Altium Designer Documentation

Linking Native ECAD and MCAD Design Components

Modified by Phil Loughhead on Nov 12, 2020

This CoDesigner functionality requires:

  • Altium Designer 20 or later, with the MCAD CoDesigner extension version 2.0 or later
  • A supported MCAD platform, with CoDesigner Addin version 2.0, or later º
    • MCAD to ECAD component linking is available for all supported MCAD platforms. ECAD to MCAD component linking is currently only supported in PTC Creo Parametric®

Parent page: More about ECAD-MCAD CoDesign

Altium CoDesigner's default behavior is to transfer the components back and forth between MCAD and ECAD through the connected workspace/managed content server, as Parasolid models. For many components this will be adequate, representing the component accurately in both design spaces. However, in some companies this might not be enough - they may require both the MCAD and the ECAD engineers to use native component models designed for their software. Not only will a true, tool-specific component model accurately represent the component in that design space, it can also be important for accurate output generation; such as fabrication files and the final Bill of Materials.

All of the MCAD and ECAD design software tools have their own approach to how component models can be stored. To allow native components to be used in each design domain, CoDesigner supports methods of linking the components between the domains.

How the MCAD and ECAD Components are Linked

The default behavior is when a design is Pushed from either the MCAD or ECAD domains, CoDesigner converts the components to Parasolid format models and stores them in the workspace. When that design is Pulled, CoDesigner then builds a model of each component in the format required by the target tool. The disadvantage of this approach is that the model does not fully represent the component as it needs to be represented in that tool. For example, when a design is Pulled in to Altium Designer the component will not include the pads, silkscreen and other entities typically included in a PCB component. Nor will it be linked to a schematic symbol, or into the supply chain.

A better approach is to be able to link from the model/component used on one side, to an equivalent, native model/component on the other side. Component linking can be configured in the Altium 365 Workspace. CoDesigner uses these settings to establish MCAD-to-ECAD and ECAD-to-MCAD component links, so that the source model/component can be replaced by a native model/component in the target domain, when the board is Pulled.

Your component and content management server can be hosted in the cloud or self-managed on a company server, this image shows a workspace hosted on Altium 365.

Learn more about how to log in to Configure the Workspace settings for CoDesign

Requirements for the MCAD and ECAD Models

To use these component recognition capabilities, the 3D models should be geometrically the same on both the MCAD and ECAD sides.

Geometrically the same means:

  • The location of the origin within the MCAD model and the ECAD model is the same.
  • The orientation of the models’ XYZ axes are the same (note that the XYZ axes can be oriented in any direction).

Notes:

  • Top side / bottom side placement is defined according to the location of the model’s origin relative to the board. It is strongly recommended to not use MCAD models that have the origin located below the MCAD plane through the middle of the board.
  • Make sure that your models consist of a single part and not an assembly, and do not contain more than one origin. If you have any doubts - check the models on both sides after import.
  • The format of the models can be different in MCAD and ECAD (for example a Creo part used in PTC Creo, and a STEP model used in Altium Designer).
  • The level of detail in the models can be different, for example, a precise model in MCAD and a simplified model in ECAD.

Guidelines for Orienting the 3D Model

It is common for MCAD component models to have an origin and use an orientation that is not ideal for placement in ECAD. This will not be an issue as long as the MCAD and ECAD models have the same origin and the same orientation of their axes.

The images below show the same model open in Creo, and then in the Altium Designer PCB library editor. This component model was designed with the origin in the center of the front vertical plane (when the component is oriented for mounting on a PCB).

The origin of the MCAD part is the center of the front vertical plane, as viewed.

When it is first placed in the PCB library editor, the model will be oriented as shown below.

It can then be re-oriented by selecting it, and adjusting the Orientation settings in the Properties panel.

CoDesigner manages these orientation changes correctly when the design is pushed and pulled between MCAD and ECAD, as long as the MCAD and ECAD models share the same origin and orientation of axes.

Learn more about Orienting and Positioning a 3D Model in Altium Designer

How 3D Models are Handled in Altium Designer

You might have noticed that the Altium Designer Properties panel shown above is titled 3D Body, and the 3D Model Type is Generic. Altium Designer includes basic 3D shapes, referred to as 3d Body objects, that can be placed and sized to create a representation of the physical component. A 3D Body object can have a shape of type: Extruded, Cylinder and Sphere.

A 3D Body Object can also be used as a container to hold a true 3D model, by setting the 3D Model Type to Generic. When the type is set to Generic, 3D models of type: STEP (*.Step and *.Stp), Parasolid (*.x_t and *.x_b) and SolidWorks Parts File (*.SldPrt) can be loaded into an Altium Designer 3D Body object.

Using a 3D MCAD Model in ECAD

3D models can be sourced from a variety of places, including component manufacturer websites and 3rd party websites, as detailed below. Complex component shapes are supported, and if required additional snap points can be defined in the PCB library editor.

A complex 3D model in Altium Designer, positioned on the PCB footprint.

Learn more about Using a 3D MCAD Component Model in Altium Designer

  • Components can be imported in the STEP (*.Step and *.Stp), Parasolid (*.x_t and *.x_b) and SolidWorks Parts File (*.SldPrt) formats.
  • 3D mechanical models can sometimes be sourced from the component manufacturer.
  • There are excellent community portal websites, such as 3D Content Central and GrabCAD, where designers share models.
  • There is also a growing number of commercial 3D sites, including Ultra Librarian and PCB 3D.

Extracting a 3D Model from ECAD to use in MCAD

Many of the components available for Altium Designer already include a true 3D model. These can be extracted from the Altium Designer component if required, to use in your MCAD software.

To do this:

  • Place the component on a PCB.
  • Select it, then Copy it to the clipboard. You will be prompted to choose a reference point, this location is not critical because the technique used to add the component to a PCB library automatically aligns the component reference with the library editor workspace reference.
  • Switch to an open PCB library, right-click in the PCB Library panel and choose Paste 1 Component from the context menu (note that multiple components can be pasted into a library using this technique).
  • Save the PCB library.
  • To extract and save the 3D models from each component in the library, select the Tools » Extract 3D Models command.
  • The Generate 3D Model files from PCB Libraries dialog will open, configure your preferred destination option and click OK to extract the models.

The video below demonstrates this process.

3D models can be extracted from Altium Designer components if required.

Resolving Problematic Models

Each ECAD and MCAD tool has its own model conversion software, offering different levels of support for importing and converting a model that has issues with inconsistencies or inaccuracies in the model description. To help in this situation CoDesigner transfers single-body models in Parasolid Text format directly from ECAD to MCAD, without transformation and without converting (which could sometimes result in the corruption of a model).

If a model is causing problems during a Push-Pull between ECAD and MCAD, extract it from the ECAD component (as described above), import it into your MCAD software and save it out as Parasolid Text (confirming that it opens correctly in MCAD), then import it back into the ECAD component.

When you are importing the Parasolid model back in to ECAD, there are different techniques you can use to orient and position the model in the PCB library editor:

Position and orient the model using the Properties panel

Position and orient the model using the Orient and Position 3D Body command

Linking from the MCAD Components to the ECAD Components

The typical design flow is for the components to be placed in ECAD. However, it is also desirable for the mechanical engineer to be able to place key components, such as connectors, directly in MCAD as part of the initial board definition cycle. When a component is placed in MCAD it is a 3D model, when that model is pushed to ECAD, the default behavior is for CoDesigner to transfer it as a free 3D body.

This default behavior can be overridden by enabling and configuring the component recognition features in the workspace/managed content server. Doing this means each MCAD 3D model can be linked to the equivalent Altium Designer component. When the board is pulled into Altium Designer, instead of the MCAD 3D model being pulled from the Workspace, it is replaced by an instance of the fully-defined Altium Designer component footprint, complete with 3D model.

In the example image above, the linkage is from the name of the MCAD model - to the ECAD parameter called MCADModelName. When the MCAD model's name matches the value of the ECAD parameter MCADModelName, a link is established and the ECAD component is placed instead of the 3D model pushed from MCAD.

If the component has already been placed on the Altium Designer project schematic, the schematic component designator is assigned to the PCB component. Run the PCB editor's Project » Component Links command to define a matching UID link between the schematic and PCB components so that design synchronization can be performed in Altium Designer.

CoDesigner can link the MCAD components to the equivalent ECAD components in the following ways:

From the MCAD Model To the ECAD Component Notes about this combination
In the MCAD model property used for mapping and recognition field: In the ECAD component parameter used for mapping and recognition field: Enable the Recognize models placed in MCAD and use true electrical components in ECAD instead option, configure the options as detailed below, and click Save.
Enter the Custom Parameter Name Enter the Custom Parameter Name

Add a Custom Parameter to both the MCAD model and the ECAD component, with the same parameter value.

Select MCAD model name from the dropdown Enter the Custom Parameter Name Add a custom parameter to the ECAD component, whose value is the filename of the MCAD model.
  • Note that only one component linkage method can be used across all projects.
  • Other component linking configurations will be added in future updates.

CoDesigner checks the Workspace settings on startup (from Altium Designer and from the MCAD tools). Restart your design software if the settings have been changed in your Workspace.

Where the ECAD Components are Stored

For this MCAD to ECAD component linkage system to work, CoDesigner needs to know where to search for the ECAD components. Altium Designer supports a variety of component storage systems, including discrete libraries, integrated libraries, database libraries, and managed components. To use native component linking from MCAD to ECAD, the ECAD components must be managed components. Managed components are stored in an Altium Workspace or managed content server. CoDesigner will search for the components in the same Workspace that the board design is being transferred through.

When the Recognize models placed in MCAD feature is being used, CoDesigner will search for a matching ECAD component in the connected Workspace.

Synchronizing Components from MCAD to ECAD

When the PCB is pushed from MCAD and then pulled into ECAD, CoDesigner:

  1. Checks for a match between each MCAD component and the existing ECAD components. Components are matched first by the defined property/parameter pair, then by reference designator. For a match, CoDesigner will suggest making changes to the location of components and to their properties, if necessary.
  2. For each component coming from MCAD that is not present in the ECAD domain, check if the Recognize models placed in MCAD and use true electrical components in ECAD instead, option is enabled in the Workspace.
    1. If enabled, check the MCAD model property used for mapping and recognition setting in the Workspace to see which MCAD component parameter to use, then read the value of that parameter from the MCAD component (this is the value used to find a match on the ECAD side).
    2. Then check the Workspace for the ECAD component parameter used for mapping and recognition setting for the name of the parameter to use on the ECAD side.
    3. Then search the Workspace for an ECAD component that matches that parameter/value.
    4. If a component with the matching parameter/value is found in the Workspace, place that native ECAD component on the PCB. These components are flagged as recognized in the CoDesigner panel.
    5. CoDesigner then does an additional check to see if this component is already present on the ECAD schematic, and if it is, assigns the schematic designator to the placed PCB component. Note that the PCB editor's Project » Component Linkingcommand must be run to establish the schematic-to-PCB component linking.
  3. If the component is not found in the Workspace, place the 3D model that came from MCAD. These are flagged as FreeBody in the CoDesigner panel. As a FreeBody (3D Model), these can be edited and replaced in ECAD with an alternate 3D model, if required.
  4. If the Recognize models placed in MCAD and use true electrical components in ECAD instead option is not enabled, or if it is enabled but the MCAD component does not include the specified MCAD model property used for mapping and recognition, CoDesigner places the MCAD model with the designator that came from MCAD. These are flagged as Added in the panel.

The synchronization of FreeBodies is only from MCAD to ECAD, if a FreeBody is moved in ECAD that movement is not transferred to MCAD when a Push from ECAD is performed.

Notes:

  • Designators that are defined in ECAD override designators assigned in MCAD.
  • If the mechanical engineer has not set up the designators, CoDesigner assigns default values.
  • If a model that came from MCAD has no MCAD model property used for mapping and recognition, it is considered a free 3D body.

Example of Synchronizing Components Using Custom Parameters

If a placed MCAD component includes the custom parameter defined in the MCAD model property used for mapping and recognition field, CoDesigner will search for that component in the ECAD components available in the Workspace.

In the example below, the Workspace settings are mapping the MCAD part parameter, PARTNUM, to the ECAD component parameter, PartNumber. A match is detected when these parameters share the same value.

The MCAD part uses the parameter PARTNUM, and the ECAD component uses the parameter PartNumber.

The image below shows the PARTNUM parameter has been added to the MCAD part, for this part it has a value of MINI_D-300-0058.

Because the Recognize models placed in MCAD and use true electrical components in ECAD instead option is enabled in the Workspace, the PARTNUM parameter and its value are Pushed to the workspace as part of the board data.

When a Pull is performed from ECAD, CoDesigner will:

  • Detect that the Recognize models placed in MCAD and use true electrical components in ECAD instead option is enabled in the Workspace.
  • Check for the PARTNUM parameter in the incoming MCAD 3D component parts and read the PARTNUM parameter's value.
  • Search the Workspace components for a component that includes the ECAD PartNumber parameter, with the same value.
  • If one is found, the ECAD component will be placed instead of loading the parasolid model included in the board data. The Change list will show it as New (recognized), as shown below.

When an MCAD property/ECAD parameter match is found, the ECAD component is flagged as recognized.

Note that the connector placed from the Workspace is a native Altium Designer component, complete with pads and silkscreen.

Instead of transferring a model from MCAD, the native component has been placed from the Altium 365 Workspace.

Synchronizing Existing Components

When design changes are pushed from ECAD and pulled into MCAD, CoDesigner matches existing components with components that came from ECAD, suggesting to make changes to the location of components and to their properties, if necessary.

Additionally, CoDesigner identifies the components which were initially placed in MCAD. These components will not be marked by the special attributes set up by CoDesigner, identifying them as ECAD-owned. CoDesigner does not replace such components, the original MCAD model is retained. However, it adds the corresponding ECAD features to the bare board: including holes, silkscreen, and copper (optional).

If an MCAD-owned component is moved/rotated in ECAD, CoDesigner keeps its proper orientation in MCAD (relatively to the board). It even works for MCAD models that have their Z-axis oriented horizontally.

Linking from the ECAD Components to the MCAD Components

  • ECAD-to-MCAD native component linking is currently only supported in PTC Creo Parametric. It requires PTC Creo to be connected to a PTC Windchill® server, with the ECAD components stored in a Windchill Workspace. Consult your Creo documentation for information on how to connect to Windchill.
  • Support for ECAD to MCAD component linking via a self-managed Concord Pro server is coming soon.

CoDesigner also supports the placement of native components when the PCB is being Pushed from ECAD and Pulled in to MCAD. To do this, CoDesigner asks the MCAD software to get the model of the component from the MCAD's data management system (by the model’s name) and then places that component on the MCAD PCB assembly, instead of the model that came from ECAD.

This is achieved by mapping the name of the MCAD model to an ECAD component parameter. The parameter that is used to store the MCAD model name is specified in the Workspace that CoDesigner uses to pass the board design back and forth between the MCAD and ECAD design domains.

Enable and configure the Use models from data management system option, and Save the changes. This image shows a workspace hosted on Altium 365.

To configure the shared parameter/property:

  1. Log in to your Altium 365 Workspace in your browser (learn more)
  2. Open the Admin - Settings page as shown above and select MCAD CoDesigner in the center of the page to configure the property/parameter.
  3. Check the Use models from data management system on MCAD side when creating PCB Assembly option to enable the feature and be able to define the ECAD parameter.
  4. Enter the name of the ECAD component parameter used for storing MCAD model name. Note that this value is not case sensitive.
  5. Click the Save button to save the change.
  • CoDesigner checks the MCAD-to-ECAD settings on startup (from Altium Designer and from the MCAD tools). Restart your design software if the settings have been changed in your managed content server.
  • If the component is not available in the Windchill Workspace, CoDesigner places the model transferred from the PCB editor and saved in the managed content server, instead.

How the Native Creo Components are Placed in Creo

If the Use models from data management system on MCAD side option is enabled, CoDesigner in Altium Designer will include the parameter and parameter value in the board definition pushed to the shared component management system.

This ECAD component includes the MCADModelName parameter, with a value of nn_DF40_2.

CoDesigner in Creo will detect this and request that Creo search for the component using the parameter value as the model name, in the connected Windchill Workspace.

A model with this name is available in the connected Windchill Workspace.

CoDesigner will place the native model in Creo, instead of the Parasolid format model that has also been stored in the shared managed content server.

The native model has been placed on the PCB assembly in Creo.

The ECAD to MCAD component linkage system works by CoDesigner requesting that Creo search for the components that include the ECAD component parameter used for storing MCAD model name parameter (MCADModelName in the example images above). If the component is not available in the Windchill Workspace, Creo will indicate this, and CoDesigner will place the model transferred from the PCB editor and saved in the managed content server , instead.

 

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