Design Con 2015

Tips for design engineers: tapping into online design tools

Brian German, Digi-Key -May 06, 2013

When it comes to product design, engineers have multiple goals: Design well, design within budget, and design fast. Companies trying to compete and move products to market faster are always looking for ways to decrease design time while improving quality and efficiency. These factors, combined with budget constraints and other complexities, mean today’s engineers need all the help they can get to bring a new product to market, whether in the prototype or production design phases.

One resource designers can tap into for help is a collection of reference designs. These designs are proven solutions and act as a starting point for a specific product design, to be used as-is or modified as needed.

Some reference designs are a complete end-toend product design solution, while others offer partial solutions designed to meet common engineering needs. Examples of full solutions would be DC/AC inverters, LED bulb drivers, or AC/DC wall converters, while partial solutions address such areas as DC/DC conversion, audio amplifiers, or motor drivers.

The main purpose of a reference design is to speed the development of new products using the latest technologies. Because engineers know they can start with a proven platform targeted for specific applications, they can shorten the design cycle, minimize errors, and get a product to market more quickly.

Manufacturers often provide reference designs, but it can be challenging to search across multiple suppliers and sites. A library that has consolidated designs from many suppliers can greatly decrease research time up front.

This type of cross-supplier library:

  • Helps designers search for specific designs by category, supplier, and performance
  • Provides access to detailed schematics with each design
  • Eliminates extra steps in the design process, saving precious time
  • Offers easy access to useful product ideas and design platforms/eval boards
  • Offers BOM and Gerber files, when available


With engineers as its primary focus, Digi-Key knows how important it is for engineers to have easy access to two things: parts and information. But, with vast amounts of knowledge and many thousands of parts, the key is making it easy for the engineer to find useful content, proven designs, and the right parts quickly.

It can be frustrating to design a product only to discover that the parts required for prototype or production are not in stock. A good reference library should provide thorough supporting documentation, including BOM, schematics, and other materials, and ensure that the main ICs used in any design are normally in stock. For example, within the Digi-Key Reference Design Library, each design page offers a link to purchase the evaluation board that the design was based from, which can be delivered directly to the designer so he or she can test it at his or her desk, often within 24 hours.

Digi-Key utilized the strength of its part filter within the Reference Design Library to help engineers locate designs based on each reference design’s performance and features.

Working with a distributor that offers personalized product designs can also decrease design time and improve design quality. The LED driver board (DKSB1003A/876-1003-ND) is an example of a modified reference design that Digi-Key’s application engineers decided to make public in response to customer interest and demand. By tapping into the knowledge of application engineers, designers can create improved designs created by expert teams.

By offering organized designs and personalized assistance, Digi-Key can support top-notch design that meets a company’s need for speed to market, producing quality products.

Figure 1 Example of a reference design from Microchip, an Li-Ion/Li-Pol single-cell battery charger based on the MCP73871DM-VPCC eval board.

Figure 2 An example of filters in the subcategory DC/DC SMPS.


Brian German has been a technician with Digi-Key for 11 years, where his primary focus is the Reference Design Library. He graduated in 2001 from North Dakota State College of Science with an AAS in electronics.


This story is part of the Special Report: Top 25 global electronics component distributors, brought to you by Avnet Electronics Marketing and in partnership with EBN. Read on to review the challenges and opportunities—from regulatory compliance, to counterfeiting, to risk management, and more—at work in design chain and the components industry.

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