KiCad and TextExpander - How I saved a few hours of BOM making

2016-07-30 21.03.20Folks that follow my various projects have probably noticed that I've recently formed an instrumentation and consulting company. I've had great fun doing several jobs for folks ranging from CAD design of brackets to writing numerical models for projects to designing custom measurement solutions. I've also been very busy designing some exciting new hardware that I hope will be available soon. In this post I wanted to share a time saving trick I used in KiCad while designing my printed circuit boards for one of these projects.

When designing things to be made in any quantity by an assembler or manufacturer (and for financial reasons) you need to keep a really good bill of materials or "BOM". Doing this often involves linked Excel sheets, binders of parts lists, and general gnashing of teeth. When working on the BOM for my circuit boards I found an excellent post by Dan over at Rheingold Heavy on designing for manufacture with KiCad. In this post he outlines a really nice workflow on how to keep track of part numbers and other meta-data  for each component. Ideally this would happen at the beginning of a project. You would assign a part (say a resistor) a manufacturer's part number, distributor's part number, etc. Then, you can copy that component (and it's metadata) as many times as you need by simply hovering over it and hitting "C". Well, I already had my entire schematic and board layout completed. I had a lot of components that were used many times (think 10 k resistors, 0.1uF caps, and jumpers). I didn't want to keep copying and pasting the information over and over from the websites of the manufactures and distributors and I didn't want to delete the components and copy in components with metadata for fear of destroying my completed project, footprint associations, and who knows what else. My solution? TextExpander.

TextExpander is a program that stores snippets of text and lets you type a few trigger keys to place all of that text in a fraction of a second. I've used it for years and it has easily saved me tens of hours on my laptop. I've got snippets for date and time stamps, outlines for our podcast, form replies about common technical issues in our lab, chunks of code that I use a lot, and really just about anything else you can imagine. (I forgot to add LaTeX equations/tables in there, but that alone saves me a lot of time on every paper I write.) The pricing model for TextExpander has changed recently, and I'm not a huge fan of the new scheme, but that's beside the point.

My idea was simple. I made a set of snippets that would expand into web addresses and part numbers. I would copy information in for a certain part, then using TextExpander add that information to add parts of that kind. After that, I'd change the snippets to the next part and repeat. Yes, this took awhile, but nowhere near as long as if I'd done all of the population by "hand". I've made a quick demo video below to show you how it's done. I hope this ends up being useful to others, let me know of any tricks you've come across to speed your DFM process.

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