Altium Designer Documentation

System-level Multi-board Design with Altium Designer

Created: September 18, 2017 | Updated: September 25, 2019
Now reading version 18.1. For the latest, read: Designing with Multiple PCBs for version 23
Applies to Altium Designer versions: 18.0 and 18.1

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? And do all of the connected boards fit into the enclosure? A mistake at this late stage of the product development cycle is costly, both for the cost of redesign and the delay to market.

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.

Capturing the Logical System Design

The overall system design is created in Altium Designer as a Multi-board project. Within that project, the logical system design is drawn up by placing Modules on a Multi-board schematic, where each physical board in the system is represented by a Module. Each Module references the PCB project and the board within that project. 

Once the Modules have been connected to each other on the Multi-board schematic, the board-to-board connectivity can be verified. This will detect net-to-pin assignment errors and pin-to-pin interconnection wiring errors. These errors can be resolved and corrections pushed down into the affected PCB projects, or bought back up to the source system schematic.

Read about Capturing the Logical System Design

Creating the Physical Board Assembly

A printed circuit board does not exist in isolation, they are often assembled together with other boards, and that assembly of boards is housed inside a case or enclosure. Helping to move through this stage of the design process, the software supports creating a multiple-board assembly, referred to as a Multi-board assembly.

The Multi-board Assembly editor allows the separate boards to be rotated, aligned and plugged into each other. It also allows other parts, including other boards, assemblies, or STEP format MCAD models, to be imported and positioned in the assembly.

Read about Creating the Physical Multi-board Assembly

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