Parent page: Working with Vault Components
As a board designer, you capture the idea for that next great product using a collection of logically wired components across a number of schematic sheets. The components you use will have defined symbols (and other domain models) and some key parametric data, but at the end of the day they are just 'symbols of design intent' - having meaning in the context of the project design, but holding no physical meaning outside of that design. Each of these design entities needs to be 'embodied in the real world' either by purchasing an off-the-shelf (OTS) pre-manufactured item, or by having it made to spec (MTS).
In the Supply Chain Area, a procurement specialist often does not know (or even need, or wish to know!) what a particular component in the design represents. What is required, is an indication of what needs to be procured - which physically-manufactured components can be used to implement that design component. The best person to indicate which real-world components can be validly used to implement the design-level components would be none other than...the designer.
Wouldn't it be great if, as part of releasing and managing company-ratified design components to your Altium Vault, information pertaining to the 'allowed' manufactured parts - to implement those components on the manufactured and assembled boards - could also be specified? Well, as part of the Unified Component modeling paradigm, Altium caters for exactly that through the provision of a Part Catalog and the concept of making Part Choices.
There are two types of part catalog - Global and Local. The type of catalog employed depends on your design environment. The following sections summarize these two catalog types.
This is Altium's managed, cloud-based part catalog database. The Global Part Catalog stores items representative of actual Manufacturer Parts, along with one or more items representative of Supplier Parts - the incarnations of those Manufacturer Parts, as sold by the Suppliers/Vendors. Each Supplier Part is a reference to an item in a parts database - the aggregate parts database of the Altium Parts Provider (which itself interfaces to, and gathers the parts from, enabled Suppliers).
This catalog is used when:
This is a managed local part catalog database, dedicated to the management and tracking of manufacturer parts and their associated supplier parts. The catalog is installed as a service (Part Catalog Service), provided through the Altium Vault platform, and works only with the Altium Vault.
The local Part Catalog stores items representative of actual Manufacturer Parts, along with one or more items representative of Supplier Parts - the incarnations of those Manufacturer Parts, as sold by the Suppliers/Vendors. Each Supplier Part is a reference to an item in a parts database - either the aggregate parts database of the Altium Parts Provider (which itself interfaces to, and gathers the parts from, enabled Suppliers), or a linked local parts database.
Mapping itself - from a Component Item in an Altium Vault, to nominated Manufacturer Parts in the Vault's Local Part Catalog - is performed using a dedicated Part Choices List, which itself is stored in the Vault. Each Component Item references its own Part Choices List. The revisions of that Component Item will utilize that same Part Choices List.
The designer can feel truly empowered by being able to specify Manufacturer Parts that are truly interchangeable at manufacturing time in the context of any usage of that component in their design - the very essence of true part equivalency. And it is this intelligent mapping of a component, that turns the humble Vault component into a truly Unified Component. The unified nature of a Vault component, through the chosen part choices made for it, ultimately creates a link from that component, all the way through chosen Manufacturer Part(s), and on to the Vendor (Supplier) Parts that each itself references. From the designer's perspective, the component is hooked directly into the supply chain.
Real-time data is made available - fed back from the relevant parts database - to let the designer know the current costing and availability of the chosen parts, and from all Vendors that sell those chosen parts (as defined in the Local Part Catalog). And not just the designer gets to see this information. The procurement specialist can also keep abreast of supply-chain information, as it is made available in the Vault for each Component Item therein.
A part is no longer available or has suddenly become cost-ineffective? No matter, provision is made for real-time updates to be sent back to the Design Area as soon as a change occurs. With this vital 'heads-up', the designer can take that choice of part out of the associated Part Choices List for that component and essentially 'off the radar'. And at any time new, truly equivalent parts can be added to the list, should something more appropriate, available, and cost-effective come along.
When browsing a Component Item in a Vault using the Vaults panel, supply chain data for that Item is presented in its Supply Chain aspect view. Access to this view can be made in one of two ways:
This view presents the following regions of information:
Interaction with the Part Choices List associated to a Component Item is performed within the Part Choices dialog. This dialog is accessed using the applicable command on the drop-down menu associated with the button, at the top-right of the Solutions region of the view. If the Component Item has never had any part choices made for it, the command to Create Part Choice List reflects this. If the Component Item already has an associated Part Choices List, then the command will simply be Edit Part Choice List.
The dialog is essentially divided into two, as detailed in the following sections.
On the left-hand side - Part Search - you simply browse the supported (and enabled) Parts Providers for the part(s) you require. Layout and behavior is similar to the Supplier Search panel. Type keywords by which to search in the field at the top, apply any filtering using the options accessible by clicking the button, then click the Search button (or press Enter) to proceed with the search.
Search results based on keywords entered will be displayed below. The results are grouped by <Manufacturer> <Manufacturer Part Number>, with all enabled Suppliers vending that part listed thereunder.
Selecting an entry in the list of results will display detailed information for that part in the region below, including parametric data, any documentation (e.g. datasheets), pricing and stock information. Documentation can be opened and perused for more detailed information regarding a part, as well as links to Manufacturer and Supplier websites.
Once you find a part that meets your engineering criteria for the design component, simply click the button to the immediate right of the search results. The selected part will be added to the Manufacturer Part Choices region of the dialog - this is the Part Choices List that will be stored with the Component Item when you click OK.
The list simply presents added parts in terms of Manufacturer and Manufacturer Part Number. You can add as many parts as you like to the list, but remember that they must be equivalent in regards that any part in the list can represent the design component on the manufactured and assembled board and perform the same function as per designed requirements.
When you click OK, the part choices made will be saved. All enabled Suppliers vending a specific Manufacturer Part will be added as solutions back in the Supply Chain view for the Component Item, in the Vaults panel.
As a designer, the ability to specify, at design time, which Manufacturer Parts can be used to implement your design components, gives you greater control and effectively streamlines the procurement process. You don't wait anxiously after design data is sent to manufacturing, wondering if the components procured for assembly will perfectly reflect your design intent. You are in the driving seat, with procurement able to see your choices at an early stage.
But sometimes even the best laid plans can go astray. What happens if you had a single part choice and that part is now no longer available? Or maybe a price change to a component could cause blow-out costs during manufacturing and assembly. In this case, the ability to make design-time part choices loses its edge, if you are unaware of such changes to the cost and availability of the very parts you have 'authorized' to be used.
To retain the advantage that design-time part choices provides, Altium Designer delivers real-time display of cost and availability for chosen parts directly within the Schematic Editor as you design. This is facilitated by extending the software's Design Insight feature to include Supply Chain Insight.
As you hover the mouse over a component on a schematic sheet, supply chain information will be displayed in the Supply Chain Insight pop-up, provided that:
Suddenly seen that a chosen part is not available, or that its price no longer justifies its use? No problem. You can access the Part Choices dialog and make changes to the list of Manufacturer Parts as required. Choose a cheaper component, or one that is available - the choice is yours, and the choice can be made while you are still designing and not after the design has left your hands!
Once supply chain data has been defined for your Vault components, you can then include that information in your Bill of Materials. This can be done for a Static BOM, generated for the project, by enabling the Include Parameters From Vault option, at the bottom of the Bill of Materials dialog.
Alternatively, you are perfectly positioned to use ActiveBOM - Altium Designer's solution for facilitating real-time cost estimation and tracking for a board design. ActiveBOM offers a live presentation of the design from the outset, providing early and ongoing cost estimation. It allows you to define target pricing at the individual item level. You can then track how actual costing fares against these estimates, and so give a timely flag if any cost blow-outs are on the near horizon! In addition, you can quickly assess item availability, complete with notification if there is a risk in the supply of a chosen part.