Altium NEXUS Documentation

Working with Object Specific Keepouts on a Board in Altium NEXUS

Created: January 11, 2018 | Updated: January 11, 2018
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A Keepout in PCB design is a user defined area or perimeter placed in the layout that copper objects cannot intersect. Typically included to control the area used by automated copper placement actions, such as polygon pours and interactive routing, a Keepout also represents an invalid location when manually placing copper objects. 

As specified ‘no go’ areas during design layout, Keepout objects use the existing Clearance Constraint Rules to control routing and detect placement violations, but unlike other placed objects, cannot be assigned to a Net and are not shown in generated Outputs or printouts. In its simplest sense, a Keepout acts as an ‘interference’ object that prevents other copper objects from intersecting its area, as specified by the global Clearance Rule.

Altium NEXUS caters for the creation and application of Keepouts with its support for Object Specific Keepouts. Placed Keepout objects can be configured to specify which type objects they apply to, such as Tracks, Copper areas, Vias and Pads, which significantly enhances the flexibility and effectiveness of Keepouts.

In the PCB Editor (and PCB Library Editor), objects assigned as Keepouts are indicated by the current Keep-Out layer color. Keepout objects set to a specific signal layer are outlined by the Keep-Out color, whereas Keepouts set to All Layers show as solid color – and appear on the Keep-Out Layer itself.

Keepouts are ideal for defining non-routable board regions (such as electrically-sensitive or high voltage areas), specifically exposed copper locations such as in Fiducials and Test Points, or mechanically incompatible areas (such as mounting holes or the corners of a PCB). The configurable nature of Object Specific Keepouts also allows them to be placed over other objects when specific Keepout Restrictions have been assigned. When set to restrict only Vias for example, a Keepout can be placed over existing copper regions (such as a Polygon Pour) to control the extent of automated Via Stitching.

Object Specific Keepouts can be placed in the PCB Editor and PCB Library Editor.

When a PCB Design document from an earlier version of Altium NEXUS (prior to version 17.1) is opened, any Keepout objects in the layout will be converted to Object Specific Keepouts. Where possible, Keepout type objects in PCB design documents from other Design tools are converted when imported into Altium NEXUS.

Placing Keepouts

A Keepout is placed in the editor workspace from the Place » Keepout menu, where the nominated Keepout style (Track, Fill, Region or Arc) will be placed on the currently active Layer. Select the Keepout’s Properties to edit its physical characteristics, Layer or object type restrictions. The related Keepout  dialog options are:

  • Restricted for Layer – sets the Keepout Layer, and therefore the board layer on which copper objects will be restricted (kept out).
  • Keepout Restrictions – determines which object types will be restricted by the Keepout. Deselecting an object type will cause the Keepout to allow transgressions by that type of object (not kept out), by not imposing the applicable Clearance Rule.
Keepouts can be placed on all (copper) signal layers, excluding copper planes. When currently active board layer is not compatible with Keepouts, the Place » Keepout command is not available (grayed out).

In the below image, the two Keepout Fills have different Layer and object restrictions applied. These allow the Top Layer Keepout Fill (on the left) to accept a Through Hole (TH) Pad, while restricting all other object types, and the All Layers Fill (right) to accept Tracks only.

Keepouts are automatically restricted to the Layer they are placed on, so Keepouts applied directly to the Keep-Out layer will become All Layer Keepouts. When the Keepout Layer is changed, the Keepout will be limited to, and appear on, the specified Layer. Note that a conventional (non Keepout) object cannot be placed on the Keep-Out Layer.

The inherent flexibility of Keepouts allows their use for a wide range of tasks to control PCB layout. Since Keepouts can be overlaid, assigned to any signal layer (or all layers) and configured to reject specific objects, they can be used to tightly control Via Stitching and Polygon Pours, for example.

Polygon Pour control

In the example PCB layout shown below, Keepout Fills have been added around the multilayer Pads in a region of potential high voltage, which needs to have sufficient electrical isolation from the pending ground-connected Polygon Pours. The Keepout Fills are set to All Layers and configured to restrict only Copper objects, which will reject Polygon Pours, Fills and Regions while accepting existing tracks and pads etc – in other words, the Clearance violation Rule will only apply to objects classed as 'copper'.

The Keepout object shown associated with C9 was added to that component in the PCB Library Editor, and is therefore part of its component definition.

The above arrangement of Keepouts will force Polygon Pours placed on the signal layers (in this case the Top and Bottom Layers) to avoid all three Keepout areas. However, the top layer pads associated with the area of concern will not be provided with adequate clearance by the Top Layer Pour – specifically, the pads of components T1, R10, R11 etc.

In this case, further Keepouts can be added to the Top Layer, so that its Polygon Pour will avoid all the related pads by a suitable distance. In the PCB Editor image shown below, another two Keepout Fills have been added to the Top Layer, which is displayed here in Single Layer mode for clarity. Note that the Keepout coverage shown could have been created from a single Region, rather than two overlapping Fills.

When the Polygon Pours are eventually added to the layout, the collection of Keepouts will control the pours to produce a different clearance shape for each layer around the region. Note that in this example, the clearance associated with Keepouts is greater than that for normal objects due to a custom Keepout Clearance Rule (see below).

The influence of the Keepout collection on the Polygon Pours can be seen clearly when the layout is viewed in Single Layer 3D mode, as shown below – Top Layer on the left and Bottom Layer on the right.

Note that the approach to controlling Polygon Pour areas is used here as an example for placing and configuring Layer Specific Keepouts.  In practice, the area occupied by a Polygon Pour is best controlled by using Polygon Pour Cutouts.

Via Stitching control

The application of Keepout shapes, configured to restrict Via objects, on multilayer copper areas can control the extent of automated Via Stitching (Tools » Via Stitching/Shielding). The Keepout shapes can be set for All Layers or one of the copper area layers, so that Vias between those layers will be ‘kept out’ (restricted).

In the simple example shown below, Keepout shapes have been added to the upper and lower left corners of the layout. These are configured to restrict Via objects, which will prevent the automated Via Stitching from placing Vias within those perimeters.

Along with avoiding existing Tracks, Pads and Vias, as is normally the case, the Via Stitching also avoids the Keepout shapes as determined by the applicable Clearance Rule.

Keepouts in Library Components

Keepout are added to component Footprints in the PCB Library Editor using the same approach as those applied within the PCB Editor workspace.

The All Layer Keepout added to the component Footprint shown below (a capacitor rated at 3kV) is configured to restrict all objects, but allow tracks – therefore enabling Net connections in a layout where the component is used, while restricting the close placement of other object types.

Note that Design Rules are not applied in the PCB Library Editor, so the Keepout in this case will accept the Through Hole Pads that are within its bounds.

Working with Keepouts

The implementation of Altium NEXUS’s Object Specific Keepouts is reflected in all associated functions, and includes compatibility with the Queries (and therefore Design Rules), the PCB Inspector and PCB List panels, and also imported/older PCB design documents.

Keepout Clearance Rule

As is the case for other object primitives, the current Electrical Clearance Rule will determine the clearance constraints for Keepouts – see Design » Rules. If a different clearance constraint is required for Keepouts, create a specific Rule by applying the IsKeepOut Attribute Check as a Custom Query.

Ensure that the custom Keepout Clearance Rule is set to a higher priority than the existing (global) Clearance Rule. In the example below, a rule has been created for Keepouts (Clearance_to_Keepouts) with double the clearance constraint distance of the base Clearance Rule (Clearance). As shown in the section of board layout, the track routed between the two pads avoids the Keepout region (on the right) by a larger margin than the Top Layer region (left).

Convert Primitive Objects to Keepouts

Existing Primitive objects on signal layers can be converted to Keepouts, on the same layer, using the Convert Primitives to Keepouts command (Tools » Convert » Convert Selected Primitives to Keepout).

Multiple primitive objects are converted by using standard selection techniques (Ctrl/Shift + Click, or lassoing) and then applying the Convert command. Use a converted object’s Keepout Properties dialog to edit its Keepout Layer and applied object Restrictions.

Keepout objects can be converted (back) to their equivalent non-Keepout primitive objects using the Tools » Convert » Convert Selected Keepouts to Primitives command.

Access via Panels

Object specific Keepouts in a board design can be accessed via the PCB Inspector, PCB List and PCB Filter panels.

The PCB Filter panel allows the use of the IsKeepOut Query word to locate and (optionally) select Keepouts objects in the design, while the PCB Inspector panel is an efficient way to view and edit the attributes for Keepouts selected in the workspace.

The PCB List panel can be used to list, select and edit Keepout object of the selected type – for example, Keepout Fills, as shown in the below List panel image. A standard Top Layer Fill (the last listed) is also shown for comparison. If all the Fills (or other types of objects, such as Regions) included in the design are assigned as Keepouts, then the PCB List panel will include the full set of Keepout object Restriction attributes. 

Note that the Keepout attribute listed in both the PCB Inspector and PCB List panels is read-only since the Fill, in this case, is designated as a Keepout object. Similarly, the Net attribute for Keepout objects in the PCB List panel cannot be edited because Keepout objects, by definition, cannot be assigned to a Net.

Version Compatibility

Previous releases of Altium NEXUS (prior to version 17.1) used a less refined version of Keepouts, where standard primitive objects were placed on the Keep-Out Layer to act as ‘interference’ objects for all signal layers. Primitive objects also offered a ‘Keepout’ option checkbox, which prevented the inclusion of those objects in generated Outputs – when that option was enabled, the object was outlined in the Keep-Out Layer color.

Altium NEXUS’s current implementation of Keepouts uses a dedicated Keepout object, so when opening a PCB document from a previous version, any Keepout references that exist in the design must be converted to the enhanced Keepout object. The automated Keepout object conversion is as outlined below:

Previous version document opened in current version

  • Primitive object on Keep-Out Layer converted to Keepout object set to All Layers (regardless of original Keepout checkbox option). Shown on Keep-Out Layer.
  • Primitive object on Signal Layer, with Keepout option checked converted to Keepout object set to same layer.

Current version document opened in previous version

  • Keepout object set to All Layers converted to Primitive object on Keep-Out Layer, with Keepout option checked.
  • Keepout object set to a Signal Layer converted to  Primitive object on same layer, with Keepout option checked.
Keepout objects cannot be assigned to (or connect to) a Net, however this was possible in previous Altium NEXUS releases. When a PCB document from a previous release is opened, any primitive objects with the Keepout option enabled and a Net assigned will be converted to a Keepout object on the same layer, as normal – the Net assignment is simply ignored.

Importing PCB Designs

Altium NEXUS is able to import design files from a wide range of other design tools using the automated conversion capabilities provided by the Import Wizard (File » Import Wizard). Keepout type objects that are included in PCB design files from other design tools, some of which are object specific, are converted to Object Specific Keepouts by the Wizard, where possible.

The Wizard’s Keepout conversion process is compatible with board designs from popular ECAD systems such as Mentor® Graphics Pads and Cadence® Allegro. Correct Keepout interpretation also occurs during the IDF export process.

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