Altium Designer combines a multitude of features and functionality, including:
- Advanced routing technology
- Support for cutting-edge rigid-flex board design
- Powerful data management tools
- Powerful design reuse tools
- Real-time cost estimation and tracking
- Dynamic supply chain intelligence
- Native 3D visualizations and clearance checking
- Flexible release management tools
Underlying Altium Designer is the X2 Integration Platform, which brings together Altium Designer's various editors and software engines and provides a consistent user interface across all the tools and editors. All of this functionality is delivered through, and the entire design process is performed within, a single Unified Design Environment – the only one of its kind, and it is engineered to deliver optimal productivity. A consistent selection and editing paradigm across different editors allows you to easily and smoothly switch between various design tasks within the Altium Designer environment. The Altium Designer environment is fully customizable, which allows you to set up the design space to suit the way you work.
The unified nature of Altium Designer allows for seamless movement of design data from one design realm to the next. At the start, the perceived steep learning curve can appear to be a formidable blockade to this productivity-enhancing landscape, and the wealth of features it contains. This, the core space for documentation specific to Altium Designer, provides all the information needed to quickly get you up and running with the software. From high-level overviews and stepped walk-throughs, to full coverage of all the nuts and bolts resources delivered through the software's intuitive interface, the Altium Designer documentation provides a tree of knowledge at your fingertips.
Jumping into PCB Design (and Altium Designer)
New to board design and/or Altium Designer, and wondering where to begin? This tutorial will take you from a blank schematic sheet all the way to generating the files needed to fabricate the bare board for a simple nine-component circuit.
The design you will be capturing and then designing a printed circuit board (PCB) for is a simple astable multivibrator. The circuit – shown to the left – uses two general-purpose NPN transistors configured as a self-running astable multivibrator.
The tutorial touches on many of the areas of the software that you will need to become familiar with in your day-to-day design work. What better way to familiarize yourself with and get to know your powerful design 'partner'?
Designing with a Connected Workspace
To handle your valuable design data while affording unparalleled collaboration, Altium Designer can connect to, and work with, a Workspace. The Workspace not only provides rock-solid, secure storage of data but also enables re-release of data as distinctly separate revisions – essentially tracking design changes over time without overwriting any previously released data. It also caters to the lifecycle of the data to be managed, allowing people that need to use the data to see at a glance what stage the data has reached in its 'life' and, therefore, what it can be safely used for.
The Workspace is used to manage all design data, including components, domain models, schematic sheets of circuitry, and design templates. Indeed, you can even create and manage your entire design projects directly within the Workspace.
By furnishing a set of reusable design 'building blocks' within the Workspace, you can embark on fresh projects safe in the knowledge that each model, component, and higher-order design element has been ratified and approved for use, without having to reinvent the wheel as it were. The Workspace becomes both the source and destination of design elements, with each new design utilizing elements released to and managed through the Workspace. Additionally, by designing only with elements from the Workspace, the integrity of those designs is inherently assured.
Altium Designer connects to a Workspace. That Workspace can be delivered in one of the following ways:
With an Altium 365 Workspace, you'll benefit from a richer set of collaborative features, including Global Sharing. And because it is cloud-based, you get the latest version of the Workspace without having to worry about manual upgrades.
Some of the key benefits that Altium 365 brings to the design table:
- Securely share PCB designs with internal and external stakeholders with a web link with which they can view and comment on the design via a web browser on any platform (Mac, Windows, Android, or iOS) and any device (desktop or mobile).
- Communicate true design intent early and collaboratively through commenting, co-creation, and visualization of PCB designs. Work from anywhere and connect with anyone with ease. Built-in storage and version control (tightly integrated with Altium Designer) ensure that the latest data is available at any time from any device.
- Conduct more effective design reviews by allowing users to highlight and mark up a specific component or area on a schematic or layout. Internal/external stakeholders (e.g., managers, other designers, part suppliers, etc.,) can comment and mark up designs simultaneously (much like a collaboration on a Google® document).
- Collaborate with multiple designers. The web browser platform simplifies how designs are visualized and marked up while allowing other designers to connect to the same PCB design with Altium Designer to author changes.
- Co-design with mechanical designers. Electrical and mechanical engineers can push and pull design data backward and forward in real-time with each being notified when changes have been made by the other. Altium 365 provides native integration between electronic and mechanical domains through a built-in co-designer capability that provides native integration with a variety of MCAD software tools.
- Reduce miscommunication and redesign iterations with manufacturing. Compress design cycles with the capability to create formal atomic design releases ensuring a coherent set of manufacturing data. Create a manufacturing package that can be bundled up according to the needs of your specific manufacturing partner.
Capturing Your Design Idea as a Schematic
Schematic capture is the process of creating a logical representation of an electronic circuit. When you capture a schematic, you are connecting a collection of symbols (components) together in a unique way, creating your unique electronic product. When you perform your schematic capture electronically, you can create more than a high-quality printed representation of the design, perform related design tasks, such as a circuit simulation, and transfer the design to a PCB layout tool.
Analyzing Your Design using Circuit Simulation
Circuit simulation allows the designer to explore their ideas before committing to manufacture. Concepts can be verified and the circuit can be tuned quickly and accurately. Circuit simulation also gives the designer the opportunity to perform measurements that may not be physically possible on the workbench.
The Simulator is a true mixed-signal simulator, meaning that it can analyze circuits that include both analog and digital devices. It is fully SPICE3f5 compatible, as well as providing support for a range of PSpice® and LTSpice® device models.
Laying Out Your PCB
Inside every electronics product is a printed circuit board or PCB. Today, the components have shrunken so much they are measured in fractions of a millimeter rather than centimeters, and track widths have shrunken from being 10 mil wide, well-spaced lines, to thin, 2 or 3 mil hair-like lines that are tightly packed together. Rising signal speeds have also seen the PCB interconnects change from being simple copper conduits that carry electrical energy, to behaving as high-speed transmission lines, requiring design techniques to cater to this. The mechanical requirements have also become more complex. Compact, unusually shaped modern electronic products require compact, unusually shaped printed circuit boards which are often implemented as rigid-flex structures - these boards can have curved edges and cutouts, requiring carefully positioned components.
These challenges can be met with Altium PCB design technologies.
Most electronic products that are designed are fixed to some kind of mechanical structure – either a chassis or an enclosure. Finding a mechanical conflict between the board (ECAD) and chassis/enclosure (MCAD) late in the design process can be a costly experience. And while you could get a 3D model exported from Altium Designer, it is a manual process that needs a conscious decision and action to do so. In reality, this is performed very infrequently, with the result being that the MCAD designer is never quite sure if what they've got is the latest and greatest. It really shouldn’t be so hard to ensure you’re not about to waste a pile of money just because your tools don’t talk.
Working between the electronic and mechanical design domains brings unique challenges. Small and complex product enclosures that house multiple, irregular shaped printed circuit boards - to successfully design these products the ECAD and MCAD designers must be able to fluidly pass design changes back and forth between their design domains.
Passing complex and detailed design changes between different design software is much more than just being able to save data in another format. The electronic and mechanical design teams work independently and need to be able to selectively transfer design changes at any point in their design process.
A Workspace provides native ECAD to MCAD collaboration where data flows seamlessly between domains. No more polling for updates and no more uncertainty. Data is pushed between domains as the design evolves, ensuring design coherence.
The following MCAD platforms are supported when using the latest Altium CoDesigner plugins:
- Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS®
- Autodesk Inventor Professional®
- PTC Creo Parametric®
- Autodesk Fusion 360®
- Siemens NX® (for users with Altium Designer Enterprise Subscription only)
The versions of MCAD tools officially supported will depend on the version of Altium CoDesigner plugin being used. This information can be found on the New in CoDesigner page.
Streamlining Board Design Documentation with Draftsman
Draftsman provides an advanced, yet flexible graphical editing environment for creating board design production documents. Based on a dedicated file format and set of drawing tools, the Draftsman drawing system provides an interactive approach to bringing together fabrication and assembly drawings with custom templates, annotations, dimensions, callouts, and notes.
Draftsman offers automated placement of assembly and fabrication drawings on demand and includes a wide range of manual drawing tools that can be used to add important details and highlighting to its multi-page documents.
Preparing Your Design for Manufacture
The final phase of the board design cycle is to generate the output files needed to fabricate, assemble and test the printed circuit board. To do this, you need to generate a variety of output files in a variety of formats.
As the designer, you have the choice of individually configuring and generating the outputs via the schematic and PCB editor, or alternatively, you can add all of the required outputs into an OutputJob and then generate them as part of the project release process.
Designing with Multiple PCBs
Many products include multiple, interconnected printed circuit boards. Bringing these boards together inside the enclosure and ensuring they correctly connect to each other is a challenging phase of the product development process. Have the nets been assigned correctly on each connector? Are the connectors oriented correctly? Do the plug-in boards fit together? Do all of the connected boards fit into the enclosure?
Managing this requires a design environment that supports system-level design. Ideally, this will be a design space where you can define both the functional or logical system, as well as a space where you can plug together the various boards and verify that they connect correctly, both logically and physically.
Altium Designer brings system-level design to the electronic product development process.
The Harness Design functionality allows engineers of various types (involved in the Product Design process) to work in Altium Designer. It brings comprehensive harness design support into the same environment as PCB and system design, removing the previous heavy reliance on third-party software.
The Harness Design functionality allows you to create a full wiring harness design, from the individual pin-to-pin connections right through to manufacturing documentation. A harness design can be created as a standalone project, or as part of a Multi-board project. In the latter case, the logical connections between PCBs in the Multi-board project are used to define the connectivity within the harness.
Building & Maintaining Your Components and Libraries
An electronics design is a collection of connected components. The rewarding part of product development is coming up with cool ways of solving those engineering challenges, and connecting those components to craft your unique design.
However, a large part of the work, and to many designers, the more tedious part, is creating the components. While it might not be exciting, the components become a valuable resource for your company, and it is essential that they accurately represent the real-world component.
The component that you buy and solder onto the board is the real component, but that component has to be modeled in each of the electronic design domains in which you want to use it.
Learn As You Go
Backing Altium Designer is a comprehensive set of online documentation. Wherever you are in the environment, over a menu command, a dialog, a panel, or a design object, press F1 to display comprehensive information about whatever was under the cursor.
Within this comprehensive information, there are links to related information about how to place it, edit it, or use it. You also will find links to richer content about how it fits into the overall design process.
If you prefer to browse and explore the overall structure, use the navigation tree on the left.
Available shortcuts also are listed in the various panels; look for the shortcut keystrokes displayed next to the controls in the panel.