Altium NEXUS Documentation

Designing with a Connected Workspace in Altium NEXUS

Modified by Pavel Demidov on Sep 15, 2021

Altium NEXUS includes a Workspace for all your design content which is an integral part of the overall deployed solution. The Workspace works in harmony with the design software counterpart of your Altium NEXUS solution to provide an elegant answer to the question of handling design data with secured integrity. The Workspace not only provides rock-solid, secure storage of data but also enables re-release of data as distinctly separate revisions – essentially tracking design changes over time, without overwriting any previously released data. It also caters to the lifecycle of the design data, allowing people that need to use the data to see, at-a-glance, what stage the data has reached in its 'life' and therefore what it can be safely used for.

The Workspace is used to manage all design data, including components, domain models, schematic sheets of circuitry, and design templates. Indeed, you can even create and manage your entire design projects directly within the Workspace.

By furnishing a set of reusable design 'building blocks' within the Workspace, you can embark on fresh projects safe in the knowledge that each model, component, and higher-order design element has been ratified and approved for use, with no having to reinvent the wheel as it were. The Workspace becomes both the source and destination of design elements, with each new design utilizing elements released to, and managed through, the Workspace. And by designing only with elements from the Workspace, the integrity of those designs is inherently assured.

The Workspace for Altium NEXUS (referred to as the NEXUS Server Workspace) is provided through Altium NEXUS Server – a solution installed and managed by your own IT department as an integral part of your NEXUS deployment.

Components

Altium NEXUS, 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.

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 the Workspace. A component is stored as a series of revisions of a uniquely identifiable Component Item. Each revision is lifecycle-managed, providing collections of certified components, authorized to be re-instantiated into new design projects, manufactured into prototypes, or used for production runs.

Altium NEXUS's Components panel provides a powerful interface with which to interact with all your components. 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 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 Altium NEXUS's Manufacturer Part Search panel, you can search for real-world manufactured parts, then acquire those parts into your Workspace. Acquisition involves creating a new component – using the Component Editor in its Single Component Editing mode – and releasing it to your target Workspace.

Projects

A Workspace, in conjunction with Altium NEXUS, brings support for design projects in your Workspace infrastructure. These 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 projects hosted by your Workspace 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.

Also, providing an elegant solution to the desire to see such information and interact with it from a single location, a Workspace facilitates the notion of Project History. Accessible from within Altium NEXUS or through the Workspace's browser interface, a dedicated History view provides a progressive timeline of major events relating to the project – its creation, commits, releases, clones and MCAD exchanges – with various actions supported where applicable.


Design Review

Key stakeholders can review your design courtesy of dedicated web review technologies and the commenting system, which enables a dispersed design team to collaboratively work on projects that are centrally stored and managed through that Workspace.

The Web Viewer interface of your Workspace provides universal access to PCB project documents through a standard web browser. Much more than just a web-based viewer, its advanced browser technology allows users to navigate through the project structure, interact with design documents, extract information about elements in the design, and highlight areas or objects for commenting notes. When viewing documents the visual quality of schematics and PCBs are not compromised by its web format, which also provides full pan and zoom capabilities and the ability to search, cross-probe, select and inspect components and nets throughout the design. As an independent browser-based viewing platform, the Web Viewer interface offers interactive read-only access to design documents without the need to open the project in the design editing environment. Others that are working on the design, such as the engineer who 'owns' it, will not be affected by actions in the Web Viewer space.

Comments – the user-added notes – can be applied to a point, object, or area on a schematic or PCB document and may be replied to by other users. Placed comments are available in real-time to collaborating users – those that have shared access to the document – and are saved to the Workspace independently of the project, without altering its constituent documents in any way. Comments can be added and managed in both Altium NEXUS and in the related Workspace, via its web interface design view. The functionality of the two commenting systems is essentially the same, and since both the project and commenting data are stored in the Workspace, the systems work together in real-time.

Read about the Web Viewer interface.  Read about Document Commenting in Projects.


Sharing of Data

For a project saved in the Workspace, you'll want to determine which users can actually access that project, for collaborative design or reviewing the project, with full editing rights, or for viewing and commenting only. This is done by sharing the project, or rather, by configuring its access permissions. A new project is shared, by default, with the following:

  • The Owner of the project, which is usually the designer who created it (or made it available on the Workspace): full (Read/Write) access permissions.
  • The Administrators role group: full (Read/Write) access permissions.
  • All Workspace users – indicated by the enabled Everyone in the team option which is set to Can View (Read-only) access permissions.

Sharing of a live (WIP) project can be performed directly from within Altium NEXUS, and also through the Workspace's browser interface.

And, courtesy of the Global Sharing support of the Altium 365 infrastructure platform, data can be shared with anyone, anywhere in the world. What you share, and with whom, is down to you and could include:

  • Sharing your electronic designs and CAM manufacturing data through your Web Browser using the free, standalone Altium 365 Viewer.
  • Sharing 'snapshots' of your designs by a temporary link.
  • Sharing 'snapshots' of your designs and CAM manufacturing data – uploaded to your Personal Space on the Altium 365 Platform – with anyone on a permanent basis (requires registration with, and connecting from Altium NEXUS to, AltiumLive).

Read about Sharing a Design.  Read about Global Sharing of Data.


Workflows

Altium NEXUS provides a powerful collaborative design environment. Part of that is the support for Workflows, that guide a company's designers through typical, everyday design processes such as:

  • Requesting new parts
  • Performing project-related activities, such as design reviews or publishing to a PLM
  • Creation of new projects.

Each Workflow that is used to implement a particular design process is created as part of a Process Definition. It can therefore be referred to as that process's underlying Workflow, or simply a Process Workflow.

Processes, and their Workflows, are created and managed by an Administrator through the Workspace's browser interface. For the three design areas mentioned previously, predefined process workflows are included with your Workspace. Some of these are activated for use out-of-the-box. Use these, modify them, or create your own as required, to suit the needs of your company. Others are samples – these cannot be activated and used as is. Each of these is therefore more like a 'template' – edit to suit your company's requirements, name, and save as a new process definition, which you can then activate and use, along with all other definitions.

A powerful Process Workflow Editor provides the flexibility for you to build processes with workflows that can be as simple, or as complex as needed, and in-line with your company's requirements.

When designing in Altium NEXUS, a designer can access and initiate any of the processes that have been activated for use at the administrative level. Interaction with a process – or rather its defined workflow – is through Tasks. A Task relates to a user task defined within the workflow – a point at which action by a user is necessary for the workflow to progress.

PLM Integration

The Workspace facilitates the uni- or bi-directional synchronization of component data with your enterprise systems. A configuration file allows you to specify the direction of synchronization and therefore which parameters are mastered in which system. Component data synchronization between the Workspace and the target enterprise system uses a built-in synchronization process which may be manually triggered or set as a timed repeating event.

A dedicated Project Creations workflow is available that supports the automatic creation of part numbers in your PLM instance, and then propagation of these as Workspace Parameters of the NEXUS project. You also have the ability to publish your design to your PLM instance, as part of running the Project Releaser in the Altium NEXUS design client. The publishing operation uses a publishing template – defined as part of the PLM instance integration configuration – to control how data should be propagated to the PLM.

A Workspace includes a CSV Component database importer tool that can be used to bring component data into the Workspace from a file exported from another system (PLM, ERP, or otherwise). Implemented as a configurable batch (*.bat) file, the desktop tool imports component data from a target spreadsheet file (*.csv) into the Workspace as determined by existing templates or a dedicated configuration file.

In addition, direct support is provided for the following PLM systems:

  • PTC Windchill® PLM (11.0 M030)
  • Arena® PLM
  • Oracle® Agile™ PLM
  • Siemens Teamcenter® (with additional setup)

The interface configuration is performed through the Workspace's browser interface, with the connection setup and parameter mapping defined within an XML-based configuration file (uploaded to the Workspace). A smart configuration generator is also included to help in creating a custom connection to enterprise systems.

Note that synchronization of Part Choice data is unidirectional – from the enterprise system to the Workspace only.
Read about PLM Integration.

ECAD-MCAD Co-Design

Most electronic products that are designed are fixed to some kind of mechanical structure – either a chassis or an enclosure. Finding a mechanical conflict between the board (ECAD) and chassis/enclosure (MCAD) late in the design process can be a costly experience. And while you could get a 3D model exported from Altium NEXUS, it is a manual process that needs a conscious decision and action to do so. In reality, this is performed very infrequently, with the result being that the MCAD designer is never quite sure if what they've got is the latest and greatest. It really shouldn’t be so hard to ensure you’re not about to waste a pile of money just because your tools don’t talk.

A Workspace provides native ECAD to MCAD collaboration where data flows seamlessly between domains. No more polling for updates and no more uncertainty. Data is pushed between domains as the design evolves, ensuring design coherence.

The following MCAD platforms and versions are officially supported:

  • Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS® – version 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
  • Autodesk Inventor Professional® – version 2020, 2021, 2022
  • PTC Creo Parametric® – 4.x, 5.x, 6.x, 7.x, 8.x
  • Autodesk Fusion 360®
MCAD CoDesigner synchronizes the PCB design between electrical and mechanical engineers. It works directly with ECAD and MCAD data via the MCAD CoDesigner panel on the Altium NEXUS side, and a corresponding panel plugged-in to your MCAD software. The latter is provided through the installation (and registration to the MCAD software) of the Altium CoDesigner plugin. Obtain the corresponding plugin for your MCAD software from the MCAD CODESIGNER PLUGINS section on the Downloads page of the altium.com site.
Read about ECAD-MCAD CoDesign.

Controlled Access

A Workspace provides secure handling of data with high integrity while providing both Design Team and Supply Chain access to that data as needed. This latter aspect, of whom can access a Workspace, and more importantly what data they are allowed to access, is facilitated by the Workspace's user access control and sharing capabilities. These can be broken down into the following key areas:

  • User Management
  • Folder-level Sharing
  • Item-level Sharing
  • Item Revision-level Sharing

Folders, Items, and Item Revisions in a Workspace can be shared on a number of different levels, in effect defining both the level of visibility of the entity and the level of security for access to it. This can range from being strictly private access by specified individuals or roles, through to levels for allowing anyone in the same organization to view or change that entity respectively.


Direct Editing

A Workspace provides a flexible and secure method of centralizing the storage and management of all types of design data used in Altium NEXUS. From the symbol to the component, from schematic sheets through to completed PCB designs, the Workspace delivers an ideal method of storing and managing your electronic design data.

Many design entities can be edited and released into the initial revision of a corresponding, and newly-created Workspace Item, courtesy of the Workspace's support for direct editing. Direct editing frees you from the shackles of separate version-controlled source data. You can simply edit a supported content type using a temporary editor loaded with the latest source direct from the Workspace itself. And once editing is complete, the entity is released (or re-released) into a subsequent planned revision of its parent Item, and the temporary editor closed. There are no files on your hard drive, no questioning whether you are working with the correct or latest source, and no having to maintain separate version control software. The Workspace handles it all, with the same great integrity you've come to expect, and in a manner that greatly expedites changes to your data.

And at any stage, you can come back to any revision of a supported Item in the Workspace, and edit it directly. Right-click on the revision and choose the Edit command from the context menu. Once again, the temporary editor will open, with the entity contained in the revision opened for editing. Make changes as required, then commit the release of the document into the next revision of the Item.


Content Types

Within a Workspace, each design entity that can be stored, managed, and reused, is represented as a specific type of Item. An Item is uniquely identified within the Workspace and can contain any number of Revisions, where a revision contains the data for that Item. Each time a change is made to the data contained within a revision – which for most Item types can be edited directly within an associated temporary editor – it is committed (or re-released) into a new revision of that Item, ensuring that no existing revision can ever be overwritten, and thereby ensuring the highest integrity.

An Item can have any number of revisions, which are essentially an evolution of that Item over time. A change is made and the new data content is committed/uploaded/released into a new revision. The data stored in each revision of an item is therefore typically different. To identify between these different revisions of an Item, a revision identifier (ID) is used, which in combination with the Item ID creates a unique identifier for each release of an Item. This gives us the Item-Revision.

Another important aspect of an Item Revision is its Lifecycle State. This is another identifier that can be used to quickly assess what stage that revision has currently reached in its life, and what designers are therefore authorized to do with it. Where the Revision reflects design changes made to the Item, the Lifecycle State reflects the state of the item from a business perspective, such as Planned, New From Design, For Production, Obsolete, and so on.


The Explorer Panel

From within Altium NEXUS, component management is streamlined through use of the Components panel and Manufacturer Part Search panel. However, another interface to your Workspace is Altium NEXUS's Explorer panel. From this panel, you can perform many activities, including:

  • Creating and managing the organizational structure used in the Workspace.
  • Creating any number of Items, each representative of a design object.
  • Direct editing and placement of Item Revisions.
  • Reviewing and managing the lifecycle of Item revisions.
  • Interrogating the usage of a particular Item revision (Where-Used).
  • Browsing and managing Part Choice information for Component Items.
  • Downloading stored data, including data generated through the release of board design projects.

The Explorer panel becomes your trusty right-hand, presenting a collection of features that can really enhance your productivity when working with the Workspace through Altium NEXUS.

While the majority of your day-to-day working with your Workspace will be through the Components panel or Explorer panel, there will also be occasions when you need to interact with the Workspace through its browser interface – especially for administrative purposes. For more information, see Exploring the Browser-based Interface.
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