Multi-board PCB Design Applications Process and Overview
If you open up some of your favorite consumer electronics, you’ll find that they are really multi-board systems, or multiple PCBs that are connected together with cables and ribbons. In the past, PCB design software has treated each board in the system individually without considering important design issues like power and ground routing, high-speed routing, mechanical assembly, and thermal demands.
Now that design software is catching up to the demands of professional designers, how do you choose the PCB design package you need to create your next multi-board system? The answer lies in considering all the available functions and features available in your PCB design software. When you use Altium Designer, you’ll have access to a full suite of design tools that are naturally adapted to multi-board PCB design. Your design tools will integrate naturally into your multi-board design features in a single program.
TOPICS IN THIS SOLUTION
A unified PCB design package with the best tools for multi-board PCB design features.
Multi-board printed circuit board design is one of those important aspects of PCB design that has been understandably overlooked in the past. Most designers only considered the boards in a multi-board system, and design tools were incapable of simulating the electrical performance of these systems. Issues like grounding, routing high-speed signals between boards, and power delivery had to be considered by the designer after a board was designed, or worse, after the board was manufactured.
Now that design tools have finally caught up to modern multi-board PCBs, designers can rigorously define all electronic and structural aspects of their multi-board systems. This includes electrical connections, mechanical connections between boards (including edge connections), and power delivery as well as its relationship to thermal problems. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the challenges faced by multi-board PCB designers.
One challenging aspect of multi-board design relates to grounding. Obviously, proper grounding is important for preventing signal integrity problems and should be considered throughout the design process. This is just as much about proper layer stack and ground plane design as it is about designing reliable return paths for signals that travel within and between boards. Some simple conceptual PCB layout requirements that apply in single boards also apply to multi-board systems.
Circuit board signal integrity can be maintained in multi-board systems by ensuring reliable return paths, following basic mixed-signal design rules, and taking advantage of the right layer stack arrangement. Most circuit boards in multi-board systems happen to be multilayer PCBs. Just like you should route traces close to your ground plane within a given board, you should also route traces across boards while running a reliable return path in order to minimize loop inductance in the system.
Getting Started With Multi-board Design Software
When it comes to multi-board design software, your design tools need to integrate directly into your multi-board connectivity tools. You need schematic capture capabilities that can be immediately adapted to starting layouts on multiple boards in a connected system. You’ll also need simulation tools that verify signal integrity and crosstalk throughout your board as overlooking this point can cause a board to fail EMC checks. Finally, as many multi-board systems are mixed signal systems, you’ll need mixed-signal simulation capabilities that let conduct transient analyses, as well as evaluate your grounding and routing strategy.
- If you aren’t familiar with real multi-board design, it’s extremely easy to get started when you work with integrated design software.
- Once you’ve created simple board outlines and your electronics schematics, you’ll need to use schematic capture tools to get started with your multi-board layout.Learn more about layout in your next multi-board PCB design.
- Professional designers can offer some useful advice on creating and managing connectivity in multi-board systems.Learn some important multi-board PCB design tips from David Haboud.
Two boards in a multi-board system
Multi-board systems are applied in areas ranging from computer architecture to smartphones, as well as military and aerospace systems. Many of these systems are really embedded systems and require designing to rigorous industry standards. Many systems in these areas interface with a variety of equipment for monitoring industrial equipment, an automobile, or aircraft, just to name a few examples. In power electronics, multi-board systems are often used to gather data from a number of analog sensors for monitoring power output and integrity.
In the realm of computer architecture, consumer-grade laptops and desktops, rack-mounted servers, and smart devices are all examples of multi-board systems that require a broad range of functionality. These devices also contain some mechanical requirements, such as folding, standardized card sizes, and clearance limits imposed by packaging.
Designing PCBs for use in any multi-board system is much easier when your design software uses hierarchical, multi-channel schematics design tools. This allows you to keep each portion of the system organized into its separate functional blocks. Once you capture your schematics and layout your PCB, you can use MCAD tools to verify your mechanical constraints, accurately rearrange components, and even simulate the fit between boards in the system using animations.
Moving Throughout Multi-board Design with the Right Software
The multi-board PCB design process begins with the right schematic capture, transitions to a complete PCB layout for each board, and ends with a complete documentation package that describes all aspects of your multi-board system. Along the way, your design software will need to integrate data from a number of sources, including your components, layer stack, and all other aspects of your circuit board.
Once it comes time to plan your multi-board system for production, you will need features that allow you to generate consistent documentation and assembly instructions for any manufacturer directly from your design data. Printed circuit design and manufacturing can finally be addressed in a single program when these important tasks are integrated into a single program with a consistent interface.
- Altium Designer and a team of experts are here to show you the finer points of multi-board design techniques and help you design successfully.
- Rigid-flex boards are inherently multi-board systems, and your design software should be adaptable to working with either type of system.See how your design software can support rigid-flex and multi-board systems.
- Any multi-board manufacturer needs a complete documentation package. You shouldn’t have to use word processing software to create a bill of materials and assembly instructions. Your design software should create this documentation for you.
A captured schematic in Altium Designer
Modern Printed Circuit Boards are already advanced, but multi-board systems take these capabilities to a whole new level. These systems integrate a range of functionality that requires a plethora of design tools in order to create functional systems. With the range of functionality required to work with and design multi-board systems, your PCB design software needs to provide all the tools you need without blocking you behind paywalls or forcing you to work in multiple programs.
With this in mind, the best software for multi-board PCB design applications includes extensive functionality within a single program. These tools need to integrate with each other, meaning they communicate in the same language and access the same design data. Other PCB design programs separate important functions, like schematic and layout design, into separate programs, complicating the overall design process.
Altium Designer: Unifying Mechanical and Electrical Design for Multi-board Systems
Working with rules-driven design software allows your design tools to easily communicate with each other without resorting to placing different design features in separate programs. Altium Designer is the only PCB design package that runs on a rules-driven design engine. Every aspect of your design, from schematic to layout and manufacturer’s documentation, is accessible within a single program.
This type of design software allows other important tasks in multi-board design, like managing components and schematic capture, to be executed with a consistent workflow and within a single interface. The design process for multilayer PCBs and multi-board systems has never been easier, and you’ll work at your most productive with Altium Designer.
- The unified environment in Altium Designer places all of your design tools in a single program, and the underlying rules-driven design engine makes them uniquely adaptable to multi-board design.Learn more about Altium Designer’s unified design environment.
- The hierarchical, multichannel schematic editor is a natural choice for multi-board PCB design. Schematic capture is quick and easy with Altium Designer.Learn more about hierarchical, multichannel schematic design in Altium Designer.
- Multi-board system design is much easier when 3D design that unifies MCAD and ECAD capabilities are included in a single program. This allows you to verify the electrical and mechanical functionality of your embedded system simultaneously.Learn more about MCAD/ECAD integration for multi-board systems in Altium Designer.
Multi-board PCB design can be a difficult task that requires the best design, simulation, verification, and documentation tools on the market. While other PCB design platforms split these tools into different programs, Altium Designer offers a modern workflow that helps you complete the most advanced design tasks in a single program. You only need to learn to use a single powerful interface within a rules-driven design environment.
When you use Altium Designer for multi-board PCB design, you’ll have plenty of resources to help you reach success. You’ll have instant access to the AltiumLive forum, webinars, and podcasts with industry experts, an extensive knowledge base, and design tutorials. No other PCB design software company gives you this many resources for success.
When you choose Altium Designer, you’ll always have access to all the tools and resources you need to design any multi-board system you can imagine. Don’t settle for other design platforms with inconsistent workflow and separated tools. You can stay at the forefront of multi-board PCB design when you use Altium Designer.