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Even though I work in a highly technical industry, I can still be skeptical of new technology, especially when it is a new app or collaboration tool. I sometimes take the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach when viewing new software or the newest smartphone. Even after browser-based design tools started becoming popular, I was skeptical of their usefulness and functionality.
Eventually, most online tools wind up finding their place in the market and prove their usefulness for a number of tasks, and online PCB design software is no exception. With this in mind, it helps to understand the features you need to look for when you want to undertake circuit design online. If you’re a hobbyist, you work as part of a team with a startup, or you are just getting started and are still learning about PCB design, working with a browser-based design tool can offer some real benefits over desktop-based software.
Working with Software for Circuit Design Online
If you head over to your favorite search engine and start searching for online PCB design software, you’ll find plenty of options to choose from. No one has time to evaluate every single platform, especially if you’re a new designer or if you’re trying to get your new company off the ground. Much like other types of online design software, and platform for circuit design online should include features that are a suitable replacement for desktop software while remaining competitive on price.\
Most online design programs will only interface with a limited number of desktop programs if at all, and most will not provide much more functionality than creating a schematic or a simple layout. Most will not contain the tools required to quickly prepare for production, and you will likely be limited in terms of component selection.
The best browser-based design software will include the features to move through the entire design process and take a board all the way to production. This means you’ll need schematic editing tools, a PCB layout editor, and a constraints manager for enforcing specific design requirements. Along the way, you’ll likely need to collaborate with other designers on your new board in order to include the functionality you need.
Collaboration is Key
These days, teams at startups aren’t always clustered in a single office. People are spread across the globe, and each person has a role to play in designing a new electronic product. There are several issues to consider, including basic functionality defined in a schematic, the overall layout of your board, how you will go about sourcing components, and finalizing deliverables for a manufacturer.
My favorite aspect of using online design software is the collaboration it enables with other people on my design team. I’m in the US and I work with designers in Europe, and I’ll often stay up until the wee hours of the morning working with my colleagues on our designs. The GitHub-style interface gives us full control over successive versions of our designs and helps us stay organized. It also allows us to access projects from other designers and draw some inspiration for our new designs.
Just one of many open-source projects you can access with browser-based design software. Thanks to gigneal for releasing this project.
Larger companies need to seriously consider the benefits of online collaborative tools as more organizations adopt remote teams. According to Gartner, more businesses are becoming open to allowing employees to work from anywhere, and hardware companies are no exception. This is where collaborative tools for circuit design online become invaluable as critical team members can collaborate on new prototypes from anywhere.
Preparing for Production
Eventually, you’ll need to produce prototypes of your board and prepare your designs for manufacturing. There are several issues to consider here. First, you’ll need to find a short run manufacturer that specializes in rapid prototyping and can satisfy your design requirements. You’ll want to be sure you understand their capabilities and requirements on your board. It is good to do this ahead of time in order to avoid a time-consuming redesign of your board.
One important step you can take to increase your board yield during a manufacturing run is to make a panelized PCB from your board. This involves laying copies of your board in a specific arrangement on a larger panel. This allows your manufacturer to produce multiple copies of your board in a single run and help you get the highest yield for your costs.
Panelized boards for manufacturing
Your manufacturer will need a number of other deliverables before they can start producing your board. This includes Gerber files, Excellon files, NC drill files, and a complete bill of materials. Many online design tools force you to download design files and open them in a different application before you can create these deliverables. Worse yet, you might be forced to search component distributor databases and compile a bill of materials in word processing software by hand. The best browser-based design software will generate these directly from your design data within your browser, saving you time and enabling the type of collaboration that makes design teams successful.
If you’re a hobbyist, a new designer, or you are trying to get your startup off the ground, you can get started creating high-quality designs quickly when you use the right online design software. The browser-based design interface from Upverter® provides all the tools you need to design new electronic products.