Altium NEXUS Documentation

Designing Collaboratively in Altium NEXUS

Created: May 27, 2022 | Updated: September 2, 2022
This documentation page references Altium NEXUS/NEXUS Client (part of the deployed NEXUS solution), which has been discontinued. All your PCB design, data management and collaboration needs can now be delivered by Altium Designer (with Altium Designer Enterprise Subscription) and a connected Altium 365 Workspace. Check out the FAQs page for more information.

The Art of Collaboration

More often than not, there are multiple people involved with the design and development of an electronic product. To do this effectively, the members of that design team need to be able to work collaboratively.

Sometimes the collaboration will be informal, for example sharing ideas and suggestions about how the design is to be implemented. Other times it will be formal, it might be about the circuit timing requirements, or needing to flag that there are design updates ready to be passed from one design domain to another, or alerting specific team members that there is a design review required.

The collaboration process can also cross company boundaries. For example, a company might outsource the creation of new components to a specialist librarian, or they might call on an engineer from their fabricator to participate in the sign-off design review for the PCB fabrication files. Situations like this might require the external designer to be able to review design or output data, even if they do not own a license of Altium's design software.

There is a broad range of interactions that fit under the banner of design collaboration, this page introduces the features in the software that support them.

A key feature of the collaborative workflow capabilities is that the notification processes are managed transparently. For example, when a user adds a comment to a document, all team members with the document open will see the comment immediately. Or for example, when a specific designer completes their stage of a workflow process (their Task), the team members assigned to the next stage are automatically notified.

Managing Content

A fundamental element of effective collaboration in design development is establishing full control over the design content itself – where that content is stored, how it is accessed, and who has access. Rather than forcing the application of traditional IT management methodologies on designers, such as external systems to specify file permissions, implement Version Control and manage data flow, Altium NEXUS brings design collaboration into the designers' environment through its integration with a Workspace provided by an Altium NEXUS Server installation or the Altium 365 platform.

As the complete Altium NEXUS solution, the NEXUS design client and a NEXUS Workspace form a powerful design collaboration system. The NEXUS Workspace also delivers a design content management system that can:

  • Manage the source files
  • Perform version and revision control
  • Manage the lifecycle of designs
  • Capture the product releases
  • Support all document types and design elements; such as components, templates, and full designs
  • Control which Users have access to, and can manage, design data (sharing and permissions)
To learn more about working with managed content, refer to the page Designing with a Connected Workspace.

Collaboration and Workflow Management

Collaboration is all about human interaction and is not something that can be simply characterized and packaged into a single software feature or interface. Acknowledging that collaboration happens on many levels and in a variety of ways, there are a number of Altium NEXUS features to help designers work collaboratively, including:

  • Advanced Project sharing
  • Design Comments
  • Process Workflows
  • Collaboration Conflict Prevention
  • Automated email notifications
  • The Collaboration panel
  • The Tasklist panel

To manage the design collaboration process, rather than the just data created during that process, these features allow you to track and manage the various steps as the design travels through on its collaborative journey from idea through to finished product. The strong advantage of using an integrated design content system such as the Altium NEXUS Workspace is that it provides the ideal environment for the addition of collaboration and workflow management features.

This is where the Altium NEXUS + the NEXUS Workspace combination – the Altium NEXUS Solution – is ideally suited, delivering:

  • Content management
  • Collaboration capabilities
  • Workflow management features that provide both visibility into, and control of, the design process.

Coupling the Altium NEXUS client to the NEXUS Workspace delivers powerful content management and workflow solutions.Coupling the Altium NEXUS client to the NEXUS Workspace delivers powerful content management and workflow solutions.

Design Project and Data Sharing

Since the essence of collaboration is multiple people working together to achieve a common outcome, an essential collaboration factor is the ability to provide and manage access to that common element – in this case a design project and its associated data. The Altium NEXUS Workspace delivers this capability with controlled permission-based sharing of a project design – in its current work-in-progress (WIP) state – or as a fixed snapshot of the design at that time.

From within the Altium NEXUS design client:

► See the Share dialog and Sharing from the NEXUS design client for more information.

From within the Workspace:

  • Projects can be shared with any registered Workspace User or Role group, with either Edit rights or read-only View rights.

► See Sharing from the NEXUS Server Workspace Interface for more information.

► See Sharing Projects in an Altium 365 Workspace for information when connected to the Altium 365 platform.

Design Comments

Promoting collaboration between designers working on the same project, document Comments attach to a schematic sheet or PCB design without actually modifying the design document. Comments are placed from the NEXUS client's Comments panel or the Comments pane in the Workspace, and are stored in the Workspace server as document metadata. Because they are managed by the Workspace, they appear immediately on that document for any other team member that currently has that document open.

In the NEXUS design client, placed Comments can be accessed from both the main editor view and the Comments panel. Use the panel's Place a Comment button to add a new comment to an area, object, or point in the document. Comments are managed (added, replied to, assigned, edited, or deleted) in the contextual commenting window associated with each comment thread entry in the panel. If a comment is Resolved it is removed from the panel and design document.

The Workspace presents a similar interface and methodology where document Comments are 'pinned' in the document view and edited in a pop-up window. The Workspace Comments pane presents the available comment thread entries and the Place a Comment button. Comments are available when a project (or a Snapshot of a design project) is open in the Workspace Web Viewer.

► Refer to Comments in the NEXUS Web Viewer for more information.

► Refer to Comments in the Altium 365 Platform Web Viewer for information when connected to the Altium 365 platform.

Collaborator Conflict Prevention

A fundamental challenge when sharing data between users in a collaborative work environment is detecting and dealing with file conflicts, such as when multiple users are editing the same design document. In a version controlled (VCS) storage environment, such as the NEXUS Server Workspace, users are editing their own local copy of the Workspace-based file which is ultimately pushed back to the Workspace (a VCS Push command) – for example, when the Save to Server command is invoked. If users are simultaneously working on such shared files, a VCS conflict will be created if more than one user pushes their save/committed file back to the Workspace.

To enhance the design collaboration process by avoiding these conflict situations, the Workspace enables the free flow of document sharing event data between NEXUS design clients, which is realized through a series of NEXUS client status icons, a Collaborators Bar and additional file (soft) locking logic.

The system provides a simple and visual-orientated way for designers to be aware of and react to the status of a (managed) project document being simultaneously viewed or edited by another user. The designer that first modifies a document causes it to be 'soft-locked' for other uses, which will be prevented from saving any changes to the document unless they persist by overriding that lock. For both users, alert icons and pop-up dialogs provide information or warnings that relate to the current sharing status.

► See the Collaborators Visualization and Conflict Prevention page for more detailed information on this feature.

Browser-based Web Viewer

The NEXUS Server Workspace Web Viewer feature provides direct access to a structured, read-only view of the project source documents in a standard web browser. The server-based feature is able to provide universal access to all collaborators involved in the design process, without the need to open the project in the NEXUS design client.

Using Web Review, anyone with a Workspace user account and suitable privileges can navigate through the project structure, interact with design documents, extract information about elements in the design, highlight areas or objects for commenting notes, and download project or output files. It can be opened from:

  • The Explorer panel Project view in the NEXUS design client, via the Open in Web button.
  • An active Design Review workflow task – via the Open Project button included in the task Form, as shown in the above Tasklist panel section.
  • A web browser using a supplied URL.
  • Within the Workspace browser interface by opening a project.

► Refer to the NEXUS browser-based Web Viewer page for more information.

► Refer to the Altium 365 Web Viewer for information when connected to the Altium 365 platform.

Interactive Process Workflows

Main article: Creating and Managing Processes

A key collaboration feature of the Altium NEXUS Solution is the support for formalized workflows based on configurable Process Definitions. The NEXUS Server Workspace includes a range of preconfigured Process Definitions that provide defined sequences of event steps (Process Workflows) for tasks such as design reviews and project creation.

Process Definitions are managed, edited and created in the Workspace, and their workflows can be invoked from both the Workspace and NEXUS design client. The Process Workflows interact with users through Process Forms and flow diagrams, both of which are configured (or created) in the Workspace.

A Workflow diagram and its associated Forms can capture:

  • Who is involved (e.g. admin, design engineer, anyone from the librarian group, etc)
  • What actions need to be taken, and in which order
  • What data needs to be provided (name, description, attachments, etc)
  • What are the decision points (e.g. approvals, assignments, etc)

Process Definitions and their associated workflow diagrams are presented in the Workspace server's ProcessManagement page (Admin » Processes) under a series of application category tabs (Activities, Creations, etc). The creator of a Process workflow diagram can reflect the flow structure of the process, any points of acceptance and sign off, and can also create interactive forms where the participants can register their approval/disapproval, make notes, attach files, and so on.

Use the Start button associated with a Process Definition entry to invoke its Process Workflow.

Process definitions available in the NEXUS server Workspace. Hover over the image to view the processes in an Altium 365 Workspace.Process definitions available in the NEXUS server Workspace. Hover over the image to view the processes in an Altium 365 Workspace.

Once a Process Workflow is underway and reaches a step in the process that requires action from a specified user, a related task entry will be added to the Workspace TasksManagement page (Tasks) – available when the user signs in to the Workspace. When the user has completed that step, the workflow will move to the next Process step where user interaction is required. In the same way, Processes can be invoked from within the NEXUS design client – such as via the Projects panel for a design review process – and acted upon through the Tasklist panel.

► See Performing Design Reviews for an example of a process workflow.

Tasks

The NEXUS Server Workspace TasksManagement page (Tasks) and the NEXUS client Tasklist panel detail all outstanding tasks assigned to the designer that is signed in.

These include:

  • Part Requests
  • Project Creations
  • Design Reviews

Tasks are created in a Workflow Process. Behind each Task element placed in the diagram, a User Form can be created. When this form requires interaction from a designer, that designer is presented with a related Task in their Tasklist panel.

When a designer clicks on an active task entry in the NEXUS design client's Tasklists panel a task dialog will open. This provides access to the Form defined for that Task and an image of the interaction diagram (under the Diagram tab) that shows where this Task fits into the process. The Form, which details which fields are mandatory and which are optional, is used by the designer to fulfill their contribution to that Task.

If the designer is the initiator of the Task, their Tasklist panel also includes details of any Activities they have initiated.

► Refer to Working with Tasks in the NEXUS design client and the Tasklist panel page for more information.

The equivalent access to Tasks in the Workspace is available from the TasksManagement page (Tasks) of the interface.

Task Management view in the NEXUS server Workspace. Hover over the image to view the processes in an Altium 365 Workspace.Task Management view in the NEXUS server Workspace. Hover over the image to view the processes in an Altium 365 Workspace.

► Refer to Working with Tasks in the NEXUS Server Workspace for more information.

► Refer to Working with Tasks in the Altium 365 NEXUS Workspace for more information.

Tasklist Panel

The Tasklist panel presents all assigned process workflow Tasks and Activities. Note that the panel displays only Tasks and Activities assigned to the user that is currently connected to a Workspace. All information on this page relates to the connected user.

Tasklist panel showing Tasks
The Tasklist panel lists all Tasks and Activities assigned to the currently connected user.

To learn more about tasks, refer to Working with Tasks (for an Altium 365 Workspace or a NEXUS Server Workspace).

Panel Access

The Tasklist panel is accessed by clicking Panels at the bottom-right of the design space then selecting Tasklist or by clicking View » Panels » Tasklist from the main menus.

Tasks

The upper region of the panel lists all process workflow Tasks assigned to this user; any shown with a  icon have not yet been assigned to a user. A Task appears in the panel when a process workflow, such as a design review or a new part request, has been created and there is an outstanding task in that workflow assigned to the current user.

For more information on Process Workflows, see Creating and Managing Processes (for an Altium 365 Workspace or a NEXUS Server Workspace).

Click once on a Task in the list to open the Form that has been created for that Task. The Diagram tab option, when available, includes a graphic representation of the Process workflow as shown in the following Activities section. Below shows an example of an Ad Hoc Review workflow feedback task assigned to the current user.

Task process workflow formUser Form for a Review Feedback task that was created by the Ad Hoc Review process workflow.

In the example Task shown above, once the assigned user (Bruce) has completed their review and added any pertinent Comments or Attachments, they select the appropriate option from the Vote drop-down then click the Submit button. Once that has been done, that Task is automatically removed from their Tasklist.

The Tasklist presents the next outstanding task in a workflow. Once a task is completed by all of that task's assignees, any subsequent task in that workflow that is assigned to that user will appear in their tasklist.

 – click to configure which types of Tasks are currently shown (All Tasks or Project) to filter the listing to those that apply to the current project.

Activities

The Activities region of the panel lists the Activities, or workflows, that the current user has initiated. It does not mean that the current user is required to complete a Task as part of that workflow; it simply reflects the workflows that this user has created.

Activities section of the Tasklist panel

Click on an Activity to open an information dialog about that activity. The dialog includes tabs that show the workflow Diagram and the Data associated with the Task. The diagram will include a blue icon that indicates which task the process workflow is currently up to. Hover the cursor over the icon to see for which designer(s) the task is waiting.

The diagram for a workflow launched by the signed-in user. The blue icon indicates which task the process workflow is currently up to and for whom it is waiting.The diagram for a workflow launched by the signed-in user. The blue icon indicates which task the process workflow is currently up to and for whom it is waiting.

 – click to configure which types of Activities (workflows) are currently shown. The choices include, but are not limited to, Project Activity (such as design reviews) and Part Requests. If the Show closed option is enabled, only closed (completed) workflow activities are listed.

 – click to update (refresh) the panel's Activities list.

MCAD CoDesigner Panel

The MCAD CoDesigner panel provides the interface for the formal, traceable data exchange processes available through Altium's ECAD-MCAD CoDesign capability. This system allows the interchange of complex and detailed design changes between the ECAD-MCAD software domains, so independent electronic and mechanical design teams can selectively transfer updates at any point in their design process through both Push and Pull actions.

The panel is available when the MCAD CoDesigner Extension is installed.The panel is available when the MCAD CoDesigner Extension is installed.

Altium's ECAD–MCAD CoDesign technology supports the exchange of designer data with a range of MCAD software, including Autodesk Inventor®, Autodesk Fusion 360®, Dassault SOLIDWORKS9®, PTC Creo®, and more. See New in CoDesigner for the latest interface and feature information.

The Altium NEXUS design client collaborates with the MCAD software through the connected Workspace. This allows designers on either side to push/pull/approve changes to the physical aspects of the PCB and mechatronics, all in interactive 3D.

► See ECAD-MCAD CoDesign for overview information.

► See Direct ECAD-MCAD Design with Altium CoDesigner for detailed information.

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