Altium Designer Documentation

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

Created: August 3, 2021 | Updated: September 7, 2021

Your connected Workspace, in conjunction with Altium Designer, brings support for projects. Workspace projects target the development stage of the project lifecycle, simplifying the creation and ongoing workflow for version-controlled projects. Centralized storage under the control of the Workspace also enables this feature to be a foundation for other collaborative services.

Some key benefits to using Workspace projects are:

  • Simplified storage. No need to make decisions about storage locations. Backup and other basic services are taken care of.
  • Foundation for collaborative features.
  • Enforced version control.
  • Advantages of a dedicated commenting system.
  • Notifications and status. Document status including local modifications is visible to entire design teams.
  • Concurrent PCB design works without any complex setup.
  • Ability to share the project with multiple people for editing, or for viewing and commenting only.
  • Full functionality when using the Project History feature, including VCS-related commit events.

Management is performed through the Projects page of the Workspace's browser interface. New projects can be created through this interface or through the Create Project dialog in Altium Designer. Alternatively, an existing project (a local project, or a local project currently under external version control) can be quickly made available to the Workspace.

You can also access a detailed, CAD-centric view of the project which offers Design, Supply, Releases/Manufacture, and History view options:

  • Design – display and navigate source project design documents, view design object properties, and place review comments. This view uses the Web Viewer interface (of an Altium 365 Workspace or a Concord Pro Workspace) to present your design across four distinct data sub-views, to show the source schematic(s), board in 2D, board in 3D, and Bill of Materials respectively. This view is for the latest version of the source project data, rather than a specified release from that project, and so could be considered to be a work-in-progress (WIP) view. You can review both the base design and any defined variant thereof.
  • Supply – interactively examine work-in-progress (WIP) BOM data extracted from the design documents, including entries for Manufacturer and Supplier parts data derived from a project's populated ActiveBOM document.
  • Releases (for an Altium 365 Workspace) / Manufacture (for a Concord Pro Workspace) – view the releases for the project. Access is provided for opening the full release data, or a specific assembly package, which will be presented on a separate tab through a Manufacturing Portal. From this portal, you can view and navigate the released file data, inspect the BOM, and view and comment on the snapshot of the design itself; the source for that released data. From either the Releases/Manufacture view or through the Manufacturing Portal for a specific release, you'll have access to controls for downloading manufacturing data at various levels of granularity (from full data set(s) to individual generated output files). For an Altium 365 Workspace, a chosen release can also be sent – as a Manufacturing Package – directly to your manufacturer; you even have the ability to compare Gerber data between releases or against a locally-generated file set.
  • History – browse a progressive timeline of major events relating to the project including its creation, commits, releases, clones, and MCAD exchanges. Each time a supported event happens in association with the project, that event is added to the timeline as a dedicated tile with various actions supported where applicable. For release events in Altium 365 Workspace, you even have the ability to compare Gerber data between releases or against a locally-generated file set, and also the ability to compare Schematic data between releases and/or commit events. For more information, see Management of Projects – Project History.
The beauty of Workspace projects is that they are version-controlled by default, and can be collaboratively worked upon without having to worry about shared drives, servers, agreements, etc. Version control is handled courtesy of the Workspace's built-in Git version control service.

For an Altium 365 Workspace, if your project is under external version control, you can migrate it to be a project under full management of the Workspace that hosts the design files in the Workspace's own Git repository (effectively switching to the Workspace's native VCS). For detailed information on how to do this, see Moving from External VCS to Altium 365 Workspace Native VCS.

You can also simply store project files of an existing project (a local project, or a local project currently under external version control) in the Altium 365 Workspace for basic access and to enable sharing with others for viewing and commenting only. Referred to as Simple Sync, this enables you to take advantage of the collaborative benefits offered through Altium 365.

Read about Workspace Projects (in an Altium 365 Workspace or in a Concord Pro Workspace).

Reusable Design Circuitry

Being able to re-use design content is something that all product development companies want, and can greatly benefit from. Not only does reuse save time, being able to easily re-use a section of a previous design means that all the qualification and testing of that part of the design is done. Design reuse is much more than copy and paste though, true reuse requires the content to be locked down so you're guaranteed that it is the same as before. No quick edits to change the color of a component or a tweak to a resistor value, working with reusable content must be like working with off-the-shelf components; place the content, wire it in, and it works just like it did last time.

Altium Designer, in conjunction with your connected Workspace, caters for the ability to create Managed Schematic Sheets (often termed Managed Sheets) in that Workspace. Such Items can be created directly from within the Workspace. Once a Managed Schematic Sheet Item has been created, it can be reused in future board-level design projects.

A managed sheet is a standard Altium Designer schematic sheet containing components and wiring, that has been stored in your Workspace so it can be reused in other designs. It is edited like any other schematic sheet. The managed sheet concept is not limited to a single schematic sheet, you can place a managed sheet in your design that is at the top of a tree of other managed sheets.

Managed sheets differ from Device Sheets in that they are stored within your Workspace, where device sheets are stored in a folder on a hard drive. As such, they enjoy the benefits attributed to Workspace content, including simplified storage, secured integrity, and built-in version control.

By moving from device sheets to managed sheets you can be sure that the revision of a managed sheet that you use in a design can be easily identified and traced back to its source whenever needed. And because it is Workspace content it can be revised and updated when needed; and the usage relationships can all be traced, both down to the components on that sheet, and up to the designs that use that sheet. This ensures you have all the information needed to decide if that revised sheet must be pushed through to existing designs, or if a particular design must continue to use the previous revision.

The ability to use Workspace components to build larger design building blocks enables the design flow to become ever-more streamlined, and at a higher level of abstraction. The designer, just like picking parts off a shelf, reuses these managed sheets of design functionality as constituent components of the bigger design project. And the more managed sheets of such circuitry that have been created and released into your Workspace, the more functionality the designer has access to, which in turn boosts productivity for subsequent designs.

Components

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 needs 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.

This component model effectively maps the concept of a design component – in the traditional electronics design arena – to the component as seen by the rest of the organization in the bigger 'product arena'. A truly 'Unified Component' model that not only represents the component in the different design domains (Schematic Capture, PCB Layout, Simulation) but also facilitates choices of the desired physical components – real-world manufactured parts – at design-time, offering a significant improvement in terms of procurement cost and time, when manufacturing the assembled product.

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.

  • Single source of component data – with a Workspace accessible for the entire team, engineers can source up-to-date and standardized components from one secure location, get real-time supply chain data, and use parametric and faceted search to find the exact components they need.
  • Design-time choice of physical components – for any given component, you can choose which manufacturer parts can be used to implement that component when assembling the board.
  • Real-time supply-chain information – fed back from the aggregate parts database of the Altium Parts Provider (which itself interfaces to and gathers the parts from enabled Suppliers) 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 Workspace's local Part Catalog). This information can be added to a component at any moment, including after release of this component – without directly editing it and hence without impacting designs where it is already used – and then be used as part of a Bill of Materials.
  • Concurrent editing of the library – as the Workspace library is essentially a set of Component Items hosted by this Workspace, multiple users can be editing or creating new components for the Workspace library independently, without having to wait when other users will finish the work on their side.
  • Component Models Reuse – a component can be thought as a 'bucket' into which all parametric information and domain models is stored, including schematic symbol, PCB footprints, and simulation models. A component doesn't contain the domain models themselves but rather links to the relevant model Items that are also in a Workspace, so a single domain model can be used by multiple components. If a model changes, you'll be suggested to update all components that use this model, and this ensures that no component will use an out-of-date model.
  • Direct Component Editing – if a component needs to be edited, you can open it for editing directly from within your Workspace. A temporary instance of the Component Editor allows you to edit all aspects of that component, including modifying its referenced domain models without a file-based document in sight.

And if you enjoy using Altium 365 Workspace with the Pro level of access, or an on-site Workspace, you’ll also benefit from extended functionality:

  • Use of Component Templates – apply parameter and component taxonomy-based templates, so each new component type automatically has the correct BOM-compliant parameter set in addition to automating the correct naming, revision, and lifecycle schemes.
  • Component Lifecycle Validation – if a component is in an "end of life", "obsolete", or "abandoned" state, you will be warned before trying to manufacture boards that use it.
  • Where-used Component Traceability – components can be traced all the way through usages: if a part goes obsolete, you can explore in which designs it was used to know which ones need to be updated. If a symbol or footprint has an error, you can see all the components that use that symbol and footprint so you can fix them.
  • Requests of new components – an engineer can submit requests for new (or missing) components to the dedicated librarians and get notified when this component becomes available for use in designs by the requestor and other engineers in the company.
When hosting your components in an Altium 365 Workspace, you'll have access to view more detailed information regarding component health, through a dedicated Library Health dashboard. This provides greater detail on issues and enables you to quickly assess and fix components accordingly.

Templates

Altium Designer, in conjunction with your connected Workspace, caters for the ability to create and manage a variety of templates for use in and by, your board design projects. The following template types are supported:

When connected to an Altium 365 Workspace, note that Output Job 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.

Once a template has been released to the Workspace, that template can be reused in future board-level design projects.

You even have the opportunity to create Project Templates. Such templates stored in your Workspace can include the common document and file types that make up a project, as well as additional reference documentation and configuration files.

Management of all templates – both Workspace and local (file-based) – can be performed from a single, convenient location – the Data Management – Templates page of the Preferences dialog in Altium Designer.

Board Design Release

Altium Designer provides powerful, high-integrity board design release management. The board design release process is automated, enabling you to release your board design projects without the risks associated with manual release procedures. When a particular project is released, a snapshot of the design source is taken and archived along with any generated output – which represents a tangible product that is made from that design project and sold by the company. Release data is stored in revisions of the relevant project-related Item in your connected Workspace:

  • PCB Project Design Item – the snapshot of the design, including all source documents. Released into a separate Item in the Workspace, allowing you to keep your valuable IP aside from the generated fabrication and assembly data needed by external parties to build the product.
  • PCB Fabrication Data Item – the data set required by the fabrication house for manufacture of the bare board.
  • PCB Assembly Data Item – the data set required by the assembly house in order to populate the bare board with specified components, in accordance with a Bill of Materials. A unique Item is used for the base (fully populated) design and each defined variant for the design (assembled variants).

The overall result is the highest integrity board design release management possible. Not only is your actual design project tightly monitored, backed-up, and managed under the Workspace's native version control, but also too, the releases of its data in a similar manner within the target Workspace – robust, safe, secure.

  • Integration with version control. If your project is under version control, then the system requires all files to be checked in and up to date before releasing. This ensures that no "private copy" of an essential design document is ever allowed to sit on an engineer's hard drive – with the potential of becoming lost. This simple rule can save hours down the track in costly searching for the right set of design documents that were used to generate a released product.
  • 'One-shot releasing'. The system only allows you to release once to any given revision of a targeted Item. In fact, a successful release results in committing (storing) the release data in the referenced Item Revision, then closes that revision. No further data can be generated and released into that same revision.
  • Automated and repeatable design release process. One-touch releasing – no manual stages or risks. From taking the snapshot of the design files, through validation, and output generation, there is no interaction. If a part of the process fails, the release fails. Simple as that. And you get to review all generated data before the final committal of the release data into the Item Revision in the target Workspace.
  • Ability to validate the design as an integral part of the design release process. The release process works from a 'locked down' snapshot of the design source (including dependencies) and pre-release validation is almost sure to have been performed prior to initiating release. But for additional peace of mind and to ensure the integrity of the design data, you can optionally add validation checks into the release process 'flow', through appropriately-configured Output Job Configurations. Standard ERC checking for the source schematics and DRC checking of the PCB, but also the ability to check that the source project and PCB are in-sync, and comparison of footprints on the board against their source library to ensure they are up-to-date, and matched. The release will fail if any validation checks are not passed successfully.

    If you are using Workspace components in your design and, for Altium 365 Workspace, have the Pro level of access to Altium 365, you can add and configure an additional validation check – Component State Checking. This checks for components that are in restricted states. As part of this configuration, you determine the action to be taken for each currently defined state, of each currently defined lifecycle definition in the target Workspace: no action, a warning, or generate an error. The latter will prevent the release of the design. In addition, running the check will generate a handy HTML-based report, allowing you to see at-a-glance which design components are not in valid states.
    When connected to an Altium 365 Workspace, note that configuration and use of lifecycle definitions are not supported with the Standard Subscription Plan. As such, this functionality will not be available with this level of access to Altium 365.
  • All generated data files from the design release process can be optionally prefixed with the Item ID and the Item Revision ID, ensuring there can be no ambiguity as to which revision of which Item the data is to be used to build.
  • Publishing. Offering the ability to publish release data directly from the connected Workspace to a shared storage medium, such as Amazon S3, FTP servers, Box.com, or a simple network-based folder. This facilitates easy sharing of Workspace data in a secured way, without providing outside parties access to your Workspace.

The Project Releaser

The release process itself is performed using Altium Designer's Project Releaser, the user interface to which is provided courtesy of a dedicated view – the Release view.

The Project Releaser caters for all types of PCB project – local/non-version-controlled, under external VCS control, or under the native version control of a connected Workspace – by offering two modes of operation:

  • Online Mode – releasing all generated data to revisions of Items in a target connected Workspace. You don't even have to remember to increment Item Revisions, it is all handled for you.
  • Offline Mode – releasing all generated data into a folder-based structure, which can be optionally wrapped up in a single Zip file.

With the Release view in Online Mode, the release process is a staged flow, with the entries on the left-hand side of the view showing you at-a-glance, which stage you are currently at:

  1. Configure Server Release – this stage of the release process is where you specify the type(s) of data that you wish to generate: Source Data (always generated), Fabrication Data, Assembly Data (for base design and each detected variant).
  2. Validate Project – this next stage of the release process is run automatically when one or more Validation-type reports are detected in assigned OutJob file(s). All defined validation output generators, defined in an Output Job file assigned to the data item being released, are run.
  3. Generate Data – this next stage of the release process is run automatically. This is where all other outputs – defined in the OutJob file(s) assigned to the included Data Items – are run, to generate the data to be released into the relevant target items in the Workspace.
  4. Review Data – with all validation checks passed, and output data generated, this stage of the release process allows you to review the generated data.

    If you choose to use the Prepare & Release command (from the menu associated with the button), the Project Releaser will not pause at the Review Data stage.
  5. Upload Data – after confirming the release in the previous stage, this next stage is automatically entered. It simply presents the progress of data upload into the revisions of the relevant data Items in the target Workspace.
  6. Execution Report – this is the final stage of the process, providing a summary of the release. Navigation links are provided to quickly browse to the generated Item Revisions in the Explorer panel.
If your project currently has no Output Job file(s) associated with it, the Project Releaser will detect this, and you will be asked if you wish to create default ones. In addition, the Project Releaser will detect defined variants for your design and create Assembly Data sets for each, ready for release.
The system naturally prevents any modification of design files between preparing the release and releasing the data to your Workspace. If you do change design files in any way, the release process will terminate, and you will return to the initial stage, prior to release preparation.

With the Project Releaser, you'll be able to generate your manufacturing data with simplified ease, and with the highest integrity. And you'll also be able to survey the fruits of that generation before you commit to finalizing the release (viewing Gerbers/ODB++ data in the CAM Editor for example), ensuring that the data you have generated is exactly the data required to get your board manufactured on time, first time.

A common ready-for-release test used by many designers is to compare the Gerber files generated from the current release with the Gerber files from the previous release. This can be achieved in the Project Releaser once the project has been prepared for release. The comparison is performed through the Altium 365 platform when you are connected to your Altium 365 Workspace. Your default web browser will open the browser interface and display the results. This functionality requires Altium Designer 21.1 or later. For more details, see Gerber Comparison.

Publication of Released Data

For released data generated from a board design project (PCB Fabrication Data, PCB Assembly Data, and PCB Project Design Items only), you have the ability to directly publish that data from your connected Workspace, or Output Job, to a storage space, such as Box.com, Amazon S3, an FTP server, or a simple folder location on a shared network. In terms of distribution and collaboration, this provides an unparalleled advantage in a world where the collective members of the overall 'product team' - the design team, the manufacturing team, and all others involved in the process of getting a product from thought to reality – are often dispersed around the globe.

Publishing is a matter of defining a Publishing Destination and then uploading the released data for the required Item Revision to that destination. From the manufacturing plant in China, to the design teams in Kiev, Stanstead Abbotts, and San Diego, and to the Project Director in-flight somewhere across the Pacific, everyone that needs to know about the new release can be invited with a link to the published folder – shared (and controlled) access to view, discuss, and utilize the data with which to build the Item.

Why not take advantage of superior sharing of release data – through defined Manufacturing Packages – facilitated by the Altium 365 platform's Manufacturing Package Viewer (see the next section).

Global Sharing of Manufacturing Package Data

A key aspect of design projects stored in an Altium 365 Workspace is the ability to create and share a release Build Package with others. When shared directly with your manufacturer it can then be thought of as a Manufacturing Package, since it is the package that the manufacturer can browse, download and use to fabricate and assemble the board.

Supporting the ability to share such a package with others and with your manufacturer (who is typically outside of your organization), the Altium 365 Platform provides a dedicated Manufacturing Package Viewer – an element of the platform's Global Sharing support – which allows others to view a manufacturing package from any web browser – anywhere in the world – but outside of your Workspace, so that your designs themselves, and other valuable IP, are kept off limits.

Each shared user will receive an email invite with a link to view a manufacturing package through the Manufacturing Package Viewer. Shared manufacturing packages are presented on the Shared with Me page of the Altium 365 Platform Interface.

The Manufacturing Package Viewer itself allows key stakeholders – and primarily the manufacturing personnel – to see a summary overview of the design, with key board data. Fabrication, Assembly, and BOM data sub-pages of the viewer are also provided, with the Fabrication and Assembly pages utilizing Altium 365’s Web Viewer interface.

Ultimately, the manufacturing personnel can download a Build Package of the release they have viewed – and from any page of the Viewer – with which to get that revision of the board physically realized.

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