You can build a better board book online

DougGibbs, 15 August 2014 (created 15 August 2014)

Do you remember the board book? Do you still do one?

For those who don't know, or called it something different, let me describe the "board book".

(This is fun to read like Granpa Simpson, but don't read out loud.)

Back when I was a young and green engineer, an old hand showed me the right way to setup a board book.

You started with a 3 ring binder. Old and recycled was the best, new only if you could not find one laying around the office.

Load up the printer with paper and get started. First print the schematic. Next print the data pages for each part on the board. Resistors, and capacitors included.

Print what you had to. Add in the vendor catalogs, they would give you another if you asked, and it could be boondoggled into a free lunch from the sales representative.

Put line cards for the needed vendors in the back. All the phone numbers needed to get the parts are on the line card.

Print out each board layer, and put them in order, just like the actual board stackup.

Grab the three hole punch and start punching and putting in pages.

The truly OCD stopped by the office supply store at lunch and grabbed some tab sheets.

Over time manufacturing information would get added. The test fixture information, an oscilloscope capture of the right and clock waveform and the failing case if the crystal capacitor failed. Remember how Heathkit schematics would have a little barely readable picture to show how a signal should look?

Now, you have the one, canonical reference for the board. When purchasing or some firmware person comes by with a question, you grab the board book, flip to the right page and quickly answer the question of the day. Your reputation as the "go to", "knows it cold engineer" grew with every question.

The book became dog eared and worn over time. There were always margin notes and scribbled phone numbers on the back of pages.

(Stop reading with the old man voice, the trip down memory lane is over.)

What about today?

Well, I don't do boards much anymore.

The TI AM3358 processor on the BBB has a data sheet, and a user guide. The user guide is over 7,000 pages. Yep, 7K. I'm not a green tree huger, but I'm not printing that out.

Plus the firmware team is in Singapore and Mumbai. The purchasing is done by the board house in Shenyang, and they use the big ERP planning database anyhow.

I've seen all the information in one directory on Sharepoint, if your company uses Sharepoint.

You wind up with some PDF files, documents and spread sheets. Some are up to date, some did not get changed with Rev 2. At least the purchasing guy never looks at the Rev_2 directory.

Can your schematic tool capture meta information like a scope trace?

Now do you see what I'm talking about?

The board book is really the board design capture. A schematic is only one piece.

You want to capture the net-list, the data sheets, footprints for parts. Along with the Bill of Materials (BOM) a parts cost and the vendor information would sure be nice.

Let's add some stuff that is hard to capture. How about configuration data, things like pin and pad muxing. Or address information like the memory map, and I2C addresses. Usually those are text on the schematic which can not be searched or checked.

Even attaching a picture would be cool. Say you want the inline package, not the BGA, so attach a photo.

As a firmware writer my self, I would love to put the Linux device tree into the same tool.

Board Design Capture

It is the new schematic. All the stuff I have described is doable on the web. You can think of a site that can upload a picture, add meta data to parts and display it easily.

So this is the dream for board designers. But not just for the designer. The engineer can see the board cost. Purchasing can get part information. The web is a great place for sharing, commenting, and even suggesting changes.

Interested? Send us an email and let us know what feature beyond capturing the net-list is most interesting.