Automation Software for PCB Layout

One of the first things I remember ever seeing a PCB designer do is place silkscreen reference designators.  Try here, try there, rotate, reduce size, try a few more places, and finally get it placed where it fit and didn't overlap something.


Then I started doing boards myself and learned that this was a part of every board design.  On a large board, it could take a few days.  And wow, it got boring really fast.


Then I thought about the economics of it. I realized that I was being paid a pretty good wage to do something one of my children could do with about 5 minutes of training.


So the Place Designators tool was born.  To save time and money.  To avoid falling asleep at work from boredom.


It wasn't actually the first automated tool I'd done, but it really opened my eyes to the possibility of not just saving a few minutes here and there, but actually taking days out of a PCB design schedule.  Yes, days.  Just the Place Designators tool by itself can take 1-2 days out of a medium sized board with 500 - 1000 components.  Add all the rest of these Layout automation tools, and it's not hard to see how you can reduce the design schedule by at least 3 days on all but the smallest of boards.


Just for fun, do the math to figure out how much money you can save by taking 3 days out of every PCB design your group does in a year.



Click on the bold title to go to the page with the complete description for each tool.


Alignup:  Aligns almost anything.  Parts to parts using selected pins.  Vias to pins. Vias to vias.  Makes routing much faster and cleaner because the traces are more likely to make connections without jogging.  Bonus feature: places vias to fill large pads, in a grid pattern for square and rectangular pads, radially on round pads.


Snap Vias: Places a via at the location of selected circles on a user layer.


RF Ground Vias: Another take on the RF Toolkit available in Xpedition. Places vias along RF traces with parametric spacing.  Parametrically adds plane obstructs around RF traces.  Adds soldermask clearances to traces.


Shapester: Creates plane shapes, plane obstructs, and Solder Mask clearances from selected pads and vias.  Copies selected plane shapes, obstructs, and solder mask clearances to other specified layers.


Exit 45: Creates differential pair traces which exit at the precise end of selected pads at a 45° angle.  Uses the differential pair spacing, trace width, and pad geometry to draw the traces correctly.  Traces are locked after creation so they can't jump around. Using it in conjunction with the Alignup tool makes connecting differential pair nets to a connector or IC and either series or parallel discreet parts very fast and makes very clean routing.


Small Pad Exit: Creates a conductive shape to transition a wide trace into a small pad. Uses the pad and trace width, and a user-specified taper angle to create the shape.

Find & Report: Finds anything in the PCB database, any way it can be found. Also makes available all objects connected or related to the selected object.  Allows the use of wildcard filters to search.


Get Datasheet: Opens the PDF datasheet of a selected component.


Place Designators: Automatic placement of Assembly and Silkscreen reference designators. Uses parametric limits to find the best location of each designator, while avoiding overlapping on surrounding objects.


Report Net Names: Copies the selected net names to the Windows clipboard.


Differential Pair Tuner: Adds configurable serpentines to the short side of a differential pair to match lengths in the pair.


Test Point Helper: Analyzes the design for any objects that can be used as testpoints, and updates the required number of testpoints for each net accordingly.  Configurable by via size, via location, the presence of soldermask on a via, cell name, and other parameters.


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