laid out.
    That wasn’t it’s purpose.

    – universally accepted symbol for NAND gate?
    I have seen numerous versions of a resistor..
    a complex part?
    (related to above subject)
    Good luck with that…

    – universal production process?
    Is that SMT pcb land symbol optimized for ROHS? RF? Wave soldering? Reflow soldering?

    – a universal feature set among CAD programs?
    it is getting much better .. but we are far from ideal.

    – bureaucracy
    Big CAD companies.. primarily service Big electronics companies with bureaucratic requirements that make simple, useful improvements – nearly impossible.
    Often .. this is planned this way… to keep “power” (bureaucratic systems way of keeping themselves relevant).

    Without an electronic equivalent of a Universal number for a given component, many real process improvements are…. at best…. “patchwork” fixes.

    Books have ISBN numbers..
    Why can’t we (as an industry) agree upon something similar?

    as a result…
    each company creates it’s own numbering system for components…
    Which means it must maintain a database cross referencing each approved component source.
    Unless you are doing military work.. then you must use their numbering system (excessively complex and not easy to use).

    When companies merge? it creates big mess.
    When companies merge that are doing work that is tracked / approved by third parties ( FAA/UL/etc..) It gets really crazy.

    I know we got here..
    But I don’t have to like it.

    whew! glad I got that off my chest….

  2. I am of the opinion that there are several reasons we do not see more manufacturer or even distributor data in our Cad libraries.

    For one thing, there is an enormous amount of data to be collected. As tools become more capable, more is expected from the library data that drives them. Also as the Anonymous post before this one points out, each user has specific needs in his library. These requirements make it difficult if not impossible for CAD companies to produce library data in a format that everyone accepts.

    Second, even if the manufacturer wanted to spend the money and effort they would need to put the data into an universally accepted format that would easily allow users to collect the basic size of a component, its leads and its pin data. A format that is agreed upon across the industry has not been produced so far, so perhaps a defacto standard that exports to major tools will emerge as the need for a solution gets greater.

    Third, many companies have built internal systems, checks and balances around proprietary processes, naming conventions and graphical data requirements. This makes an off the shelf delivery of component data more problematic, as noted again in the previous post by Anonymous.

    However, there is much improvement that can be made on the data distribution method we currently have (that of reading data from an Acrobat PDF file and translating it in to the needs of our specific CAD tool on an individual basis.

    For instance, many manufacturers provide detailed instructions on building footprints for their parts. As an example, difficult connector footprint data is often provided by manufacturers with suggested pad sizes, shapes and spacing, but with few other dimensions on parts. Could this not be provided in a format that most users could read, saving the construction time required to build the footprint.

    Every symbol on every CAD tool requires some basic information for the pins on the component. Such as the purpose or name of the pin, the pin designator or pin number, the type of pin (power, clock, input, output etc.). Could this not be put into a format that most tools could read thus simplifying the entry work of the people creating the library data.

    Even those parts that are not provided with specific suggested pad sizes could distribute the size of the part in a way that would build to an industry standard like the IPC–7352 or allow either the user or the tool vendor to modify the pad data based on user formula’s.

    If even the basic data involving the size of the part, the recommended pad, solder mask and solder paste sizes along with the correct pin data for a component were provided by the manufacturer of the part then the effort to customize a part to meet the users specific needs would drop dramatically. Then perhaps the CAD vendors could capitalize on this data by making it easy for a user to modify the provided data!

    So my viewpoint is that PCB123’s new release demonstrates the ability to merge data between multiple data sources to save significant amounts of research time. Certainly 500k parts is not enough to cover customers needs, but compared to the starting library I got with my last CAD tool, what an improvement. Particularly when you realize that they deliver this to users at no cost.

  3. It looks like the commenter and PCB123 are in complete agreement on this point – clear, consistent, accurate parts data to pick and choose from. But I would also point out that s/he describes the “rosetta stone” for parts. The commenter and I are not alone in this opinion. Tom Hausherr, the EDA Library Product Manager at Mentor Graphics, says this in a recent white paper:

    “The CAD library is the starting point that affects every process from PCB layout through PCB manufacturing and assembly. There are dozens of things to consider when creating a CAD library that are often overlooked or not even considered that will directly affect the quality of the part placement, via fanout, trace routing, post processing, fabrication and assembly processes.”

    Tom calculated that about 300 million staff-hours per year are spent on redundant work in the parts library. I suspect Tom’s estimate might be low. What this means is that end users rarely define a part completely, they just define the part as far as they NEED to, to accomplish their task.

    Once you have the data defined, it still falls to the CAD tools to make intelligent and effective use of that data.

  4. On the other hand, 500,000 fully defined parts, following IPC standards, fully defined and ready for drop-in use in the design environment, available TODAY, for FREE in a tool that’s distributed for FREE… that’s still a rather big deal.

    If you look at the work Sunstone is doing with the Circuit Design ECOsystem (sm), collaborating with NXP, Digi-Key, National Instruments and Screaming, and now with collaboration from Accelerated Designs, then you see a group of forward-thinking companies laying practical groundwork for just such an environment.

    We’re on the verge of a new way of delivering parts to designers. Complete parts definitions are transitioning the end-user’s responsibility and are becoming an additional piece of sales collateral developed by the part. This is good for designers, because they don’t have to build parts, and can concentrate on the important stuff: meeting schedules, meeting budgets, and finishing projects with manufacturable solutions. Because the semiconductor company making the part is more involved in the part definition process, the parts will be more consistent, more accurate, and more complete – for all involved, including the manufacturing chain.

Comments are closed.