Developments in design: how Digi-Key's spectrum of design tools accelerates the product lifecycle

In the world of electronic product design since computer aided design became the norm, accessibility has historically provided the most difficult obstacle for designers to overcome when first entering the world of board-level design. Even the most entry-level Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools will set you back a few hundred dollars. This steep barrier to entry for hobbyists and budding engineers serves to stifle the potential “next big thing” that might be designed by these creative individuals.

 However, in the spirit of supporting the design process from Prototype to Production®, Digi-Key has teamed up with design software leaders Mentor Graphics (Mentor) and Aspen Labs (Aspen) to offer a broad “design tool spectrum”, boasting a wide range of printed circuit board (PCB) design tools targeted at providing top of the line functionality at a drastically reduced price point.

Starting at the top end, and based on the wildly successful DxDesigner and PADS design solutions, Mentor’s Designer® product suite offers professional-grade software at a very affordable price point. Engineers will gain the benefit of a firstclass design tool suite as well as increased freedom in product design, untethered from approved parts lists and PCB design houses. This increased design flexibility will allow engineers to expand their part libraries through more choices and design their application to the required specifications at a potentially lower price point or higher performance or both – attributes that result from the adoption of newer technology devices. Also, because of a compatible tool suite, engineers will be able to focus on their area of specialty, eliminate redundancy, and shorten the entire product development lifecycle by allowing others to collaborate on a design and increase the odds of achieving first pass success. This in turn will significantly reduce time to market and overall project development costs.

The largest electronics design firms use Mentor design solutions, and the stellar reputation of the solutions within the industry is well deserved. Integrating this industry-leading technology with Digi-Key’s one-million-plus stocking parts and library of reference materials is truly a recipe for success. Engineers can leverage these features to create innovative PCB designs using parts from Digi-Key, sourced directly from the manufacturer, and smoothly transition these designs to PCB layout design services providers and PCB fabrication and assembly houses.

Rounding out the Digi-Key “design tool spectrum”, and targeted at the hobbyist, maker, and entrepreneurial engineering communities, Aspen Labs has developed a system of free design tools for Digi-Key that enable engineers to easily create practical schematic designs.

The Aspen-developed toolset consists of three tools: Scheme-it®, PartSim, and PCBWeb. Beginning with Schemeit, an online schematic and block diagramming tool that gives everyone the ability to design and share electronic circuit diagrams, the suite includes a comprehensive electronic symbol library and an integrated Digi-Key component catalog that allow for a wide range of circuit designs.Additionally, an integrated Bill of Materials (BOM) tool is provided to keep track of parts used in a design. Using this feature accelerates compiling a final parts list when the design is completed and allows the designer to quickly order all the parts needed to prototype their design. Furthermore, once a schematic drawing is complete, users can export it to an image file or share it via email with others, making design collaboration quick and easy. Scheme-it works natively in all major web browsers without requiring the use of any plugins.

PartSim is next in the trifecta of Aspen Labs tools. The toolprovides users with a fully featured, browser-based simulation tool, which includes a full SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis) simulation engine, web-based schematic capture tool, and a graphical waveform viewer. Further, users have the ability to browse examples of circuit designs to see the tool in action or to get an idea that can be used in their design with little or no modification.

The Aspen Labs tool ladder ends with PCBWeb, a comprehensive application for designing printed circuit boards. The tool offers a myriad of features, such as schematic capture, supporting multi-sheet designs; PCB layout, supporting multilayer boards with Design Rule Checker (DRC); and a library of components, including the ability to create custom symbols and footprints. These features are wrapped into a neat package, tightly integrating Digi-Key’s industry-leading breadth of product availability by including these products directly into the tool. This again reduces the guesswork and part research time required for the project and accelerates design time.

All modules of the Aspen suite are available at no cost to the customer, providing a truly unique design environment for designers looking to move their designs from “the back of the napkin” to a fully vetted and tested circuit board, ready for implementation into their prototype.

With Digi-Key’s implementation of a broad “design tool spectrum” through Mentor Graphics and Aspen Labs software, engineers have access to the latest design tools linked to Digi- Key’s dynamically updated parts database. This allows designers to find the latest versions of parts as they are added to Digi-Key’s extensive inventory to use in their applications. This ability is not possible with design tools that are associated with static parts lists from predetermined software libraries which are only updated when software updates are loaded. Since Digi-Key’s design tools are directly linked to its parts database, there is no risk of designing in a discontinued or obsolete part. The engineer has the freedom to choose from well proven parts or from the latest technology available for their application. The choice is theirs.

“We have seen a tremendous uptick in customer demand for powerful, affordable design tools. The Internet has enabled more functionality and features within them, and we are happy to be involved in this while also drastically lowering the cost of design entry,” said Randall Restle, Director of Applications Engineering for Digi-Key. “Overall, with the expansion of the Aspen tool suite and the introduction of the Mentor tools to our ‘Design Tool Spectrum’, we feel that we have made great strides in addressing this need and fostering creativity with our customers. We are excited to partner with these innovative companies to offer a truly unique set of design tools, available on demand.”

The realm of design tools is wide, varied, and often expensive. However, Digi-Key continues to be committed to providing the best service possible to its customers by providing powerful, top-level tools at a reasonable price point. Whether you require the well-proven, reliable technology of the Mentor tool, or your budget for tools is limited and you simply need to knock out a design now and then, as is well accommodated by the Aspen-designed tools, Digi-Key’s suite of design solutions has the tool to meet your needs.

To learn more about Digi-Key, please contact UK/ Ireland Sales Director Ian Wallace at ian.wallace@ or UK North Business Development Manager Ben Brookes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit