The product development process has changed. Gone are the days of designing in our separate boxes, passing PCBs and enclosures down the line. These days, if you’re developing in ECAD, you’ll likely need MCAD as well — whether it’s to throw together an enclosure, verify fit, or run a simulation. We’re not just PCB designers anymore; we’re product developers.
When was the last time you designed just a PCB?
It’s rare to find an electronics designer making only PCB designs these days. Electronics are the unseen intelligence in our world, and they always need a physical counterpart to connect with the human. It’s human nature to love touching, buttons, switches and boxes.
However, there’s still this myth that we can exist as engineers in only our ECAD software in an age of smart, connected devices. How does this hold up, though? In 2021 there’s going to be more than 46 billion connected devices around the world. There will be devices that require smaller package sizes and integration between the electrical and mechanical domains, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. How are you going to design all of that with one tool? Hint: You can’t.
This is just the start of our problems, though. Since the beginning of the Industrial Engineering Era, we have been relying on file formats as our sole method of collaborating and sharing design data. You know them by name – STEP, IDF, BRD. The dance is always the same: pack your data up, email it back and forth, and hope for the best.
So what are we to do? As product development changes, electronics design needs to follow. We need to start seeing our PCB designs from a broader perspective, in a 3D world, as part of a complete product development workflow. There are three main reasons why every electronics designer needs to have an MCAD tool in their toolbox to prepare for the coming change:
Collaboration is now a necessity. Today’s design process is anything but linear. Component availability changes, board layouts need to shift to fit enclosures at the last minute. Not having a way to understand how your product affect your PCB design process is handicapping your capabilities. File formats are a burden. Putting your design in a box as a file format naturally lends itself to errors in translation. When was the last time your STEP file fully communicated your design intent? Probably never. I think it’s safe to say we’re all tired of pouring hours into documentation just to supplement what should already be communicated in our design. The future is blending disciplines. Engineers are expected to do it all; documentation, emails, design, sourcing — you name it. Mechanical design is now being added to this list as our needs for smart devices deepens. And have you seen molded interconnect devicesContinue reading