Preparing SOLIDWORKS for CoDesign

Created: November 1, 2021 | Updated: November 8, 2022

Parent page: Installing & Configuring Altium CoDesigner

Altium CoDesigner is an interface for transferring printed circuit board designs between the ECAD and MCAD design domains. Once the CoDesigner add-in has been added to your MCAD software, CoDesigner can pass design changes back and forth. Design changes are passed through an Altium Workspace, which acts as a bridge between the ECAD and MCAD domains.

Check the version compatibility between your MCAD software and CoDesigner

To access the Altium CoDesigner panel in SOLIDWORKS® you must install an Add-In (Plugin), as detailed below. You can download the MCAD CoDesigner plugin from the Altium website download page.

Installing and Configuring CoDesigner in SOLIDWORKS

To interface to and from SOLIDWORKS®, you need to install the Altium CoDesigner for SOLIDWORKS Add-In. 

In SOLIDWORKS, enable the Altium CoDesigner Add-In to access the CoDesigner panel Install and enable the Add-In to access CoDesigner in your MCAD software.

To install the Add-In:

  1. Close SOLIDWORKS before installing.
  2. Download and install the SOLIDWORKS Add-In (AltiumCoDesignerSolidWorks_<VersionNo>.exe).
  3. Launch SOLIDWORKS and enable the Add-In via the Add-Ins dialog, as shown above.
  4. Once the Add-In has been enabled, the Altium CoDesigner Tab can be added to the Taskpane Tabs in the usual way. All collaboration activities are performed through this Tab.

To use the ECAD-MCAD capabilities with SOLIDWORKS, you will need to obtain the relevant licensing through your SOLIDWORKS Channel. Note that this is a matter of compliance - as reflected in the EULA. It is your responsibility to obtain the relevant licensing from SOLIDWORKS, in order to satisfy this compliance.

Displaying the CoDesigner Taskpane Tab

In SOLIDWORKS, Taskpane Tabs can be enabled/disabled in the Customize Taskpane Tabs dialog.

Once the Add-in has been enabled, the CoDesigner Taskpane Tab can be turned on and off as required CoDesigner is accessed through a SOLIDWORKS Taskpane Tab.

If the Altium CoDesigner Taskpane Tab ( Taskpane Tab icon used to select the Altium CoDesigner Tab ) does not appear in SOLIDWORKS:

  1. Click the Setup cog at the top of the Taskpane, as shown above. The Customize Taskpane Tabs dialog will open.
  2. In the dialog, enable the Altium CoDesigner Tab.

Connecting to your Workspace from SOLIDWORKS

SOLIDWORKS collaborates with Altium Designer through a Workspace, which you must sign in to the first time you use it.

When you are not signed in, the Altium CoDesigner Tab will include sign-in fields, as shown below. There are two sign-in modes, one for signing into an Altium 365 Workspace, the other for signing in to a Workspace on an On-Prem Enterprise Server.

Connecting to an Altium 365 Workspace

The first step is to sign in to your Workspace, using the sign in fields in the Altium CoDesigner Taskpane TabSigning in to an Altium 365 Workspace.

  1. Select the Altium Account option in the Altium CoDesigner Taskpane Tab.
  2. Enter the email address you use to sign in to Altium Live as your Email, and your Altium Live Password.
  3. Enable the Remember Me option to retain the details (including the password) and automatically connect to your Altium 365 Workspace each time SOLIDWORKS is started.
  4. Click the Sign In button to connect.

Multiple Workspaces are supported - open the CoDesigner menu and select the required Workspace.

Menu used to select the active workspace, to change to a custom server, or sign out

Connecting to an Altium Enterprise Server Workspace

Signing in to an On-Prem Enterprise Server Workspace.Signing in to an On-Prem Enterprise Server Workspace.

  1. Select the Use Custom Server option in the Altium CoDesigner Taskpane Tab.
  2. The first time you sign in, you must specify the Server Address (URL) to connect to your On-Prem Enterprise Server Workspace. The address will be provided by your system administrator.
  3. Enter your User Name and Password, these will also be provided by the system administrator.
  4. Enable the Remember Me option to retain the details (including the password) and automatically connect to your Workspace each time SOLIDWORKS is started.

Once you have signed in, you are ready to start collaborating through Altium CoDesigner.

Once you have signed in to your Workspace you can open an existing board, or create a new board assembly CoDesigner has been installed and is ready to use.

In SOLIDWORKS, CoDesigner supports working with an assembly of boards, referred to as a Multi-board Assembly (MBA) in ECAD. Learn more about Synchronizing a Multi-board Assembly with Altium MCAD CoDesigner.

Configuring the SOLIDWORKS Collaboration Settings

Once you have signed in, CoDesigner settings can be configured in the Altium CoDesigner Settings dialog, opened via the Settings menu entry in the CoDesigner menu (show image).

Configuring the CoDesigner SOLIDWORKS settings Configure the CoDesigner options.

  • Common folder for storing models that are coming from ECAD - All component models created by CoDesigner are stored in this location, regardless of the project they belong to (note that the board part and board assembly are created by CoDesigner in the project folder specified during the initial pull into Solidworks). If no location is specified, all component models will be created in the project folder and will be unavailable for reuse in other projects.
  • Build 3D geometry for copper - Top and bottom layer copper layers are always represented as decals on surfaces of the board part. When this option is enabled, CoDesigner will also create extruded features to represent all copper layers, as well as thruhole pads. Note that enabling this option can create a large amount of data that can significantly impact performance.
    Note that this option is not available with an Altium Designer Standard Subscription.
  • Build Vias - enable this option to also include the Via barrels. (Build Vias option added in CoDesigner 2.2.0)
    Note that this option is not available with an Altium Designer Standard Subscription.
  • Transfer board sketch holes that are bigger than <Size><Units> to ECAD as cutouts - Any hole included in the board profile sketch that can be interpreted as a pad in ECAD (including circular, square, or slotted holes), with a hole size (or slot width) equal to or less than this value, will be converted into a free pad in ECAD. Holes with a size larger than this value will be converted to a board cutout. Non-circular holes which do not correspond to a square or slot shape are always converted to a board cutout, regardless of size.
  • Ignore components smaller than <Value><Units> in height - Smaller components can be excluded from the synchronization process. Configure this option to exclude components less than <Value><Units> when a Pull is performed. Note that the component height is defined in ECAD as a property of the component (footprint), it is not the height of the 3D model placed on the footprint.
    Learn more about configuring CoDesigner to ignore smaller components
  • Participate in the product improvement program - enable this option to automatically share technical information with Altium about your use of CoDesigner.
    Learn more about the product improvement program.
  • Use a common folder for storing models if you work with multiple PCB designs with a percentage of reused components, as it will save time and storage space when loading a new project.
  • If a component is fixed or constrained in MCAD, it becomes locked in ECAD (regardless of if that constraint allows any movements within the PCB assembly or not). If a component is locked in ECAD, it becomes fixed in MCAD unless it is already constrained in MCAD. Changes in the locked/fixed state are synchronized between MCAD and ECAD.

SOLIDWORKS Default Templates

To avoid being prompted for a component template each time a new component is created, it is recommended to configure and use default templates for parts, as shown below. These can be the supplied SOLIDWORKS templates, or your own company templates. Define the location of the templates for Parts, Assemblies, and Drawings, and select the Always use these default document templates, as shown below.

Configure your preferred SOLIDWORKS templates. Configure your preferred SOLIDWORKS templates.

Display of the PCB Copper, Masks and Silkscreen in SOLIDWORKS

CoDesigner combines images of the top copper, top soldermask and top silkscreen into a single top-side decal, and repeats this process for the same bottom-side layers of the board. These top-side and bottom-side decals are applied when the board is pulled into MCAD.

The Top decal is a combination of the top copper layer, the top solder mask layer, and the top silkscreen layer.The Top decal is a combination of the top copper layer, the top solder mask layer, and the top silkscreen layer.

Notes about decals:

  • If the decals do not display correctly, it may be a rendering issue in SOLIDWORKS. For more information on certified video cards and the latest video driver software updates, refer to Note that the page includes a link to Certified Cards and Drivers, where you may be able to download an update patch for your video card.
  • If the previous step does not resolve the display of decals, try toggling the Enhanced graphics performance option in the Performance page of the SOLIDWORKS System Options dialog (show image). For some video cards, disabling this option will help, for other video cards enabling it will help. 
  • If the Build 3D Geometry for Copper and Solder Mask mode is enabled in the CoDesigner settings, each copper and solder mask layer is transferred as an individual layer, they are not combined into a decal. In this mode, the Silkscreen detail is applied to the Solder Mask layer as a decal. Note that the Build 3D Geometry for Copper and Solder Mask mode is not available on an Altium Designer Standard subscription.
    Learn more about How CoDesigner Handles Copper, Mask and Overlay Layers

Decal Storage in SOLIDWORKS

To better support designers who use SOLIDWORKS with a PDM system, CoDesigner saves the decals (image files that represent the copper, silkscreen and soldermask layers) directly into the board part file. This simplifies the management of the PCB-related files when a PDM system is used on the MCAD side.

Decals are stored in the SOLIDWORKS prt file, simplifying the process of working with SOLIDWORKS and a PDM system.Decals are stored in the SOLIDWORKS prt file, simplifying the process of working with SOLIDWORKS and a PDM system.

If you use SOLIDWORKS with a PDM and find that the Image file path continues to reference a location on the hard drive, close the design and remove the image files from that location. SOLIDWORKS will then use the decals stored within the board part the next time the design is opened.

Configuring SOLIDWORKS PDM for CoDesign

CoDesigner has been developed and tested with SOLIDWORKS® PDM Professional.

PDM Settings

  • Disable the Prompt to check out file if opened in read-only mode option in the SOLIDWORKS PDM settings (accessible from the Tools menu in SOLIDWORKS) as shown below. Doing this means that existing components will not need to be checked out, so there will be no inconvenience to other mechanical engineers. However, when it is necessary to change component properties, the corresponding components should be checked out.

SOLIDWORKS Product Data Management (PDM) is an on-premise data management solution supporting team management and collaboration during product development. 

  • The Common folder where CoDesigner stores models. Configure the folder specified in the Common folder for storing models option in the Altium CoDesigner Settings dialog to be under SOLIDWORKS PDM control (including the \Orig and \Expt sub-folders), and synchronize that folder with the local storage before collaborating with ECAD. 
  • Assemblies and parts related to the PCB project.

Not Necessary to Keep Under PDM Control

  • PNG files are used for generating the decals (pictures that represent the copper, silkscreen, and soldermask). These image files are stored in the same folder where the board part is stored.

Now that SOLIDWORKS PDM is ready for CoDesign, the last step is to configure the Altium Workspace options to indicate that you want to use native MCAD components, and define which ECAD component parameter will be used to reference the equivalent MCAD component. Learn more about Linking from the ECAD Components to the MCAD Components

Once that has been done, you're ready to learn more about Working with SOLIDWORKS PDM.

Where to Next?

Now that CoDesigner is installed in your MCAD software and connected to your Workspace, the next step is to configure the relevant Workspace settings.

Learn more about Configuring your Workspace Settings


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