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Even the simplest board needs design detail beyond the tracks and pads that implement the circuit. It might be the board dimensions or the fabrication detail, it might be the component courtyards, or it might be the 3D component models. In Altium Designer, this type of additional information is detailed on Mechanical Layers.
There are two ways mechanical layers can be used, either as:
These individual/layer pairs can be included in printouts or in fabrication outputs, as required.
Mechanical layers are added, edited and removed in the View Configuration panel. Their display state is also configured in the panel. Use the button at the bottom-right of the design space then select View Configuration or press the L shortcut key to display the panel.
Right-click anywhere in the Layers region of the panel to display the context menu, providing commands to Add Component Layer Pair (a pairing of two mechanical layers) and Add Mechanical Layer.
Configuration of the component layer pair or mechanical layer is performed using the Edit Layers Pair / Edit Layer dialog. Use the dialog to enter the Layer Pair Name / Layer Name, define Layer Number(s) and assign a Layer Type.
To edit an existing component layer pair or mechanical layer, double-click directly on its entry on the View Configuration panel (or right-click on the desired entry and choose Edit Layer from the context menu). Make any changes in the Edit Layers Pair / Edit Layer dialog as needed.
To delete a layer, you can right-click on the desired layer and select Delete Layer. Depending on how the layer is being utilized, you will come across three options:
If the layer can not be deleted because it contains component primitives that cannot be removed, an error pop-up will appear to alert you that the action cannot be completed.
If the layer is associated with primitives that can be removed, a pop-up will appear to ask for confirmation of the deletion.
There are two sets of layer types; one set for component layer pairs, the other for individual mechanical layers. The layer type is configured in the Edit Layer dialog using the Layer Type drop-down. Available layer types are defined below.
.Designatorspecial string. This layer pair can then be included in assembly drawings that require the component designator to be displayed. Learn more about special strings.
.Commentspecial string. This layer pair can then be included in assembly drawings that require the component value to be displayed. Learn more about special strings.
Board Shape – use this layer for the overall board outline (board shape). This mechanical layer type is automatically created to hold the primitives when a Board Region is converted to free primitives (Board Planning mode, Tools » Convert » Explode Region to Free Primitives).
Mechanical layers have an additional display feature; they can be set to remain visible when the display is in Single Layer Mode. Hold Ctrl as you click on the visibility icon of a mechanical layer to enable the Display in Single Layer Mode feature. The visibility icon changes to indicate that this layer has this feature enabled (), Ctrl+Click a second time to disable this mode.
Mechanical layers can also be included in the 3D display, when the 3D Settings are using Colors - By Layer. The mechanical layers that are currently configured to be visible, will be displayed.
In some situations, the extra detail included on a mechanical layer is only needed once, for example, assembly notes that detail the component load order and important assembly instructions. In this situation, a standard mechanical layer is added, named, and where possible, has its Layer Type assigned (more on this below).
If the extra detail is required for a component, for example, component courtyard outlines, there needs to be two mechanical layers assigned: one layer holding the courtyard detail when the component is placed on the top side of the board; the other mechanical layer holding that same courtyard detail if the component is flipped to the bottom side of the board.
In this situation, a pair of mechanical layers are added as a Component Layer Pair. When mechanical layers are added as a Component Layer Pair, they are displayed in the Component Layer Pairs section of the View Configuration panel, as shown below.
A common approach to managing mechanical layer usage is to assign a dedicated layer number for each required mechanical layer function. This approach requires all designers to adhere to the same layer assignment and numbering scheme. It can also create difficulties when components are obtained from other sources that do not follow the same assignment and numbering scheme. If a different scheme has been used, the design objects must be moved from their current mechanical layer to the mechanical layer assigned for that function.
This issue is resolved with the introduction of the Layer Type property. When a component is placed from a library into the PCB editor, or copied from one library to another, or created by the IPC Footprint Wizard, existing Layer Type assignments are automatically matched, regardless of the mechanical layer number(s) assigned to those Layer Types. The objects are relocated on the correct layer(s) according to their Layer Type. If the software is unable to match by Layer Type, it will fall back to matching by Layer Number.
For both individual mechanical layers and Component Layer Pairs, you can select a Layer Type from a pre-defined list of types. The images below show the list of available Layer Types. You can access the dialogs shown below by right-clicking on an individual layer, then selecting the Edit Layer or Add Component Layer command from the menu.
When a Layer Type is assigned, the layer automatically has its Layer Name property changed to be the same as the Layer Type. This can be overridden, if needed, by typing in a user-defined name. When a layer has a user-defined name and a Layer Type assigned, both are displayed with the Layer Type shown in brackets, as shown below for the Layer Pair
There is one exception to the naming behavior just described when a Layer Type is assigned – a user-defined name is not permitted when the Layer Type is set to
Route Tool Path. The reason for this is that older versions of the software use the name of the Route Tool Path layer to identify the layer that contains the route information (also referred to as rout information). Fixing the naming of this layer ensures that the design will continue to function correctly in an older version.
The Route Tool Path layer type is used to indicate the layer that contains the mechanical routing information. A typical approach to using this layer is to place tracks and arcs around the outer edge of the board shape to define the machining path and width. Solid sections are left to hold the board within the panel, then a series of small holes are placed across each solid section to create perforations (often referred to as mouse-bites), allowing the board to be snapped out of the panel once the assembly process is complete.
When the board is displayed in 3D mode, objects detected on the Route Tool Path layer are displayed as a routed slot in the board, as shown below.
Use the Line/Arc Primitives from Board Shape dialog to trace the outside of the board shape with tracks and arcs. Enable the Route Tool Outline option in the dialog to have the objects placed outside the board shape rather than centered along its edge. Some designers prefer to add the fabrication information when they use the Embedded Board Array feature to create an assembly panel, rather than including this detail in the actual board file.
► Learn more about Board Panelization and defining the Route Tool Path
Where possible, it is recommended to edit the source library and assign Layer Types. When a component footprint is placed (or copied) from a library, mechanical layers and Component Layer Pairs of those Layer Types are automatically created in the target board (or library) if they do not exist. If those Layer Types already exist in the target board (or library), the layer contents are automatically mapped to the correct layer.
Add a mechanical layer of the
Sheet type to define the outer document drawing template border.
Sheet Settings can be customized in the Properties panel in its Board mode with regards to the X/Y values of the sheet's bottom-left corner, Width, and Height. If the Get Size From Sheet Layer option is enabled, the sheet background is automatically calculated from the bounding rectangle of the set of objects placed on the
Sheet mechanical layer.
The color and visibility of the sheet background are configured in the System Colors section of the View Configuration panel. Click the color button to change the color of the Sheet Line and Area Color. Toggle to / show/hide the sheet.
Mechanical layers are used for a broad variety of tasks, detailing information used during board design, fabrication, assembly, and product documentation. To support all of these requirements, mechanical layers can be excluded or included in all forms of layer-based output generation, including printing and output file generation.
Any of the layers that are present in the design can be included in the specification of a PCB Printout, including mechanical layers. Printouts are configured by adding the required layers and setting their order in the Print dialog.
► Learn more about Preparing 2D Print-based PCB Output
All fabrication-type outputs, such as Gerber and ODB++, allow mechanical layers to be included as an output Layer to Plot or to be added as detail to every layer being plotted. The output is generated when the configured output generator is run by using an ODB output generator in an OutputJob Configuration file (
► Learn more about Preparing Your Design for Manufacture
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