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Multi board assemblies require ingenuity and creativity throughout the design process on top of solid communication. Don’t get left behind without the proper software.
TOPICS IN THIS SOLUTION
Don’t let your multi board designs get the better of you while using strong design software.
Advances in consumer and industrial electronic devices continue to produce smaller devices that have more functionality. In addition, those devices use rigid-flex designs that provide the form factors needed for portability. Many times, those devices include multiple interconnected boards that require equal attention to signal paths and to the electrical connectivity between boards. In addition, each board must fit within an enclosure that meets the product specifications.
Good troubleshooting techniques involve considering a system as individual parts rather than as the whole. The same techniques apply to your work with Multi-board PCB designs. Very briefly, you should manage each board as a single unit that has its own lifecycle. Depending on the product design, a single PCB design may have multiple uses. Or…multiple devices may use the same PCB design. Interconnecting multiple PCB designs forms a complete and functional system.
When we consider multiple uses of a single PCB within a product or among many products, managing design versions can become challenging. Until the introduction of advanced PCB design software, design teams had to manually manage signal names and employ restrictive change rules to ensure reliability.
A team could create a Multi-board design from a single schematic or multiple schematics. When using a single schematic, the design team created multiple schematics and then segmented the sub-circuits of within the schematic into multiple PCBs. The multiple schematic method involves establishing a top-level schematic that contains multiple lower-level schematics. With this method, the design team compiles multiple PCBs from the definable sub-circuits of a schematic that may cover several pages.
Verification of the design occurred manually. As with many manual processes, each change and resulting verification required time. Errors could occur without the proper version control.
Altium Designer removes the time burden from multiboard designs and substantially reduces the opportunities for errors by treating the overall system design as a multi-board project. The software uses a dedicated Multi-board Design environment to depict the electrical and physical connections of multiple child PCB designs.
With logical system design, each child board associates with a module. Each module references the specific PCB project and the board within the project while connecting to other modules as part of a multi-board schematic. Altium Designer Design uses the information to import the child connectivity data into the overall system design.
Your design team can establish connectivity between modules through virtual wires. Then, team members—working from any location—can use Active Bar in the editor to place the module in the workplace and use object placement commands. Populating the modules with design data from linked PCB project designs occurs through Import from Child Projects command under the Design menu. Altium Designer allows your team to connect Child Project Modules together by using different logical connection available from the Place menu in the editor.
Automating the design through Altium Designer’s unified environment distributes edge connectors, plugs, sockets, pins, and signal names to the system level while allowing random signal names. The software also allows multiple signal naming schemes and provides design rule checks for verification of the signal paths. Verification occurs through detecting net-to-pin assignment error and pin-to-pin interconnection wiring errors.
Many products position multiple boards within a single enclosure. Ensuring the proper fit requires software that can seamlessly move designs from the electronic environment to the mechanical environment. Design teams can take advantage of Altium Designer’s capability to export and import 3D Step files for placement in the mechanical design system. Along with solving electrical issues in Multi-board designs, Altium Designer also provides electrical/mechanical support by creating a multi-board assembly.
Altium Designer’s Multi-board Assembly Editor gives design teams the tools needed for properly aligning connectors. When working with Multi-board designs, teams must consider the placement side, position rotation, and origin of board connections and cable connections in relationship to other boards. Your design team can use the Multi-board Assembly Editor to rotate and align boards with other PCBs.
The capability to support the transition from electronic design automation (EDA) to mechanical engineering design (MCAD) within Altium Designer serves as a major factor for Multi-board designs. Because MCAD systems do not consider electrical rules, the interaction between EDA and MCAD allows the placement of densely packed components with collision checks. The Multi-board Assembly Editor also shows how the PCBs plug into one another. Altium Designer exports 3D Step files and the correct Step enclosure data to ensure that boards do not exceed specified height profiles.
With the 3D design tools found in Altium Designer, design teams can use software to simulate the positioning of all boards of a system with basic mechanical functions. Your design team can transfer boards into the Assembly editor and place the PCBs on a virtual table. Working in the 3D design environment allows team members to move and rotate boards or zoom into a board. Altium Designer utilizes a Workspace Gizmo to change the orientation of the team members’ view into the workspace.
The 3D design environment allows your team to position the boards in the assembly for the product. Different tools within Altium Designer allow you and your design team to select objects, move objects along an axis or rotate an object around an axis. Along with positioning, Altium Designer also provides the section view—or the ability to see the detail within an assembly.
Witnessing your multi-board design come together has never been simpler
The complexity of Multi-board PCB design requires a different method for documentation. For example, your design team can add a Multi-Board assembly document to an active project. Then, the Multi-Board design transfers from the Multi-board schematic to the Multi-board assembly document. The hierarchical document structure that contains the:
Changing and importing the Child Projects affects the system design and causes Altium Designer to generate an Engineering Change Order (ECO). If an ECO occurs, any updates synchronize with the system design. When Altium Designer executes the ECO, the software recognizes and registers differences between current design connectivity and the new, imported connection data. Altium Designer’s Connection Manager resolves or rejects updated connection data and confirms changes to Nets, pins, and wires.
Altium Designer also supports Multi-board design with Active BOM. Using Active BOM provides access to all the component data for the boards. As a result, your design team can have access to component data and specifications. When the design team requires manufacturing drawings, Draftsman automatically generates the drawings.
Altium Designer provides a comprehensive set of tools that assist design teams in solving the complexity of Multi-board design. Schematic capture applications, interactive routing tools, the Multi-board Assembly Editor, Connection Manager, and other tools within a unified environment allow teams to move a project from concept to production.
Working through the full enclosure of your design makes the design process simple for your team.
Because the software relies on a 64-bit multithreading architecture, it combines power with a simple-to-use, intuitive interface. Design rule and electrical checks ensure that the proper connectivity exists from board-to-board. Design teams can use Altium Designer’s 3D layout tools to simplify component placement and to ensure that populated PCBs align correctly with physical enclosures.