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Sunstone Circuits and SnapEDA recently announced that SnapEDA’s parts library would be integrated into Sunstone’s PCB123 design tool. During PCB West, I interviewed EDA Product Manager Nolan Johnson of Sunstone Circuits and SnapEDA President Natasha Baker. We discussed their new partnership, the changing parts library landscape, and where the companies see this alliance heading in the future.
ANDY SHAUGHNESSY: I'm here today with Nolan Johnson and Natasha Baker, who have a pretty big announcement regarding their two respective companies. Nolan, why don't you start off? Tell us what this announcement is about.
NOLAN JOHNSON: Sure. We're excited to be partnering with SnapEDA to bring their utilities into our PCB123 design environment. PCB123 is a free-to-use tool, with no license fees, no subscription fees. We've been around for quite a while and have a very strong following with users, both industrial and individual. It’s incredibly powerful for us to be bringing SnapEDA into the mix, because now we have native parts access inside the design tool. As designers are making parts decisions to go into their schematic or their layout, they will now have access to a cloud-based database of millions of parts that are verified “good.” Not only that, but SnapEDA report current part availability data as well, so you don’t inadvertently design in an obsolete part.
This makes it much more efficient for the designers to get their designs done. Statistics show that something like 35% of a project is spent defining new parts that the designers don't already have. We've just made that go away through this partnership.
SHAUGHNESSY: Natasha, tell us a little bit about SnapEDA and how this all works.
NATASHA BAKER: SnapEDA built the Internet's first parts library for circuit board design. Taking a look at our conversations with designers, what we found was that one of the biggest pain points in designing electronics is that they couldn't find the parts they needed for their designs, or I should say, the content they needed. When you're designing a circuit board, there are all types of content that you need to represent your components, whether that's to capture your schematic, simulate the circuit, or lay out the circuit board.
What we thought was: What if we could create one centralized place engineers can go to get trusted data and trusted content that is needed at all stages of this design flow? So that's why we created SnapEDA. Basically, the philosophy we have at SnapEDA is to bring a breadth of content across all these stages of the design flow. This means interoperability—ensuring that it works with tools such as PCB123—and also transparency into the quality of the data. Because one of the biggest challenges at every stage of the design flow is, "Can I trust this design content?"
And so a lot of our initiatives have been around creating one standardized data base that's customizable to your company and application-specific requirements, and at the same time it can give you transparency into what standards that content was created with. So, we're applying this to symbols and footprints today, and that's now available in PCB123, as well as in the long term with all types of content that we're going to be creating in the future, whether that's 3D models or even simulation models. It’s the same philosophy.
SHAUGHNESSY: It’s interesting because this was what you were talking about doing all along. This certainly seems like a big step for your company.
BAKER: Yes, absolutely. One thing that's really exciting about this launch with PCB123 is that this is actually the first time in the industry that a desktop, traditional PCB design tool, has integrated a cloud-based library natively. So, you don't need to install any plug-ins. It’s not behind a pay wall. This is something that every single designer who downloads the latest version of PCB123 will have access to immediately, and so they'll benefit from right in the desktop tool they know and trust. They're going to benefit from all the great features of a cloud-based library, including a parts library that's updated daily, the ability to see real-time verification checks in the library, as well as communicate with other community members to vet the quality of the data or ask questions about it. And then finally, they can also request parts and get them in 24 hours. The library is updated for the entire PCB123 and electronics community to download that part for free.
SHAUGHNESSY: Nolan, we were talking earlier about how designers like their layout tools to be on the desktop, they've never been big fans of the cloud, but now the cloud works well with parts libraries.
JOHNSON: Right. This is the right stuff to be putting in the cloud, since a library is well suited to being maintained in a centralized way. There are a lot of opportunities for how the library can be managed, whether it’s through end-users who are collaborating, or through semiconductor companies who are pushing parts definitions down into this for distribution so as to make it easier for designers to use that particular chip company’s parts. There are all sorts of dynamics here. The transparency can't really be overstressed at all. It’s particularly interesting.
Any designer who's reading through this probably has had the experience where they've gotten the uncomfortable call from the assembly house saying, "We've got your parts, we've got your board, but these parts don't fit on the board because the footprint's wrong." That's the wrong time to be getting that message. SnapEDA’s new dynamic now allows for better parts—more verified parts, more accurate parts, all in one place where the user can make a good parts choice during their research and part selection phase, and then have that parts definition accuracy roll down through the design phase to a better fab, and a better assembly experience in the end.
SHAUGHNESSY: Is it full function? Are you going to add more functionality to it later?
BAKER: We definitely have a roadmap. Our teams have discussed the next steps, and we're also looking for feedback from PCB123 users. That being said, we definitely have a couple of things that we're looking to add next, including user authentication to allow for direct downloads right inside PCB123, and then the ability to request a part directly from PCB123.
SHAUGHNESSY: And if people are coming to you wanting to know where to get their boards done, then you can steer them to the right manufacturer.
BAKER: Yeah, at some point we definitely want to, but it's not something we're focused on right now. We’re currently really focused on our data and how we can build the best source of data, the most trusted source of data. That being said, a lot of our designers have PCB manufacturing needs, so we're trying to figure out when we would do that and what it might look like, but really our focus is just on the content right now. Hopefully this is a great resource because it’s a free PCB design tool, and like Nolan said, it’s completely open. The Gerbers are completely open. You're not locked in. So this is a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about PCB123 and Sunstone.
SHAUGHNESSY: Great. Well, this sounds like an exciting time for both of your companies. Thanks for sharing this with us today.
BAKER: Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Andy.