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Electrical Computer Aided Design (ECAD)


Electrical Computer Aided Design (ECAD) software is used to create and modify both diagrams and layouts, including both 2D and 3D, in order to design, assess and document electrical Printed Circuit Boards (PCB).


In the development process, ECAD software can be used to:

  • Explore different iterations of a PCB, either abstractly as a diagram or in full detail as a layout or 3D assembly. Users can build out different alternatives and options, comparing them to each other.
  • Generate manufacturing documentation, which is released to manufacturing as part of the specification used to source, fabricate and produce PCBs.

Capabilities Provided

ECAD software provides some combination of the following capabilities.

  • Diagramming capabilities provide the ability to select and connect electrical components on a schematic, allowing designers and engineers to abstractly define and mockup the function of the PCB.
    • These capabilities allow designers and engineers to select components from a company-standardized or online library.
  • Layout capabilities provide a means to dimensionally place components and connect them with electronic traces. These capabilities can be utilized in either 2D or 3D models.
    • Integration capabilities are key, as the interconnect information about traces, which include from-to data, is carried over from the schematic to the layout.
    • Automation capabilities, which automatically routes traces from components to components based on interconnect information, is available. This can be done initially and then customized.
  • 3D Assembly capabilities provide a way to create a 3D model of the PCB, which can then be used for other purposes including exchange with MCAD software or physics-based simulations such as heat dissipation.
  • Collaboration capabilities deliver tools to capture and coordinate feedback between individuals on a team developing the routed system.
    • Viewing capabilities provide the ability to visualize the design of the routed system. This is important for non-technical roles that do not have the skills or knowledge to use the RSD software directly.
    • Markup capabilities allow individuals to capture their feedback in the context of the design of the routed system.
    • Multi-Board design capabilities provide the capabilities to diagram and layout individual PCBs that work together as a single system.
    • FPGA-PCB Co-Design capabilities offer timelier integration with large-pin count FPGA processors.
    • Concurrent Design capabilities enable multiple team members to work simultaneously on the same PCB or multi-board PCB design.
    • Rule or Constraint Checking capabilities automatically compares the design of a PCB against industry or company rules, highlighting violations or issues that can affect the performance or manufacturability of the PCB.
  • Manufacturing Export capabilities provide the ability to generate ECAM deliverables, which can then be used to manufacture the layers of the PCB.
  • Bill of Material (BOM) capabilities automatically generates the list of electrical components for the PCB.

Related Technology Enablers

ECAD software can produce a number of different deliverables, which can be managed by Product Data Management (PDM) software.

Designs from ECAD software are often interchanged with Mechanical Computer Aided Design (MCAD) software to generate a 3D model of the PCB.

Additionally, there are numerous technology enablers that exchange data with ECAD software.

  • Electrical Computer Aided Engineering (ECAE) software can use the geometry created by ECAD software to create analysis models to simulate the performance of the PCB across a range physics domains.
  • Electrical Computer Aided Manufacturing (ECAM) software uses manufacturing export from ECAD software to automatically create toolpaths to produce the layers of the PCB.

In some cases, ECAD software and some of these tools are combined into a single application or service. In other cases, ECAD software is offered as part of an integrated suite alongside some of these applications or services.

Technology Providers

Providers that offer desktop-based ECAD software include:

  • Altium offers Altium Designer, CircuitStudio and CircuitMaker
  • Cadence offers Allegro and OrCAD
  • CadSoft offers EAGLE Design Software
  • Labcenter Electronics offers Proteus
  • Mentor Graphics offers Xpedition and PADS PCB Design software
  • Zuken offers CR-8000, CR-5000 and CADSTAR