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Implement effective design data management

Posted: 26 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:data management? PLM system? product life-cycle management?

By Rob Evans
Altium Ltd

Today's design-to-manufacture process for electronic products typically includes hardware and software design, mechanical CAD, procurement and manufacturing as well as marketing and distribution. With such a disparate range of disciplines, the task of coordinating the flow of information can be daunting.

The ability to maintain design data integrity throughout the development process is becoming the single most critical factor for market success. The most brilliant design will not reach the market within budget or on time if data management allows incorrect or corrupt design data to propagate through the process. The most effective way to implement effective data management is to scale its capabilities progressively to your organization's needs and budget.

While formalized document version control is common in software development, its application on the hardware side of product development has been limited. This is in part due to the inability of design systems to integrate data management into the design process. For example, the ability to compare graphical schematic and PCB files is sadly missing from many board-level design environments.

By progressively introducing data management systems and matching them to the needs of your organization, and by implementing design software that integrates data management into the design environment, you can gain many of the benefits of a formal product life-cycle management (PLM) system without the major investment.


  • Apply a strict file management policy if you are using a simple, centralized data repository. When you take control of the file storage structure, file attributes and access rights within the repository, you can share design data more efficiently and minimize opportunities to propagate errors.

  • Build on a centralized data repository by adding version control to create a controlled, secure "data vault." This cost-effective approach to sharing design data offers the essential features needed for rigorous data management.

  • Advance your data management practices as your company grows. As projects become larger and as more stakeholders get involved, a more-formalized and -controlled data management system will smooth production and ensure design data integrity.

  • Use a product development system that natively supports data management and seamlessly links to version control systems. This enhances productivity and ease of use by avoiding the need to access (check in/check out) or historically compare your design data files via a specialized external program.

  • Separate the management of parts data from the management of designs. While library data management should follow the same rules as design data management, it should be completely independent from the design.


  • Lapse into a "local storage" mentality by bypassing an implemented data management system or policy. When files are passed directly to others, there is no guarantee you are propagating the latest version of the file. And if you are propagating the latest version, you are then risking the security of potentially crucial design data by exposing it to an uncontrolled environment.

  • Assume that the version control system you add will be overly complex or expensive, particularly if your design system can natively work with the VCS you choose. A number of low-cost systems are available. Implementation is reasonably straightforward, and the benefits are considerable and virtually immediate.

  • Create check-in conflicts by allowing multiple users to modify the same file simultaneously, since merging tools for binary CAD data are not yet available.

  • Copy parts from one design to the other, since this will allow parts-related errors to propagate.

  • Link your electronic design system into a company parts life cycle management system until the electronic development process has undergone rigorous data management. A unified design environment, plus effective data management at the design level, will streamline development and maximize ROI from an introduced PLM system.

About the author
Rob Evans
is technical specialist at Altium Ltd. He has more than 20 years' experience in electronics design and publishing, including several years as the technical editor for Electronics Australia. Comments may be sent to

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