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I recently joined a small startup as the only HW designer (working in Altium 18) and am looking for ways to optimize my design time without having access to a full-fledged CAD team. In my previous jobs there was always a dedicated team of people who would manage libraries and design parts upon request. In my current situation I have had to design a lot of the parts myself, which isn't a huge problem but it is not optimal, especially because a lot of the parts are fairly common and I'm sure someone else has had to have done the same already. What I do not understand is why Altium's little brother - CircuitMaker has access to extensive libraries and it is possible to pull virtually any part that I have needed from there but Altium uses the much more limited Vault, which they seldom seem to update. My question is two-fold - 1. What do people in similar positions to me usually do? Do they just end up biting the bullet and designing all of their own parts / libraries? 2. Is there a way to bring Octopart libraries like the ones in CircuitMaker into Altium?

Thanks in advance!

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I use Eagle instead of Altium, but I don't think that makes a difference to this answer.

I would never use someone else's parts, no matter how "official" they are. Maybe it's different in Altium, but in Eagle it's not really all that hard to make parts. Vetting someone else's would probably take about the same time, be more hassle, and always leave me wondering what I might have missed. There are a lot of crappy part definitions out there.

Is a part you find in on the 'net someplace going to adhere to your convention for documentation in the assembly drawing? Information for the BOM? Have neat and consistent silkscreen? Go that little extra in clarity to avoid some of the inevitable mistakes humans make? Use pad sizes for your space or debugging requirements?

Proper part definitions are important components of your design, and reflect on you. Nobody will care or consider where you got them from.

Anecdote

When I did my first customer project with Eagle, I didn't have much of a part library built up. This design was a one-off proof of concept, and I needed a simple 74xx logic function. I figured that was such a well-trodden path that I could just use the part from a library somewhere. Sure enough, Eagle had the right part, so I plunked it in.

I got the board working, and the customer came over to see how the experiment went. The very first thing the customer said when I showed him the board was "Why did you use oblong pads here, and round ones everywhere else?". The 74xx part I got from Eagle happened to have oblong pads. The customer was enough of a EE to understand that it didn't actually matter, and there was no resulting problem. But still, that's not something I want to have to explain.

For any work product you give someone, whether it's a co-worker, the boss, a customer, or just putting it out there on the internet, it represents you. You will be judged by it, whether you like it or not, or think that's appropriate or not. Attention to detail matters in engineering. A board with a bunch of footprints all designed to different rules may work fine, but screams "Eh, who cares" attitude. That's not the impression you want to make.

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1) I always design my own parts libraries. I like the ability to keep styles consistent between designs. You don't get this with third party libraries. It's a bit of a pain at the beginning, but once you get the basic parts done you only find yourself making new ones every now and again, and it's really not an issue for me. It's part of the design process.

2) If I'm not mistaken, CircuitMaker is cloud-based, and users have access to others' designs. It's all open-source. I imagine this has something to do with you having access to other peoples' libraries. Altium doesn't work this way.

You'd be much better off biting the bullet and doing your own libraries. It's worth the consistency and neatness.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm with Derstrom8 (and Owen) on this +1/+1. Make your own, and set them up so your BOMs generation actionable forms that minimize the work. Making parts isn't that much more time and you can get the 3D models and so on just so. You'll also find a lot of discrepancies early on in the process. \$\endgroup\$ May 11 '18 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Same here, I designed my part libraries. I ended up sharing this with few friends and I got very positive feedback. I set up a MySQL server that held all the parts data and a SVN server to store the schlib/pcblib files. I even made myself a webscraper to download some digikey data. Once that was set up (and it did not take that much time), I built a pretty complete lib for hobbyist/small business projects. \$\endgroup\$ May 15 '18 at 3:45
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First off, circuit makers is designed for small groups that don't have extensive manufacturer requirements.

My question is two-fold - 1. What do people in similar positions to me usually do?

You can use concierge services and that will save you time, if your time is more valuable to you than what the concierge services charge, then offload library generation to a service.

Do they just end up biting the bullet and designing all of their own parts / libraries?

If you need consistency in your library or control over your library, then generate the library yourself. Many parts are available from manufacturers and with some work can be converted (or used outright) in your library (or you can use the manufacturers library.

If you want the silkscreens to match, pin designation (like dots for pin 1) to be consistent then it might be best to develop your own library.

It might cost more time to generate your own library so that's the tradeoff.

Once you spend the initial time it takes to learn the tool, part generation becomes easier.

Another thing to consider is PCB quantity\quality, if your developing boards in quantities of 10k or more, the PCB manufacturer and assembler are going to have different requirements to drive the cost down, and keep mistakes to a minimum. So you will need your own library to fine tune your footprints for assembling.

  1. Is there a way to bring Octopart libraries like the ones in CircuitMaker into Altium?

There are programs that can convert one footprint format to another, I've never had good results with them, however for some larger parts they can be advantageous to use. Most of the time I would recommend drawing the parts yourself.

Another note, if I'm doing a personal project at home where my time is valuable, I will find as many parts and import them into my library as possible, especially high pin count parts like FPGA's. The smaller parts I generate myself. At work I generate all parts by hand.

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I'm surprised that no one gave this answer - Use the Altium Vault.

Vaults now go under a different name, but since Altium bought OctoPart, you can now use Altium to search components and add them - even if you have to create your own footprint, it still gives you sourcing information.

As a sole hardware engineer, this was my saving grace because the part lifecycles and prices are all tracked by Altium, and if you want to manage things in your own Vault/ library, you can take that part and add it later - allowing you to get up and running fast while still having options for proper component tracking (which inevitably becomes an issue on any mass-produced product)

Let me know if you have any questions and I'll be happy to show examples when I get home. I should note the whole process has been greatly changed/ streamlined in AD19.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for this info! I use the vault, "Explorer" in AD19 for generic part and whichever components are available there (usually older parts). For new parts I usually use "Manufacturer Part Search", to import all of the part data from a distributor like Digikey but as far as I can tell, that data is not updated in real-time and I usually still have to design my own footprint. I would love to get more details on your process with Octopart as it is not something that I currently use. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 21 '19 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe everything you're seeing in the manufacturer part search is provided by Octopart - if I understood the Altium rep correctly, it is functionality that Altium introduced after they bought Octopart (so technically you are using them :) ) octopart.com/blog/archives/2015/08/octopart-is-joining-altium-2 The difference is that not all components that the search sees have a match to the Altium Content Vault (explained more here altium.com/documentation/19.0/display/ADES/…)... \$\endgroup\$
    – Drewster
    Aug 21 '19 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...But you can still leverage that to create and manage components in your own libraries, as explained in that second link! Hence, while Olin's comment above is valid, it doesn't take into account that Altium has a much more broad sense of a "component", and will let you take a part from Altium's content vault, copy it into your own content management, and then you can tweak/ track it as required... pretty much the best aspects of both "manual management" and "use a cloud library" \$\endgroup\$
    – Drewster
    Aug 21 '19 at 21:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahh, looking over the links you added, it looks like I have sort of been using those tools. The biggest issue is they are still missing lots of new parts so it's only really helpful with popular / older components, although I agree that tracking is available for any part and is quite useful. It really bothers me though that Altium seems to completely change their approach to parts management with every major release, so it never ceases to be somewhat disjointed. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23 '19 at 18:52

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