Parent page: Preparing Your Design for Manufacture
Once a design is considered ready for flight into the wider world, it needs to be released – a process that can often be underestimated.
Without a regimented and fundamentally-sound release process, tracking an ever-maturing product over time can be fraught with any number of pitfalls. Just imagine needing to go back and release a previous revision of your product, only to find that all required source design files were never included, as a snapshot, with that particular release! That's OK; just get the generated output files from the relevant folder(s) for that release – trusty Gerbers and any additional fabrication and assembly information; that's all that's really needed anyway. But imagine those 'trusty' outputs have been overwritten, or become corrupt somehow. If only the release process were more robust.
Altium Designer answers this call by providing powerful, high-integrity board design release management. The board design release process is automated, enabling you to release your board design projects without the risks associated with manual release procedures. When a particular project is released, a snapshot of the design source is taken and archived along with any generated output – which represents a tangible product that is made from that design project and sold by the company. Release data is stored in revisions of the relevant project-related Item in the target Workspace:
The overall result is the highest-integrity board design release management possible. Not only is your actual design project tightly monitored, backed-up, and under version control, but also too, the releases of its data in a similar manner within the target Workspace – robust, safe, secure.
Ability to validate the design as an integral part of the design release process. The release process works from a 'locked down' snapshot of the design source (including dependencies) and pre-release validation is almost sure to have been performed prior to initiating release. But for additional peace of mind and to ensure the integrity of the design data, you can optionally add validation checks into the release process 'flow', through appropriately-configured Output Job Configurations. Standard ERC checking for the source schematics and DRC checking of the PCB, but also the ability to check that the source project and PCB are in-sync, and comparison of footprints on the board against their source library to ensure they are up-to-date, and matched. The release will fail if any validation checks are not passed successfully.
Altium Designer provides powerful, high-integrity board design release management, courtesy of its Project Releaser. With an intuitive user interface, you are able to generate all manufacturing data for your project simultaneously – fabrication data, assembly data, design source, etc. The Project Releaser also provides the ability to generate the assembly data for multiple detected variants of your board design at the same time. You don't even have to worry if you haven't created Output Job files – it'll do that for you if you ask it to!
With the Project Releaser, you'll be able to generate your manufacturing data with simplified ease, and with the highest integrity. And you'll also be able to survey the fruits of that generation before you commit to finalizing the release (viewing Gerbers/ODB++ data in the CAM Editor for example), ensuring that the data you have generated is exactly the data required to get your board manufactured on time, first time.
The prerequisites for releasing a PCB design to a Workspace are:
The release process itself is performed using Altium Designer's Project Releaser, the user interface to which is provided courtesy of a dedicated view – the Release view. It can be accessed by:
If you have an activated process for publishing to a PLM instance as part of the Project Releaser (available with the Altium Designer Enterprise Subscription), then this will be presented on the Project Releaser sub-menu for the project. Starting that process will add an additional stage to the view for doing just that.
Publish to PLM (User selects) sample process definition is available with your Workspace – part of the Project Activities process theme – to perform this standard publishing (i.e. not publishing as part of the Project Releaser, as described previously). This process allows publication of released project outputs to the integrated PLM instance, but with the user able to select exactly which outputs get published. The workflow diagram is shown below.
Standard publish to PLM processes can be accessed from within Altium Designer from the Project » Project Activities sub-menu for the active project.
The Project Releaser caters for all types of PCB projects – local/non-version-controlled, under external VCS control, or under the native version control of a connected Workspace – by offering two modes of operation:
The Project Releaser attempts to detect which release mode to use and the target of the release, automatically. Where a choice can exist, typically where the project has been released to one Workspace, and you are actively connected to another, the system will provide the options available to you.
The fundamental method of generating design output from Altium Designer is through a range of available design Output Generators that produced the data files and artwork needed to create the real-world version of the design – in other words, the Schematic and PCB Prints, Gerber and NC Drill fabrication files, Bill of Materials (BOM), Pick and Place Assembly files, etc., that are required to fabricate and assemble the PCB design.
The selected Output Generators and the specific Output files they will create for a design are collectively defined using the Output Job Editor, which saves the generator to output mapping configurations in an Output Job file (
*.OutJob) – created via the File » New » Output Job File command.
As the core mechanism for collectively generating manufacturing and assembly files for a board design, Altium Designer Output Jobs offer the following additional capabilities:
If your project currently has no Output Job file(s) associated with it, the Project Releaser will detect this, and you will be asked if you wish to add default ones. If you opt to do so, the following will be created:
Assembly.OutJob– with the following outputs defined:
PCB 3D Print,
Generates pick and place files,
Bill of Materials
Fabrication.OutJob– with the following outputs defined:
NC Drill Files, and
Design Rules Check,
Footprint Comparison Report
Save As/Export PCB
These default Output Job files are sourced from the following default installation folder:
A very powerful aspect of the Project Releaser is that it will detect defined variants for your design and create Assembly Data sets for each, ready for release. Each Assembly Data set will appear with (default) target item naming in the form:
[VariantName] suffix ensures that the correct variant is being used when generating data from the assigned OutJob file(s).
The release process is a staged flow, with the entries on the left-hand side of the Release view showing you, at-a-glance, which stage you are currently at.
To learn more about the release process for the Online release mode, refer to the Releasing to a Workspace page. To learn more about specific of the Offline release mode, refer to the Releasing Locally page.
Related page: Working with Publishing Destinations
For released data generated from a board design project (PCB Fabrication Data, PCB Assembly Data, and PCB Project Design Items only), you have the ability to directly publish that data from your Workspace, or Output Job, to a storage space, such as Box.com, Amazon S3, an FTP server, or a simple folder location on a shared network. In terms of distribution and collaboration, this provides an unparalleled advantage in a world where the collective members of the overall 'product team' – the design team, the manufacturing team and all others involved in the process of getting a product from thought to reality – are often dispersed around the globe.
Publishing is a matter of defining a Publishing Destination and then uploading the released data for the required Item Revision to that destination. From the manufacturing plant in China, to the design teams in Kiev, Stanstead Abbotts, and San Diego, and to the Project Director in-flight somewhere across the Pacific, everyone that needs to know about the new release can be invited with a link to the published folder – shared (and controlled) access to view, discuss, and utilize the data with which to build the Item.
A key aspect of design projects stored in an Altium 365 Workspace is the ability to create and share a release Build Package with others. When shared directly with your manufacturer, it can then be thought of as a Manufacturing Package, since it is the package that the manufacturer can browse, download and use to fabricate and assemble the board.
Supporting the ability to share such a package with others, and with your manufacturer (who is typically outside of your organization), the Altium 365 Platform provides a dedicated Manufacturing Package Viewer – an element of the platform's Global Sharing support – which allows others to view a manufacturing package from any web browser – anywhere in the world – but outside of your Workspace, so that your designs themselves, and other valuable IP, are kept off limits.
Each shared user will receive an email invite with a link to view a manufacturing package through the Manufacturing Package Viewer. Shared manufacturing packages are presented on the Shared with Me page of the browser-based Altium 365 Platform Interface.
The Manufacturing Package Viewer itself allows key stakeholders – and primarily the manufacturing personnel – to see a summary overview of the design, with key board data, along with the ability to browse the structure of the source, fabrication and assembly data (and to download any individual file thereof as needed). Fabrication, Assembly and BOM data sub-pages of the viewer are also provided, with the Fabrication page presenting a Gerber Viewer and allowing for comments to be added by all users whom the package has been shared with.
Ultimately, the manufacturing personnel can download a Build Package of the release they have viewed – and from any page of the Viewer – with which to get that revision of the board physically realized.
Workspace's Web Viewer interface provides universal access to PCB project documents through a standard web browser. Much more than just a web-based viewer, Web Viewer's advanced browser technology allows users to navigate through the project structure, interact with design documents, extract information about elements in the design and highlight areas or objects for commenting notes.
When viewing documents the visual quality of schematics and PCBs are not compromised by its web format, which also provides full pan and zoom capabilities and the ability to search, cross-probe, select and inspect components and nets throughout the design.
As an independent browser-based viewing platform, the Web Viewer interface offers interactive read-only access to design documents without the need to open the project in the design editing environment. Others that are working on the design, such as the engineer who 'owns' it, will not be affected by actions in the Web Viewer space – except for any related comment notifications.