We Just fixed “The Parts Problem”.

I’m going to start this post with a confession:  I *HATE* parts editors; I always have. I’ve been around PCB and IC CAD tools for longer than I’d like to admit. From the very beginning (I’m talking companies like Daisy Systems, Valid Logic and Mentor Graphics), users were expected to make their own parts for their parts libraries. That wasn’t THAT big of a deal in the early days., since only the big global companies could afford ECAD tools, they could also afford to hire a dedicated Parts Librarian to maintain the corporate parts library. That left designers to do what they do:  design.

But that was a long time ago. As ECAD tools became more approachable, more affordable (free, even!), and the individual user replaced the design department as  the normal user type, the build-your-own-libraries problem became everybody’s problem. Small teams just couldn’t afford to keep a dedicated librarian on staff. Without that librarian, not only did the typical designer spend about 35% of the project time defining new parts for their next design, but also there was the industry’s dirty secret:  EVERY designer using that part in the industry was defining their own part. The industry-wide duplication of effort was tremendous! There simply had to be a better way.

There were plenty of companies who tried to make a business out of developing, selling and distributing parts libraries, but it was a hard business.  These numbers will help illustrate why:

  • The parts distribution channel contains multiple-millions of parts, both current and historical, that could be used in a design.
  • The typical professional design team maintains a library of about 10,000 parts.
  • What makes each design team unique is which parts out of the millions are in the library of 10,000.
  • Parts definition companies were under pressure to create ALL the parts
  • But End Users only wanted to pay for the 0.002% of the parts universe  that mattered to their specific design needs.
  • Furthermore, each CAD tool had their own proprietary parts data structure – nobody shared parts definitions.
  • And distribution was a challenge. Back before ubiquitous internet, those library updates arrived on mag time reels (no, really!) so it was expensive labor-wise to create custom updates for just one customer.

Ultimately, the expense of: creating all of those parts – multiple times, once for each CAD platform; combined with the complexity of distributing to customers, made the parts library business a failed business model from the start. And veteran ECAD companies steered clear after that. Thirty years later, they still do, if we’re honest with ourselves.

So, what changed?  The internet, followed by the acceptance of cloud storage techniques. It is both logical and practical now to develop a massive database of tool-independent parts definitions, and allow individual users to filter down to just the parts they need. Then, make it easy to transfer those parts to the user’s on-the-desktop CAD tool of choice.  Suddenly, a company like SnapEDA (www.snapeda.com) can bring just that kind of solution to the industry, setting us all up to  finally fix The Parts Problem.

On September 13, 2017, we announced PCB123 V5.6. We integrated the SnapEDA search tool into PCB123, as a part of our Parts Manager functionality. Full access to the entire cloud-based library of parts available at SnapEDA is now built in to our tool.  SnapEDA works with component manufacturers themselves to build up a library of current and historical parts. The SnapEDA parts are mostly pre-verified for correctness (verified parts are marked in the library as such), and will download into PCB123 in just a minute or so – no footprint generator needed. PCB123 is the FIRST PCB tool to integrate SnapEDA into the tool native – not even the big-ticket tools are doing this yet. You can export SnapEDA parts for import into a number of tools, but no one else has built the tool into the editor.

If the part you’re looking for isn’t defined at SnapEDA, you have the option to order it. The typical rate is $30. Compared to spending a day or more to create a complex connector in the parts editor, that’s money well spent.

With this model, we all now share the same Parts Librarian:  SnapEDA. This will drastically reduce the amount of time that PCB123 users will spend defining parts, and get you back to designing boards. If you haven’t already downloaded V5.6, please do. And write back to us about your experience with SnapEDA. If we hit the mark, great! If there’s work still to do, let us know. This may be the “end” to the Parts Problem, but it’s the beginning of a whole new era in parts access for CAD tools.