Connect the Dots: The Case for Expansive Parts Libraries

bob-tise.jpgA large, relaible library of parts shortens design time and can eliminate costly errors.

My colleagues and I spend our day helping customers with their PCB designs. Much of our effort is directed at making functional improvements, speeding the prototyping process, or finding cost savings in a design. But we do a lot of problem solving, too: “Why did this blow up? How come nothing happens when I press the ‘on’ button?” Issues with specialized components are a common culprit.

PCBs are the foundation of every electronic device, the home for the components that make up your assembly. Those integrated circuits, connectors, headers, and passives are what makes it function. How it needs to function determines whether standard components alone can make it work.

Specialized parts are often needed to make innovative electronic devices and that can create time-consuming challenges for the designer. Even though there are millions of parts available for your designs, custom or hard-to-find parts are sometimes needed. Finding the right one is a stubborn challenge for PCB designers. The average design team maintains a parts library with thousands of parts, but even the largest of those contain less than one percent of what’s out there. That’s why designers can spend as much as 35% of their design time on the laborious and error prone process of researching and creating specialized parts.

Larger organizations have librarians on staff who locate or fabricate components that reliably meet designer specs. Absent that resource, PCB designers are left to search for what they need or create custom components themselves.

Small Mistakes Can Lead to Big Problems
Your datasheet will usually provide what you need to locate the right part in a library, but those datasheets can be complex to the point of ridiculousness. Each part has a lot of information that describes it—things like pin functional names, pin numbers, manufacturer part number, and tolerances. That creates a lot of opportunity for error. There can be discrepancies between the component footprints and the datasheet—tiny things like pin spacing not carried out to the furthest necessary decimal point (on a 200-pin connector, this can add up!) or the symbol on the datasheet not specifying part orientation.

Since the process of researching a part and making sure it will not turn your board into ash is a laborious and unpredictable process, designers often choose to invest a few hours and just design a custom part themselves. They will have to navigate all the same landmines that come in the form of funky shapes, a unique size for desired functionality, or an inventive footprint. It is painstaking. You must translate every design element from the datasheet perfectly and it is hard not to miss something that will create problems.

Frying a board full of expensive components makes mistakes at this stage costly. So, if there is an easy way to avoid this risk and hassle, it makes sense to take advantage of it.

Keep Accurate, Pre-defined Parts at Your Fingertips
Expansive component databases will shorten PCB design time, reduce the need for rework, and avoid costly board failures. The more complete and more accurate your parts library is, the better. We believe SnapEDA is the best solution to the custom parts challenge.

It’s also one of, if not the easiest to use. With the ability to integrate the search and download functionality within the software, product manager Michael Hebda highlights the ease of use and simplicity of SnapEDA. I guess it is right there in the name and logo.

SnapEDA offers designers a massive, cloud-based electrical components database that includes a collection of specialized parts from many different manufacturers. With close to a million parts at the designer’s fingertips, SnapEDA makes it much easier to locate a tested, proven component that meets your specs. SnapEDA’s database is maintained by professionals dedicated to interfacing with component manufacturers, meticulously breaking down every detail of each technical datasheet and double-checking every piece of information made available.

Most of the CAD tools preferred by PCB designers—including Sunstone's free PCB123® design software—have third party plugins that allow you to quickly search SnapEDA and import parts you can rely on from their component database. This makes finding and integrating specialized parts into your design easier than ever.

Specialized parts don’t have to be a challenge. Resources like the one illustrated here really can eliminate a lot of headaches for those of us who don’t have a parts librarian on staff. Whether you choose SnapEDA or another parts library database, we encourage you to leverage cost-effective resources that will save time in the design phase and eliminate issues with specialized components during production.

This column originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Design007 Magazine.



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