Altium to Release Designer 10 Next Month

Altium will ship the next release of Altium Designer on Jan. 31.

The new release is said to change how designers manage component and design data, and take products from design to manufacture.

Release 10 will feature a new desktop platform; new dimensions to sourcing and managing component data; intelligent linking of supply chain data to the design environment; and new ways to manage component data throughout the design and production lifecycle, with a structured release process to ensure the integrity of all data leaving the system.

Keep watching here for more details.

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?

More Thoughts on Via Near Pad

The other day, I wrote about vias near pads. The post got a couple of interesting comments.

In one of the comments, Mitch said, “When I was learning PCB design in the 1980s, I was taught by a mentor that understood assembly very well.” I think that highlights a big component of the problem. I suspect that a lot of folks doing layout today were not taught by anyone but themselves.

CAD packages may have instruction manuals and tutorials, but learning how to use a software package is a lot different than learning how to do the actual process well. It’s possible to be very proficient at using a word processor, but still not know how to write well.

It’s not an uncommon scenario these days, especially after the economic suckiness of last year, to come in to work expecting to hand off a schematic to the layout engineer only to find that “tag you’re it.”

Howard, in another comment, suggested that in his experience, filling and plating over vias in pads typically only adds about 8% to the PCB cost. In smaller prototype quantities, it may be a little more then that, but what’s the cost of a failed assembly? If you have the room to move the vias off the pads, the only cost may be in layout time. If space is critical or if there are signal/noise/thermal issues that force the vias to be in the pads, then you’ll just have to spend the extra to fill and plate.

If you do find yourself suddenly tasked with layout and you’ve never done one before, find a mentor (or maybe a Minotaur), read up online, call up a manufacturing person, study the Screaming Circuits blog. What ever you do, figure out all these little traps like vias in pad, components library foot print issues, spacing issues, thermal issues, etc. Then dive into the layout and learn from each one. Drink some tea too. It can relax you. Just try to stay away from Oreos and ice cream late at night.

Duane Benson
What’s the deal with 1729?