Automating the documentation process: dedicated tools help reduce the once-manual job by 20% of the typical design cycle time.

Author:Buetow, Mike

The question posted to the DesignerCouncil email forum was simple and straightforward: "Why on earth can't these companies make a product out of the box that does engineering documentation well? I find it hard to believe there can't be a boilerplate level delivered that could handle 80 to 90% of most companies' documentation needs out of the box. ... Even the BoM reports delivered out of the box from Oracle are absolutely useless. You need an integration company or an internal team of Oracle experts to spend a fair amount of effort just to get a usable BoM report."

What's fascinating, if not somewhat predictable, is how many firms take software that is intended (and good) at one function and repurpose it for something else. Take, for example, two of the best-known product life management tools: Oracle's PLM and PTC's Windchill. Good programs, both, but they were never intended to handle circuit board documentation. It's one reason why it takes, on average, two man-days of the typical 10-day design cycle to complete the documentation (FIGURE 1).


Best-in-class processes reduce the amount of time spent creating the documentation; are automated so as to create a "living" document, or one that's not fixed in time, unlike a paper printout of a pdf where, in the event of an engineering change order, the documentation needs to be regenerated; and facilitates product flow to the extent that the end-product quality is enhanced. As Downstream Technologies cofounder Joe Clark says, "Documentation is much bigger than just design, fab and assembly."

Designers are pros at stretching the limits of CAD tools and other software, but at some point the deficiencies become too glaring to tolerate.

It's why I'm surprised more haven't turned to BluePrint, which purports to solve the headaches by providing access to all the electrical intelligence contained in the PCB CAD database to create detailed documentation in reportedly a far shorter timeframe than using traditional ECAD or MCAD tools.

The brainchild of DownStream, BluePrint was developed by former board designers who understand from firsthand experience the pains of their ex-colleagues. It uses a drawing-and sheet-based approach to create actual PCB documents (drill drawing, assembly drawing, parts list, and so on), and stores them in a digital release file. BluePrint uses the CAD data to automatically create unlimited views, details, and charts of the PCB, and can revise the...

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