Industry Survey: Engineers reveal PCB software preferences

-December 13, 2013

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, CadSoft Computer surveyed more than 100 engineers from around the world – representing 42 countries – to better understand PCB design trends in the electronics industry as they have evolved in 2013.

The results showed engineers are firm in their design software preferences and have a strong opinion on which features they would like to see emerge in future programs and tools. Below is a summary of the survey results.

PCB design engineers have become increasingly prolific users in 2013. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed by CadSoft work on more than 10 PCB designs a year:

As a result of increased productivity, engineers’ preferences when selecting design software and graphical layout editors are clear. The majority of designers put functionality before cost when buying design tools, with 60% of respondents rating functionality as “extremely important.” Performance also remains a top priority for engineers when choosing the right design solution, while added support shows an increase in priority from past years – now considered an “important” feature:

Perhaps most interesting, however, is what the responding engineers wish to see from design software developers in the coming years. Roughly 73% of engineers surveyed want an improved user interface experience. Approximately 87% of them want to see improved library management features, citing the feature as “desirable” or “extremely desirable.” Complimentary CAD libraries, for example, enhance productivity and lower development costs when searchable by supplier.

Online forums and social media tools that did not exist 25 years ago are now recognized by engineers as beneficial to the design process. Of those surveyed, 83% agree that peer-to-peer (P2P) communities are “important” to enhance existing graphical layout editing tools. About 25% of those surveyed describe P2P communities as “essential” to software support. About 42% of survey respondents said they use social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for design inspirations, project ideas and support, though they continue to struggle with filtering through the “noise” in search of key design influencers.

These results explain why many online community sites and support forums are an untapped resource for an emerging generation of PCB design engineers who are increasingly targeting control system applications and open source hardware with their designs:

As more engineers target open source hardware, and as development boards continue to play a key role in electronic product development, engineers are finding less of a need for custom PCB design. CadSoft’s survey found 64% of respondents believe the expansion of development boards has eliminated the need for customized PCB design. More than a third of respondents believe development boards have had an “enormous” impact on their approach to PCB design.

This trend presents a unique opportunity for design software developers. While the electronic design landscape continues to evolve, there are still core requirements such as usability that remain as important as ever. In addition to usability, functionality and performance, software developers should look to integrate forums and support functions into the core functionality of their platforms to build a strong, loyal and productive user base.  

Whatever the challenge, the engineers surveyed want a user-friendly, powerful software environment for efficient PCB design. Optimizing an engineers’ productivity remains essential. Easy, affordable board design implementation that can adapt to the changing rate of PCB design will determine which tools engineers prefer in the coming years.

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