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Design data management – how to avoid getting tied up in red tape

From a designer's perspective, the best design environment – the 'holy grail' as it were – is one that affords the freedom to think 'laterally', to implement new ideas and to breathe life into old processes. In short, the environment in which to nurture that next cutting-edge electronic product.

But design itself is just one part of the equation. Data from a design needs to be passed across – or released – to the supply chain, responsible for building a physical product resulting from that design. The physical embodiment of the designer's innovative effort, brought to fruition!

The design team itself can range from a single "one man show", through Bob, Joe and Fred liaising across desks, to a large geographically-dispersed team with many designers working in a collaborative effort, using copies of design files. And the manufacturing team may also be geographically, and even linguistically distant. The potential for error runs high with the data constantly changing hands and destinations, all of which puts enormous strain on the integrity and reliability of the design release processes used.

In some companies, the fear of releasing erroneous design data leads to the implementation of overly-rigorous data and release management processes. These processes seek to lock down design changes to ensure minimal impact to the integrity of the design data. Well-intentioned of course, but their formal nature tethers the design team with an inordinate amount of bureaucracy and red tape, stifling its ability to create and innovate. Many an engineer's flair and passion has no doubt waned under such restrictions.

Ironically, these rigid and restrictive manual processes at the center of many data and release management systems are, at the end of the day, still error prone. What is needed is a release management process that helps you solve design management problems without tying your hands behind your back.

Now in a Grand Prix, it is not the car that wins the race, but the skill, daring and audacity of the driver in that car. To have a finely-tuned vehicle helps no-end of course. When designing electronic products, there is a similar case to be had. The innovation comes from the designer, not from the tool he or she uses, but if that tool can give them an edge and handle the required and mundane elements, then that designer can concentrate ever-more on applying that innovation. And let's face it – innovation is the key to product differentiation!

Author profile:
Jason Howie, Altium Designer Specialist, Altium Ltd,

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Jason Howie

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