Customer Success Stories

Penn Electric Racing Pushes the Envelope with Altium 365

"We've heard some legends about Excel files and other pen and paper methods for tracking parts and versions, but we’ve been lucky enough to jump straight into using Altium 365. Can't even picture doing design work without it now."

Rafael Kenzo Sakamoto
Co-Leader of Electric Hardware Team
Penn Electric Racing

At a Glance

  • Enhanced component management
  • Improved collaboration and faster design and review processes
  • Advanced version control
  • Faster getting up to speed
  • Acquiring industry-relevant skills


Penn Electric Racing, the University of Pennsylvania's Formula SAE Electric Team, brings together Penn's brightest engineers each year to build an award-winning, fully electric racecar, pushing the boundaries of technology and design.

With a decade of experience, Penn Electric Racing boasts an impressive track record: 8 cars, 39 trophies, and notable achievements like a 75m sprint in 3.807 seconds, a formal American record. 

The team, now working on their tenth car model, consists of around 100 members divided into specialized sub-teams, including operations, mechanical (the largest section with various subsystems like aerodynamics, driver interface, powertrain), electrical hardware, and software. They foster a continuous process of improvement and evolution in their car designs, with each iteration incorporating new technologies, design optimizations, and lessons learned from previous versions. The majority of the PCBs on the car are custom-made and designed by the team members themselves.

The team operates both on-site and remotely, especially during summer breaks when development continues despite members being involved in internships across the country and internationally.

Here’s a sneak peek of how they use Altium 365 to push the envelope!

Enhanced Component Management

Penn Electric Racing sources components online but often encounters parts being out of date or out of stock. Altium 365 helps them find alternates, making the sourcing process more efficient and less time-consuming.

"This capability is absolutely crucial. It allows us to maintain our momentum and avoid any potential delays that could disrupt our electric car development on schedule," says Rafael Kenzo Sakamoto, co-leader of the Penn Electric Racing electric hardware team.

The team utilizes a centralized library in Altium 365 that is accessible to all team members within the Workspace. This library has been a long-standing archive of components, providing a rich resource for the team. 

"Over the years, countless students have nurtured and expanded this library, many of whom are now graduates. We use their knowledge to empower our current projects and designs. When a specific component isn't there, our first step is to look for replacements in Manufacturer Search. This allows us to locate and quickly integrate the required part into our design," notices Katie Zhang, co-leader of the electric hardware team of Penn Electic Racing.

But Altium 365 also supports the team with the Where Used functionality, which provides visibility into where specific components are used across different boards or projects.

"Where Used functionality is extremely useful for debugging a board, especially if we need to re-solder a component or verify its previous applications. It helps us better understand the context of its usage and then borrow or adapt it based on those applications. This is far more effective than having to sift through every board manually."

Rafael Kenzo Sakamoto
Co-Leader of Electric Hardware Team
Penn Electric Racing

Improved Collaboration and Faster Design and Review Process

Penn Electric Racing runs their project year-round, including the summer break. With team members dispersed across the country and some even internationally due to internships, coordinating across different time zones becomes a daunting task.

Altium 365 user-friendly interface and accessibility through web browsers allow the team to contribute more quickly to the project and enable faster design and review processes. Real-time collaboration features such as direct commenting on design files streamline the feedback loops and allow quick iterations and adjustments. 

"Altium 365 really helps with cross-sub-team communication. We can easily take a look at the schematics for the board on a browser or even on our phones. So we don't need to have the full Altium Designer opened up, which makes our development process much quicker," Rafael adds.

The integration of mechanical and electrical design through Altium 365 MCAD CoDesigner also helps speed up the design and review process. This app facilitates communication between the electrical hardware team and the mechanical design team, ensuring that both sets of components fit together perfectly from the outset.

"For the ninth iteration of our car, Rev8, we devised a stack-up for the battery management system to have a more compact design. This arrangement included one PCB at the bottom, connected to others via gold fingers and card edges. Using MCAD CoDesigner helped us visualize how it would fit within the race car's overall structure and allowed for a smooth integration of electrical and mechanical elements," Katie mentions.

"Being able to tag team members in comments directly on the design improves our communication and makes remote collaboration feel as close to in-person as possible. This way of leaving feedback reduces our review cycles and makes us identify and address potential issues quickly."

Katie Zhang
Co-Leader of Electric Hardware Team
Penn Electric Racing

Advanced Version Control

Before adopting Altium 365, Penn Electric Racing grappled with the complexities of version control and file management. The transition from using basic file-sharing platforms like Google Drive to Altium 365 marked a significant turning point in their design process.

"We've heard some legends about Excel files and other pen and paper methods for tracking parts and versions, but we’ve been lucky enough to jump straight into using Altium 365,” Rafael observes. “Can't even picture doing design work without it now. The version control feature in Altium 365 enables real-time updates and ensures all team members work on the latest version of each design file. It allows for immediate synchronization of our work, reducing the risk of errors in the car."

"Having our designs accessible from anywhere, at any time, means we can continue to make progress, even when we're not in the same room. And we don’t have to worry about file versions, which significantly accelerates our design and review processes."

Katie Zhang
Co-Leader of Electric Hardware Team
Penn Electric Racing

Faster Getting up to Speed

Altium 365 user-friendly design has been crucial for quickly bringing new team members, including first-year students, up to speed. The team has developed an onboarding process that includes a crash course and mentoring by more experienced members, ensuring that newcomers can contribute to projects in a short amount of time​.

"Altium 365 is an excellent program, and we find it very easy to onboard, for which I am really thankful. Both of us joined as freshmen, and our team has a comprehensive crash course for onboarding, where every new member must complete an Altium project. They are then mentored by upper-level students who are proficient in using Altium. We find this approach to be very effective for us."

Katie Zhang
Co-Leader of Electric Hardware Team
Penn Electric Racing

Acquiring Industry-Relevant Skills

Penn Electric Racing team members gain hands-on experience in all stages of the car design process, from brainstorming to debugging, using Altium 365 daily. This practical experience is crucial for their development as engineers.

"Learning Altium 365 was really great for me. It's not just a tool for our club projects but a critical skill that extends into internships and professional careers in the future. The widespread industry adoption of Altium 365 means the expertise we gain now is directly applicable and highly sought after by companies. This foresight into building relevant skills for our future roles is invaluable. I'm grateful for how it's preparing us for what lies ahead."

Rafael Kenzo Sakamoto
Co-Leader of Electric Hardware Team
Penn Electric Racing

Overall Results

Penn Electric Racing uses Altium 365 to achieve impressive results, enhancing efficiency, collaboration, and innovation in the competitive arena of electric racecar development. With our cloud-based solution, they experience: 

  • Efficient component management
  • Enhanced collaboration
  • Accelerated design and review cycles
  • Fast-track onboarding
  • Building industry-relevant skills

"We've become so accustomed to certain features of Altium 365 that it's hard to imagine working without them. The version control and cloud-based functionality are prime examples. It's challenging even to consider how we would manage without these capabilities. Simply pushing updates to the server allows another team member to pull them within seconds. This process eliminates the need for manual saves, which would add a lot of overhead to the full racecar design process."

Rafael Kenzo Sakamoto
Co-Leader of Electric Hardware Team
Penn Electric Racing

Get in Touch with Us!

Want to boost your project's efficiency and teamwork just like Penn Electric Racing? Explore what Altium 365 can do for you.

Altium 365
Download a Free Trial to Experience Similar Success With Your Business