Altium Designer Documentation

Adding Supply Chain Information to a Vault Component

Modified by Jason Howie on May 26, 2017

Parent page: Working with Vault Components

As a board designer, you capture the idea for that next great product using a collection of logically wired components across a number of schematic sheets. The components you use will have defined symbols (and other domain models) and some key parametric data, but at the end of the day they are just 'symbols of design intent' - having meaning in the context of the project design, but holding no physical meaning outside of that design. Each of these design entities needs to be 'embodied in the real world' either by purchasing an off-the-shelf (OTS) pre-manufactured item, or by having it made to spec (MTS).

In the Supply Chain Area, a procurement specialist often does not know (or even need, or wish to know!) what a particular component in the design represents. What is required, is an indication of what needs to be procured - which physically-manufactured components can be used to implement that design component. The best person to indicate which real-world components can be validly used to implement the design-level components would be none other than...the designer.

Wouldn't it be great if, as part of releasing and managing company-ratified design components to your Altium Vault, information pertaining to the 'allowed' manufactured parts - to implement those components on the manufactured and assembled boards - could also be specified? Well, as part of the Unified Component modeling paradigm, Altium caters for exactly that through the provision of a Part Catalog and the concept of making Part Choices.

The Part Catalog

There are two types of part catalog - Global and Local. The type of catalog employed depends on your design environment. The following sections summarize these two catalog types.

Global Part Catalog

This is Altium's managed, cloud-based part catalog database. The Global Part Catalog stores items representative of actual Manufacturer Parts, along with one or more items representative of Supplier Parts - the incarnations of those Manufacturer Parts, as sold by the Suppliers/Vendors. Each Supplier Part is a reference to an item in a parts database - the aggregate parts database of the Altium Parts Provider (which itself interfaces to, and gathers the parts from, enabled Suppliers).

The aggregate parts provider functionality is provided through installation of the Altium Parts Provider extension, which is installed by default.

This catalog is used when:

  • A Vault is not being used. That is, using older component management methodologies that utilize SchLib, DbLib, or SVNDbLib as their 'backbone' for component storage.
  • A legacy Altium Personal Vault is being used (and an Altium Vault (or a legacy Altium Vault Server) is not currently connected also).
  • A legacy Altium Satellite Vault is being used.
Which Suppliers will be available when searching for parts data, is defined on the Data Management - Suppliers page of the Preferences dialog. For more information on linking to supplier data for non-Vault component management methodologies, see Linking to Supplier Data.

Local Part Catalog

This is a managed local part catalog database, dedicated to the management and tracking of manufacturer parts and their associated supplier parts. The catalog is installed as a service (Part Catalog Service), provided through the Altium Vault platform, and works only with the Altium Vault.

The local Part Catalog stores items representative of actual Manufacturer Parts, along with one or more items representative of Supplier Parts - the incarnations of those Manufacturer Parts, as sold by the Suppliers/Vendors. Each Supplier Part is a reference to an item in a parts database - either the aggregate parts database of the Altium Parts Provider (which itself interfaces to, and gathers the parts from, enabled Suppliers), or a linked local parts database.

Which Suppliers are actually used - a list of Approved Suppliers as it were - is managed by the Altium Vault. Supplier link data sources are added and configured in the Altium Vault through the PART PROVIDERS page (ADMIN » PART PROVIDERS) of the Vault's browser-based interface. This facilitates centralized supply chain management, with designers across the entire organization using the same approved list of Suppliers, with which to source supply chain intelligence for parts used in their designs. For more information, see Supply Chain Management.
The Altium Vault dictates centrally which Suppliers are to be used in an organization. While connected to it, the list of Suppliers on the Data Management - Suppliers page of the Preferences dialog will be disabled. It will simply be a read-only reflection of this centrally-defined list. This also means that if you are using a legacy Altium Personal Vault, the centralized list of Suppliers will be used until such time the Altium Vault is disconnected, at which point the Personal Vault will follow the list of Suppliers defined at the Preferences level.

Part Choices

Mapping itself - from a Component Item in an Altium Vault, to nominated Manufacturer Parts in the Vault's Local Part Catalog - is performed using a dedicated Part Choices List, which itself is stored in the Vault. Each Component Item references its own Part Choices List. The revisions of that Component Item will utilize that same Part Choices List.

The designer can feel truly empowered by being able to specify Manufacturer Parts that are truly interchangeable at manufacturing time in the context of any usage of that component in their design - the very essence of true part equivalency. And it is this intelligent mapping of a component, that turns the humble Vault component into a truly Unified Component. The unified nature of a Vault component, through the chosen part choices made for it, ultimately creates a link from that component, all the way through chosen Manufacturer Part(s), and on to the Vendor (Supplier) Parts that each itself references. From the designer's perspective, the component is hooked directly into the supply chain.

Real-time data is made available - fed back from the relevant parts database - to let the designer know the current costing and availability of the chosen parts, and from all Vendors that sell those chosen parts (as defined in the Local Part Catalog). And not just the designer gets to see this information. The procurement specialist can also keep abreast of supply-chain information, as it is made available in the Vault for each Component Item therein.

Part Choices map that design component to the real-world manufactured parts that have to be sourced by the procurement team. This gives the procurement team a beneficial and timely 'heads-up' on
what those parts should be.

A part is no longer available or has suddenly become cost-ineffective? No matter, provision is made for real-time updates to be sent back to the Design Area as soon as a change occurs. With this vital 'heads-up', the designer can take that choice of part out of the associated Part Choices List for that component and essentially 'off the radar'. And at any time new, truly equivalent parts can be added to the list, should something more appropriate, available, and cost-effective come along.

Accessing Supply Chain Information

When browsing a Component Item in a Vault using the Vaults panel, supply chain data for that Item is presented in its Supply Chain aspect view. Access to this view can be made in one of two ways:

  • Clicking the part choices link on the Summary aspect view for the Item.
  • Clicking the view-related control located at the top-right of the current view and choosing Supply Chain from the drop-down. This drop-down lists all of the different aspect views for the currently selected Item.

Accessing the Supply Chain aspect view for a Component Item.

This view presents the following regions of information:

  • Solutions - this region lists one or more Manufacturer-Supplier Part pairings. When a Manufacturer Part is chosen and added to the associated Part Choices List, the software looks up that part in the Local Part Catalog, and the Vendor links associated to it. These are then presented in this region. So if you have added a Manufacturer Part that has two associated Vendor links in the catalog, there will be two Manufacturer-Supplier Part pairings listed. Each part pairing consists of the Manufacturer name and Manufacturer-specific part number, along with the Supplier name and Supplier-specific part number. The current stock availability of each vended part is also presented.
Affording some level of control over approved Suppliers that can be used when procuring parts for manufacturing, the Solutions returned based on defined Part Choices take into account which Suppliers are enabled for use - the list of Approved Suppliers. This is controlled centrally through the PART PROVIDERS page (ADMIN » PART PROVIDERS) of the Vault's browser-based interface.
  • Pricing - this region presents pricing information for the currently selected solution, in terms of cost per part. This information comes direct from the applicable parts database. Where available, the pricing for different quantity bands is also presented. Currency is that of the Supplier.

Making Part Choices

Interaction with the Part Choices List associated to a Component Item is performed within the Part Choices dialog. This dialog is accessed using the applicable command on the drop-down menu associated with the  button, at the top-right of the Solutions region of the view. If the Component Item has never had any part choices made for it, the command to Create Part Choice List reflects this. If the Component Item already has an associated Part Choices List, then the command will simply be Edit Part Choice List.

The Part Choices dialog - your direct interface to the Part Choices List for a Vault component.

The dialog is essentially divided into two, as detailed in the following sections.

On the left-hand side - Part Search - you simply browse the supported (and enabled) Parts Providers for the part(s) you require. Layout and behavior is similar to the Supplier Search panel. Type keywords by which to search in the field at the top, apply any filtering using the options accessible by clicking the  button, then click the Search button (or press Enter) to proceed with the search.

Click the  button to access the Data Management - Suppliers page of the Preferences dialog. From here, you can modify keyword-related options used when searching for parts. Note however, that the list of suppliers is Read-only - this is controlled centrally through the PART PROVIDERS page (ADMIN » PART PROVIDERS) of the Vault's browser-based interface.

Search results based on keywords entered will be displayed below. The results are grouped by <Manufacturer> <Manufacturer Part Number>, with all enabled Suppliers vending that part listed thereunder.

Results are grouped by Manufacturer (and Part Number). The sub-listing represents all Suppliers that vend that
particular Manufacturer Part, and which are enabled as Suppliers as part of your Vault's configured Part Providers.

Results are presented in terms of Supplier, Description, and Unit Price by default, but other columns of information can be displayed (right-click on a column header to access available columns). The information can be sorted by any column as required. Click once for ascending, again for descending. Shift+click on another header to sub-sort by that column. Ctrl+click to clear sorting. Flick through multiple pages of results using the arrow buttons at the bottom-left of the region.
Different suppliers may use different units of currency. To quickly display all pricing information within the results list in a single currency, simply choose the required currency from the drop-down field available at the bottom-right of the list. In addition, use the Order Quantity field to see the affect on pricing based on number of parts potentially ordered.

Selecting an entry in the list of results will display detailed information for that part in the region below, including parametric data, any documentation (e.g. datasheets), pricing and stock information. Documentation can be opened and perused for more detailed information regarding a part, as well as links to Manufacturer and Supplier websites.

Browse the engineering parameters of a selected Manufacturer Part to ensure it can meet your design requirements, or access websites and datasheets for more detailed information.

Manufacturer Part Choices

Once you find a part that meets your engineering criteria for the design component, simply click the  button to the immediate right of the search results. The selected part will be added to the Manufacturer Part Choices region of the dialog - this is the Part Choices List that will be stored with the Component Item when you click OK.

You must select one of the Supplier entries for a Manufacturer Part - in the Part Search results - to be able to take that Manufacturer Part across. It doesn't matter which is selected, it is the parent Manufacturer Part that gets added to the list. All enabled Suppliers vending that part will then be added as solutions back in the Supply Chain view for the Component Item, in the Vaults panel.

Select a Supplier to be able to add its parent Manufacturer Part to the Part Choices List.

The list simply presents added parts in terms of Manufacturer and Manufacturer Part Number. You can add as many parts as you like to the list, but remember that they must be equivalent in regards that any part in the list can represent the design component on the manufactured and assembled board and perform the same function as per designed requirements.

To remove a part from the list, simply select its entry and click the Remove button at the bottom of the list.

When you click OK, the part choices made will be saved. All enabled Suppliers vending a specific Manufacturer Part will be added as solutions back in the Supply Chain view for the Component Item, in the Vaults panel.

Defined Part Choices are presented as solutions, back on the Supply Chain view for the Component Item, in the Vaults panel.

Accessing Supply Chain Information as You Design

As a designer, the ability to specify, at design time, which Manufacturer Parts can be used to implement your design components, gives you greater control and effectively streamlines the procurement process. You don't wait anxiously after design data is sent to manufacturing, wondering if the components procured for assembly will perfectly reflect your design intent. You are in the driving seat, with procurement able to see your choices at an early stage.

But sometimes even the best laid plans can go astray. What happens if you had a single part choice and that part is now no longer available? Or maybe a price change to a component could cause blow-out costs during manufacturing and assembly. In this case, the ability to make design-time part choices loses its edge, if you are unaware of such changes to the cost and availability of the very parts you have 'authorized' to be used.

To retain the advantage that design-time part choices provides, Altium Designer delivers real-time display of cost and availability for chosen parts directly within the Schematic Editor as you design. This is facilitated by extending the software's Design Insight feature to include Supply Chain Insight.

Supply Chain Insight is enabled and configured from the System - Design Insight page of the Preferences dialog.

Enable Supply Chain Insight as part of system preferences.

As you hover the mouse over a component on a schematic sheet, supply chain information will be displayed in the Supply Chain Insight pop-up, provided that:

  • The component has been placed from an Altium Vault - it is an instance of a named-revision of a Component Item in that Vault, and
  • The component has part choices made for it - at least one Manufacturer Part has been chosen in the component's associated Part Choices List.

Example supply chain information accessed by hovering over a Vault component on a schematic sheet.

Suddenly seen that a chosen part is not available, or that its price no longer justifies its use? No problem. You can access the Part Choices dialog and make changes to the list of Manufacturer Parts as required. Choose a cheaper component, or one that is available - the choice is yours, and the choice can be made while you are still designing and not after the design has left your hands!

Not happy with current part choices? - make changes as required on-the-fly as you design!

Including Supply Chain Information in a BOM

Once supply chain data has been defined for your Vault components, you can then include that information in your Bill of Materials. This can be done for a Static BOM, generated for the project, by enabling the Include Parameters From Vault option, at the bottom of the Bill of Materials dialog.

Including supply chain data for Vault components in a Static Bill of Materials, generated for the project.

Alternatively, you are perfectly positioned to use ActiveBOM - Altium Designer's solution for facilitating real-time cost estimation and tracking for a board design. ActiveBOM offers a live presentation of the design from the outset, providing early and ongoing cost estimation. It allows you to define target pricing at the individual item level. You can then track how actual costing fares against these estimates, and so give a timely flag if any cost blow-outs are on the near horizon! In addition, you can quickly assess item availability, complete with notification if there is a risk in the supply of a chosen part.

Supply chain solutions, sourced using an Item's associated Part Choices List, are an integral part of Altium Designer's ActiveBOM feature.


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