PCB Designers Are Really Product Designers

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As I look back on 2022, I’m realizing that my company plays multiple roles in client projects beyond just designing circuits and PCBs. Sure, we’re primarily a PCB design company, but we also help with things that happen outside the PCB. This includes tasks like enclosure design, defining mechanical constraints, simulating electrical behavior, mating boards into larger assemblies, selecting cabling, and defining test requirements, all of which slowly creep into the standard scope of work for design projects.

The same set of tasks have crept into CAD software features, especially in the PCB design space. Both mechanical design tools and PCB design software have expanded their capabilities beyond enclosure/fixture design and board layout, respectively. Looking at some of the capabilities in a platform like Fusion 360, the MCAD side has significantly outpaced the ECAD side.

In the ECAD/EDA world, we still focus mostly on simulation and fit to enclosure, but there is so much more that goes into full-scale product development, and the ECAD software world should start to move much faster toward the goals I outline below.

What PCB Designers Need for Product Development
As I mentioned in my earlier I-Connect007 article on simulation, designers need much simpler simulation access either inside their native PCB design tool or through a direct and seamless integration with another design/simulation program1. Now that ECAD/MCAD collaboration has helped bring electrical and mechanical co-design under one roof, designers can instantly pass ECAD data into the MCAD system and vice versa.

What else can the ECAD industry do to support product design? Based on both my personal experience with client projects and current ECAD industry trends, here are some things I’d love to see.

Cable and Harness Design
This area is finally coming to fruition from my preferred EDA vendor, and I expect similar features from others. Many products, whether they are multi-board assemblies or requiring a connection to an external product, may do so with custom cables, custom or standard mated connectors, or flex ribbons.

Harness and cable definition at the logic level, visual integration into the assembly, and even physical design of custom cable assemblies—these are all essential parts of product development. The immediate benefit is in MCAD, where the connector and cable can be viewed in a larger system. However, the broader benefit is in simulation and rules checking, where logical definitions in interconnects are used to examine electrical behavior.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the January 2023 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.


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