I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to developing new recipes for my kid. Just last week, I insisted on preparing the bolognese sauce from scratch as I tried to whip up a decent pasta dish. I ended up taking more time than I should have, as my son grew in frustration and hunger by the minute. That’s when I decided to just buy off-the-shelf pasta sauce next time.
When I started working on electronics, I always got excited to work on new projects. I quickly sketched out the schematic and got the PCB started. Then, my enthusiasm suddenly tanked, as I spent more time creating PCB footprints than working on the design itself.
That was over a decade ago when PCB libraries were limited to passive components and resistors. As PCB software became more comprehensive with time, I stopped creating my own custom PCB libraries, which dramatically shortened my development time. If you’re still building custom PCB libraries, you should stop right now.
Stop Wasting Time Hunting for the Right Datasheets
You might encounter this scenario if you’re using passive components or connectors from your local electronics store. These parts are usually very generic with little to no information about the manufacturer. The fastest way to create the footprint for these components is getting the measurement with a digital caliper. However, this isn’t as accurate as the footprint diagram from the datasheet itself.
When high-speed internet was non-existent, searching for datasheets online was a pain. But even with today’s internet speeds, you can be more efficient by finding the parts in an integrated library. Searching for a couple of datasheets isn’t a problem but when you have more than a handful to search for, it’s just a waste of time.
Save Time by Not Creating Custom Components
Before PCB software was intelligent enough to provide the intuitive components creation feature, creating custom components involved manually laying down the outline and pads. You had to ensure that every dimension stated on the datasheet was transferred to the corresponding software component.
While creating passive components like resistors is a walk in the park, a 208 pin TQFP package demands your full focus. Not only does it gives you unnecessary stress, but it also takes up precious time you should spend working on the design instead. If it takes an average of five minutes to create a single PCB component, it will take almost an hour to make ten. A smarter choice is to use an integrated library that comes with good PCB software. This enables you to skip the entire component creation process.
Stop Making Costly Mistakes
The moment you’re creating a component instead of using those from an integrated PCB library, you’re exposing your design to the risk of design errors. Careless mistakes can happen even to experienced designers, as it is all too simple to mismatch component pinouts or note the wrong dimensions.
These mistakes can often escape design checks and result in defective prototypes. For example, I once created a narrow SOIC footprint for a wide SOIC component. There is nothing that I could do except discard the manufactured PCB and quickly develop a revision. I learned a valuable lesson at a high cost.
When you create a custom PCB library, your design is dependent on library files. You have to be cautious and backup your custom PCB library in case your computer or files get corrupted. I remember having to recreate 50 or more components, as Murphy’s Law struck home.
Only Create Your Own PCB Library When Absolutely Necessary
In certain cases, you may not be able to find necessary components in the integrated library. That’s when you might need to generate the schematic and PCB component. In such a case, avoid manually drawing the components and use an intelligent footprint creator like those in Altium Designer. It allows you to easily enter silkscreen information and creates the footprint automatically.