Altium NEXUS Documentation

Designing Collaboratively in Altium NEXUS

Created: 09.08.2021 | Updated: 14.09.2021

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 the Altium NEXUS Server installation.

As the complete Altium NEXUS solution, the NEXUS design client and NEXUS Server Workspace form a powerful design collaboration system. The NEXUS Server 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 server such as the Altium NEXUS Server is that its Workspace provides the ideal environment for the addition of collaboration and workflow management features.

This is where the Altium NEXUS + the NEXUS Server 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 Server Workspace delivers powerful content management and workflow solutions.Coupling the Altium NEXUS client to the NEXUS Server 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 Server 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.

Design Comments

Promoting collaboration between designer 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.

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, vai 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 Browser-based Web Viewer page for more information.

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.

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.

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

Collaboration Panel

The Collaboration panel provides a formal, traceable mechanism for pushing design changes made on a design document, through to other designers. Once the change has been made, the author of the change can Push that change. The effect of this is to save the updated file, commit it back into the Workspace, and notify other designers. As with the Comments panel, other designers that have that project open will immediately receive a message in their Collaboration panel.

If the change crosses a design boundary, for example a schematic change that impacts the PCB, then other designers can Pull that change into the open PCB. The result is the modified schematic file is reloaded, and an Update PCB initiated, propagating the changes through to the PCB.

► Refer to the Collaboration panel page to learn more.

The Collaboration panel also can be used to pass design changes between the ECAD and the MCAD domains, such as SOLIDWORKS®, PTC Creo®, and Autodesk Inventor®. Each Pull or Push from/to the MCAd domain can be reviewed before being accepted, with the objects to be changed being highlighted and the before and after states shown.

The Altium NEXUS design client collaborates with the MCAD software through the Workspace server. Designers on either side can push/pull changes to:

  • The board shape
  • Board cutouts
  • Component positions
  • Free pad (hole) locations

► Refer to the Direct ECAD-MCAD Design with Altium CoDesigner page for further information.

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