Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Danger of Rogue Libraries

When we think of a library, the first thing that comes to mind is a building that holds materials of some kind. In April 1800, when the seat of the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington, one of the first acts of President Monroe was to allocate $5,000 to purchase books for Congress to use. With the establishment of the Library of Congress, it held 740 books and three maps.

It now contains 32 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages, and more than 61 million manuscripts. It is the most extensive rare book collection in North America, and by far, the most extensive library in the entire world. For anyone who has ever visited the Library of Congress, it is incredible when you consider the tremendous amount of knowledge and materials in those walls. However, what I find even more astounding is how all that material is kept organized enough to find something quickly.

Libraries Defined
For PCB designers, it is not a building but rather a collection of information or data used to build a PCB design. The most common part of the library is the collection of components used in the PCB design process. But, I have seen some libraries have other information, including a resource area—a group of documents, standards, and articles. Basically, it can have anything you want.

It is essential to make sure the library is structured so that it is easy to expand and grow with the company. Unfortunately, some organize their library for their present needs with no consideration of the future.

So, it is easy to organize a library for, let's say, the 1,000 components you have now, but how would you manage 50,000 components? The hope is that your companies will grow and, of course, stay on the cutting edge of technology. That means bringing in the latest components.

 Furthermore, it is vital to have that information readily available to find what is needed quickly. Although every library is different, each one has the basic foundation to ensure that it is successful. They include singularity, managed, architecture, reviewable, and traceability (SMART).

Importance of the PCB Library
Everything begins and ends with the library, which includes a design's success or failure. With all the detailed steps involved in every PCB design, I fully believe that the PCB library is by far the most crucial part. Therefore, a rule I follow is to always be excellent friends with your PCB librarian. They are underappreciated most of the time, but they hold the most critical position on any PCB design team.

In the past, we have seen how there is a “parents and children” document. We also have noticed that sometimes a document can be both a parent and child, like the schematic it is a parent of the PCB and the BOM. But, it is also a child because it is the library's parent. Everything starts right there. If you have a lousy library, there is no recovery from that. That library represents money to your company, and it can fall in either the profit or loss column. 

Some of the information collected in the library is static, meaning that it won't ever change. But there is also dynamic information, so it will constantly be changing. This brings up a couple of points, mainly that the library is a living, breathing thing, and must be maintained. 

The Danger of Rogue Libraries
A PCB library should be an item known as a Single Source of Truth (SSOT). Singularity is the first foundation of every successful library. When working with a team that is working from different data and procedures, it doesn't take a psychic to determine the results of that. There is absolutely no way to control the results. Multiple people starting at different locations, going in different directions, with all other maps ending up at the exact location? Nope. Not a good plan.

More times than I wish to count, I have seen the problems caused by what is called "rogue libraries." They are libraries with components that are not managed or verified. Consider the massive amounts of work to prepare a PCB design. There is the engineering, layout, fabrication process, and then as you get into assembly, the notorious unwanted phone calls begin, letting you know that they were hitting "snags," such as parts not going onto the PCB because of wrong footprints or other components tombstoning or falling off entirely. Uou start to investigate the issue, only to find that a “rogue library” got used, resulting in scrapping the entire fabrication. At this point, you begin that long walk to the manager's office to explain the situation—not a good feeling. 

Several years back, I joined a well-established, successful company. However, the PCB design area had no structure or organization. It would be an understatement to say it was in total disarray, which was evident by the multiple numbers of boards spins. I remember going over to one of the designers who opened a desk drawer filled with bare PCB boards. He let me know that those were the designs that did not make it through assembly due to some problem. When I investigated further, I found that 1,123 PCB libraries were used. All different kinds and sizes, of course. Multiple footprints with the same name. Every designer with their personal library. No wonder there were problems.

Our hope that every design has, to use a single word, integrity. What is meant by that? Integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” That is an excellent mental picture of a PCB design—to be unbroken and undivided. I like that. When we were working from a thousand libraries, we were starting from a possible thousand different places and possible problems. Even worse, we were not starting from what would be considered reliable and verified data for designs and an SSOT.

There is a saying, "To get something you have never had, you need to do something you have never done." I knew the solution to fix the problem, although it was a radical step. My answer was simple. On a Friday evening, after everyone went home, I went onto the server and deleted all the libraries. I must say that was an exciting Monday morning. Within a short amount of time, we began to see vast improvements in the PCB designs. It started with getting control of the source of information and making it singular. The moral of the story is to have integrity in the PCB designs, and we first had to have integrity in our information and process. That meant integrity in our components and the libraries.

John Watson, CID, is a customer success manager at Altium. 

 

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2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Danger of Rogue Libraries

09-16-2021

For PCB designers, the most common part of the library is the collection of components used in the PCB design process. But, I have seen some libraries have other information, including a resource area, a group of documents, standards, and articles. So basically it can have anything you want.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Epic Fails with Design Rules

08-12-2021

Various sciences, including physics, mathematics, chemistry, are significantly involved throughout the PCB design process, rules that can sometimes be bent but not broken. However, the rules that designers break and ignore altogether and very often are the design rules.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Managing Risk in PCB Design

08-05-2021

PCB design is like bungee jumping. With the complexity of a PCB design, the intricate details, and various steps, it's rather easy to make mistakes. Those mistakes, many times, do not show up until it's too late and the board has gone off to fabrication and assembly. By the way, a good rule is not to use your assembly house as your quality control team for PCB designs.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Time to Market, from Ludicrous Speed to Plaid

07-18-2021

Mel Brooks may have something to teach us about going "ludicrous speed" in getting our designs to the finish line. John Watson explains.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Trust but Verify

06-10-2021

Over many years, I have seen some elaborate PCB library systems. However, the best ones were those not based on the size but rather the quality of the information. That old axiom is definitely “not quantity but rather quality.”

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Paying the Price To Be a PCB Designer

05-13-2021

Today, the electronics industry is flourishing with innovations and technologies. The result is that the “good” designers are left in the dust. Truthfully, our industry doesn't need more good designers; rather, we need great designers—those who can face any challenge and instead of cowering in the corner, looks at the task at hand and says, "Bring it on."

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Keeping Counterfeit Components Out of Your Library

04-13-2021

To know whether anything is wrong, you must first know in detail what is correct to follow the standard or pattern. This principle could not be more true when handling our components in the library.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Printed Circuit Board Design

02-11-2021

John Watson addresses continuous improvement by examining the PCB design process.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: 2020—The Year that Taught Us Resilience

01-22-2021

Yes, 2020 was a challenge. It's during those times that we can learn some significant lessons if we allow them.

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2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Demystifying Bypass Capacitors

12-17-2020

As PCB designers, we work under the simple rule of cause and effect, and a PCB design can quickly become a petri dish for the butterfly effect to flourish. One of those areas that can quickly snowball into major problems is your PCB power distribution structure. When it goes wrong, it usually goes very wrong and has significant issues throughout your design.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Density Feasibility Putting 10 Lbs in a 5-Lb Bag

11-18-2020

Whether on a customer, a system, or a PCB level, it’s essential to understand the final objective and how you intend to get there and meet the customer need at the forefront of any project. In this column, John Watson addresses density feasibility and more.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Location, Location, Location

10-15-2020

When it comes to PCB design, one of the most overlooked principles is component placement. Similar to a home, the component location has a considerable impact on the quality and is the real value of a PCB design. John Watson examines five rules to follow when it comes to component placement.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Overcoming PCB Designs Pitfalls

09-10-2020

When starting every PCB design, the hope is that we can navigate through any pitfalls that arrive. Unfortunately, many times, issues happen that you do not handle correctly; they fall through the cracks and end up in your PCB design. John Watson explains how that is when the real problems begin.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: How to Ruin Your PCB Design in 4 Easy Steps

08-06-2020

John Watson has seen firsthand how quickly PCB designs can “go off the rails” by not following a few simple principles. In this column, he looks at four practices that can easily ruin your PCB design.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: PCB Components Naming Conventions

07-09-2020

How you accurately analyze and identify certain information has a direct connection to the overall success of your PCB designs. In this column, John Watson focuses on the conventional naming scheme for the schematic symbol and footprint to prevent headaches and ulcers later.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Collaboration in the PCB Design Process

06-11-2020

The past few months have been trying for everyone, with many of us working from home. However, there are still the underlining principles of collaboration to step into a role to finish the necessary tasks to keep a project moving forward. John Watson, CID, explains.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Reinventing Yourself

05-28-2020

When COVID-19 first hit, many businesses were forced to close, and we immediately saw its impact on the service industry. Whatever challenge you’re facing, John Watson emphasizes that it’s time to hit the switch on reinventing.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Positive Side of COVID-19

04-16-2020

With the recent COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, most of us have been forced to reshuffle how we work, live, and play. Something like this has never happened before in our lifetimes, and it is scary and challenging, but difficult times develop resilient people. John Watson shares some of the positive things he has already noticed come out of this situation.

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Elementary, Mr. Watson: Are We There Yet?

03-12-2020

Anyone who has taken a road trip with children knows the question, “Are we there yet?” very well. This question also applies to PCB design. If you are not careful, your PCB project could easily go off track and you could lose sight of what you are doing (objective), why (motivation), how (process), and when (schedule). John Watson emphasizes the importance of these fundamental questions.

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