From Footprints to Fabrication

By Brian White | March 31, 2021

So I’ve got a great idea for a new product, I run to my computer to start researching components, drawing up the schematic, and sketching out the mechanical outline. I’ve got the circuits mapped; a rough component placement & the fab drawing created. I’m ready to get this gem into layout so I start to import the Netlist, but wait!  I’ve got 50 “parts not found” & my tool is showing “No Footprint exists”.

If you are like most of us in the Electronics Industry, this only seems to happen just when we’ve got a great project ready to go. One of the most overlooked aspects of design always seems the one thing that keeps us from getting from Footprint to Fabrication.

As we have all come to accept, the Electronics Industry is constantly changing. As through hole components become legacy, we are continuously trying to manage our libraries to keep them up to date.

Every company has their own way of going about it, some have dedicated librarians, do it on an as needed basis or scour the web until we find a footprint that is already created. There are some great companies out there that have set out to solve this problem.

However, with the many millions of components in circulation, it seems all too often that we can’t find that exact footprint and end up creating it ourselves. Once we finally have it created it must be labeled, archived & stored.  Managing these libraries can be tedious, for some designs when the time comes to spin the board a year or so later, that footprint we spent hours creating is useless as that component has gone obsolete… Great!

Being a Design Services Bureau, we’ve seen this all too many times and set out to find a better way to go about it.  In our effort to keep projects moving through the design process, we’ve taken a couple steps to help our customers.

1. Creating Master Libraries

When starting a new layout for a customer, we add all footprints to our Master & customer Libraries. From there, all future spins and new projects will have access to those footprints/symbols whenever the design calls for them.  We never want to have to reinvent the wheel, so having independent libraries for customers helps save us and them time. If we get another design from a different customer with the same footprint, we can always reference our Master library to check if the footprint has already been created.

2. Quick Creation of Footprints

Many times when we get a new layout, a customer has some brand spanking new BGA in the design that doesn’t have a footprint created yet. These fine pitch packages can take hours to create on occasion and can hold up a design for sometimes days at a time. To solve this problem, Freedom CAD works with our overseas division to get these done affordably and quickly. If we get a part early in the afternoon, we can sometimes have it created the next day for import into the design.

3. Managing Duplicates

One of the most frustrating aspects of database management is duplicates.  You are trying to find that one resistor you need, but there are 4 copies of that one component. One is named in all lower case, another is all Caps, and one even has the whole project name in the title!  How we solved this problem was standardizing our libraries across the board. Each Symbol/Footprint is carefully labeled and cataloged so that when the time comes to reference the component again, the guesswork is removed. Being involved with a lot of different designs and technologies also keeps us in a constant state of scrubbing our libraries.

Final Thoughts:

All kidding aside, libraries are the heart and soul of any PCB. Whether you create them yourself, pay for a service or work with a design services bureau; it’s always important to solve these problems while in CAD.  Without good libraries, designs get held up, boards get scrapped, and schedules get impacted. Maybe one day in the not-so-distant future, we can have fully standardized libraries across board but just like the transition from Imperial to Metric, we may be waiting longer than we think.


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