Some people think all you need to design a printed circuit board is a schematic capture package and a layout tool, but the truth is far more complex.
I was chatting with a friend the other day (yes, I do have friends, thank you very much). This guy knows a bit about electronics, but he's not really involved in depth. When started talking about printed circuit boards (PCBs), the impression he had was that all one really needed to design one was some sort of schematic capture package and some sort of layout tool.
When I mentioned just a few of the tools used in circuit board design, verification, and analysis, my friend's eyes started to glaze over. Our conversation soon turned to other topics, such as whose turn it was to buy a round of drinks. But this left me wondering how many people share my friend's view of the circuit board world.
Thus, I thought I would solicit your suggestions. Off the top of my head, here's a list of the various tools one might use in creating a PCB, including electronic systems composed of multiple PCBs.
- Schematic capture
- Layout (hand and automatic)
- FPGA co-design capabilities
- Cable and harness capabilities
- 3D (mechanical) capabilities
- Digital and analog simulation
- Signal integrity analysis
- Thermal analysis
- Power analysis
- EMC/EMI analysis
- Test vector generation capabilities
- Library creation and support capabilities
- Multi-designer collaboration capabilities
- Database management capabilities
Hopefully, it goes without saying that all the above should support things like constraint capture and management capabilities, and that any change made in one tool should be automatically propagated and applied (as applicable and appropriate) throughout all the tools.
There are also some tools and capabilities that I haven't listed, such as the ability to capture a board design in a textural form -- like VHDL -- as opposed to using schematic capture, but I don't have any experience with this. Do you? I'm also not particularly familiar with any specialist tools used for creating boards for microwave and RF systems. I'm more au fait with traditional analog and digital design scenarios.
Also, as I previously noted, the list is something I just jotted down off the top of my head. What did I miss? Which of these tools do you personally use the most (or the least)?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting