Altium Designer Documentation

A Quick Guide to Component Management with a Workspace Connected to Altium Designer

Created: August 2, 2021 | Updated: September 16, 2021

Altium Designer, with its unified design approach, has traditionally used a component model that extends across all aspects of the electronics design process. However, to seamlessly fit the process of electronics design into the encapsulating product development process as a whole, this model needed to evolve – extending to cover other aspects including other design processes (in particular MCAD and Industrial Design), as well as business processes (such as procurement and manufacturing) that intersect with the product development process.

This evolved object model is known as the Unified Component Model.

Under this modeling paradigm, the design component, as seen by the designer, is separated from the Manufacturer and/or Vendor parts. This information is not defined as part of the component. Instead, Part Choices are used to map the design component to one or more Manufacturer Parts, listed in a Part Catalog, which in turn can be mapped to one or more Vendor parts, allowing the designer to state up-front, what real parts can be used for any given design component used in a design.

These components, along with their part choices, are stored in your connected Workspace – one centralized secure location for all your design data, accessible for your entire design team.

The Components panel in Altium Designer provides a powerful interface with which to interact with all your components – both Workspace and non-Workspace. And for your Workspace components, the panel provides a filter-based parametric (faceted) search capability, for specifying target component parameters. In addition, the panel also offers options to edit a Workspace component through the Component Editor (in its Single Component Editing mode), view the component in its source Workspace via the Explorer panel, and perform component management functions such as component creation and cloning, or editing the selected component's Part Choices and Type.
By using the Manufacturer Part Search panel in Altium Designer you can search for real-world manufactured parts, then acquire those parts into your connected Workspace. Acquisition involves creating a new component – using the Component Editor in its Single Component Editing mode – and releasing it to the Workspace.

The Component Editor

A component is defined/edited using the Component Editor. This editor provides two different modes of operation:

  • Single Component Editing mode – provides a streamlined interface when defining/editing a single component. This is the default mode when creating a new Component Item, or editing a single revision of an existing Component Item.
  • Batch Component Editing mode – provides the interface for defining/editing multiple components. You can access this mode by choosing the Tools » Switch to Batch Editor command, from the Component Editor's main menus. This mode is also accessed if you have selected multiple Component Item revisions for editing, from the Components or Explorer panel. Each component definition will have a common set of parameters and links to required domain models. Batch editing comes into its own where it makes sense to manage components as a set, such as a set of chip resistors for example.
A new component can be created, using the Component Editor in its Single Component Editing mode, by using the File » New » Component command, accessible from any editor.

Domain Models

From a designer's perspective, a component gathers together all information needed to represent that component across all design domains, within a single entity. It could therefore be thought of as a container in this respect. A 'bucket' into which all domain models and parametric information is stored.

In terms of its representation in the various domains, a component doesn't contain the domain models themselves but rather links to the relevant model Items that are also in the Workspace. These links – to Symbol, Footprint, and Simulation Model Items – are specified as part of the component.

Use the following links to take a look at the various domain models that can be stored and managed in your connected Workspace:

If you are creating single components using the Single Component Editor – then not only can you create the domain models at the same time, as part of component creation, you can also search for an existing real-world part and create a new component off that, in your Workspace, directly. For more information, see Components in a Workspace.
3D models can also be managed in your connected Workspace. A 3D Model Item is referenced through a 3D Body object placed as part of the definition of the 2D footprint. As such, it is not a model link specified as part of the component.
Read about Components.

Component Templates

When connected to an Altium 365 Workspace, note that Component Templates are not supported with the Standard Subscription Plan. As such, this functionality will not be available with this level of access to Altium 365.

Helping to streamline the creation of your components, Altium Designer, in conjunction with your connected Workspace, supports creating and defining Component Templates. Just as a schematic template can be used to predefine information on schematic sheets that reference it, a component template is referenced by a component and provides predefined settings for use when defining that component.

In particular, component templates have been developed with parametric information firmly in mind, allowing you to define, in a single location, a 'bucket set' of parameters that will be made available to the referencing component. Through the template, you can control which of those parameters are to be made visible, fill in default values, and even mark those parameters that are required as mandatory. In addition, you can also force the use of parameters, marking them as required. Validation checks are in-place at the time of component release, to ensure compliance.

Specified default values for many of the template settings can be locked down to be read-only or selectively made available for override by the designer when defining a component.

The Component Template Editor provides the ability to define explicit data types for component parameters defined within a component template (*.CMPT). In addition, these data types are unit-aware, with a range of popular unit prefixes supported. As such, you can enter a parameter's value using a range of formats – such as 2.2k, 2k2, 4M, 2.5GHz – with the Workspace engineered with the requisite smarts to recognize the numerical value behind those entries.

This feature of a component template facilitates targeted searching through the Workspace's Advanced Search facility – a facility that not only allows you to search by component type but allows you to search smarter, with range searches. Using the power of unit-aware component parameters, you can quickly define a search, for example, to find all capacitors with a capacitance between 47uF and 220uF.

The Component Template Editor also provides support for defining multiple PCB footprints as part of a component template. Any number of footprint model links may be specified, and this will be a welcome feature for those wishing to create components that reference 3 footprints, satisfying the IPC requirements for different density levels: L (least or minimum copper), M (most, or maximum copper), and N (nominal, or median copper).

Adding Datasheets

Altium Designer, in conjunction with your connected Workspace, caters for the ability to store component datasheets within that Workspace and, in doing so, link them to target components. This allows you to more fully describe and support a component, in a centralized fashion, while reducing the reliance on external storage mediums (shared network drives for example). Storing datasheets next to the very components that need to reference them also means you no longer need to have a live internet connection, to consult a reference document that can often, and frustratingly, disappear without warning at the whim of the hosting website!

One or more datasheets can be attached (uploaded) to a component – essentially creating a link between the component and the datasheet(s) – when creating/editing that component through the Component Editor.

For an existing component in your Workspace, one or more datasheets can be attached (uploaded) through the Explorer panel. While browsing the required component, switch to its Data Sheet aspect view.

By far the easiest method to attach a datasheet to a component is to select it within your Windows File Explorer, then drag and drop it onto the Parameters region (Component Editor), or the indicated area of the Data Sheet aspect view (Explorer panel). You can attach any number of datasheets to a component. Once dropped, the file(s) will be uploaded.

Part Choices

In the Supply Chain Area, a procurement specialist often does not 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 the designer. As part of the Unified Component modeling paradigm, Altium Designer caters to exactly that through the concept of making Part Choices.

Part Choices essentially create the mapping from a component in your connected Workspace to nominated Manufacturer Parts in that Workspace's local Part Catalog. In other words, Part Choices specify the 'allowed' manufacturer parts that can be used to implement that component on the assembled board. The actual supply chain intelligence – comprising Manufacturer (and part number), Supplier (and part number), Description, Pricing, and Availability – is sourced from the Workspace's local Part Catalog and the relevant Part Source.

Part Choices can be made while defining the component in the Component Editor – either prior to its release to your Workspace or at any time after release when editing that component. For more information, refer to the relevant documentation when using the Component Editor in either its Single Component Editing mode or its Batch Component Editing mode.

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 component into a truly Unified Component. The unified nature of a 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.

Each defined Part Choice uses the manufacturer part, and not a specific vendor/supplier, meaning you get a single Part Choice that will bring with it all solutions based on the suppliers vending that part (and who are defined for use through your connected Workspace).

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 enabled Vendors that sell those chosen parts (as defined in the local Part Catalog). And the procurement specialist can also keep abreast of supply-chain information, as it is made available in the Workspace for each component therein.

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 list of Part Choices for that component and essentially 'off the radar'. And at any time additional new, truly equivalent parts can be added to the list, should something more appropriate, available, and cost-effective come along.


Part Source Configuration

Each Workspace has its own dedicated Part Catalog. This is a part catalog database, dedicated to the management and tracking of manufacturer parts and their associated supplier parts. The catalog works only with the Workspace.

The 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 – is managed by the Workspace, through the Part Providers page of its browser 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 many organizations, component supplier data is (and must be) sourced from an internal company enterprise system that provides a proprietary set of parts supplier data – which might be based on a tightly approved range of vendors and/or special pricing structures. This situation is catered for by the alternative Altium Custom Parts Provider, which when configured for synchronization through Altium Designer allows the supplier data from a specified database source to be mapped to the Workspace supply chain data. For more details, see Supply Chain Database to Workspace Data Synchronization.
Read about Part Source Configuration (in an Altium 365 Workspace, or a Concord Pro Workspace).

Migrating Existing Libraries

Altium Designer provides a streamlined, simple process to quickly migrate your existing libraries to your connected Workspace. The GUI to this process – the Library Migrator – presents an intuitive flow that takes initially selected libraries, and migrates them to the Workspace (to which you are actively connected). Catering for all types of libraries relating to older component management methodologies – SchLib, PcbLib, IntLib, DbLib, SVNDbLib – the Library Migrator is the perfect solution to quickly building your company's Workspace library, and the many benefits that such components enjoy – high-integrity, centralized storage and management, ease of design reuse, real-time supply-chain information.

The Library Migrator offers a minimalist Simple interface mode where the selected database and file-based component libraries are migrated to Workspace components through a single step, while the migrator automatically takes care of type classification, the target source folder, parameter inclusion and value type, and the transfer of all relevant data. The interface is also available in an Advanced mode that provides a full preview of the proposed library migration, and access to its related data and settings. And while the migration is a single-click process by default, the migrator also offers advanced configuration options through the Properties panel for enhanced control over exactly how that migration is performed.

All information that is present in an original source library is migrated to the Workspace components, including all referenced domain models (schematic symbols, PCB footprints, Simulation Models), parametric information, assigned part choices, datasheet files, etc. Component Templates are also created where necessary, and may then be refined and used for subsequent library migrations. If your original components have multiple PCB footprints defined, the Library Migrator will bring those models across and keep the current default footprint. And if you only work with PCB libraries – your only concern is PCB layout – then the Library Migrator supports migration of just those libraries, or it can be switched to a models-only migration mode where specified models types are migrated from integrated or database libraries. Libraries that include multiple component types (monolithic libraries) are automatically detected and processed as well.

While migration may seem daunting, the defaults have been defined to enable you to get your collection of Workspace components without having to change a thing – start the process and design with the fruits of the Migrator's labor. The system conducts and handles a number of validations, for example, to ensure no duplicate IDs for the resulting components, or to ensure no duplicate models or component templates are created, and that such entities are reused across (linked to) components where needed. And if issues do arise, the system flags them, with suggestions on how to resolve those issues, aiming to get the migration back on track as quickly, and as smoothly as possible.
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