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The objective of every PCB design is to have it reliably fabricated and assembled. Unless you are building the board and mounting components yourself, this requires creating a design file package that a contract manufacturer (CM) can use to bring to your design to life. Today, a growing number of CMs offer free PCB design software that will create your design package in a preferred file format that can only be recognized and convertedby them. This limits your ability to select another CM, which may be better suited for you due to experience, product or service quality. With Altium Designer, you have an alternative that allows you to generate a Gerber design file package, the defacto PCB file standard. Altium’s PCB-to-Gerber converter will even convert the file formats of most other EDA or ECAD tools providing you will maximum flexibility for choosing your PCB manufacturer.
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The industry’s most comprehensive PCB design software with flexible PCB-to-Gerber converter capability.
Just as preferred language varies from country to country, preferred PCB design file format varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some manufacturers will attempt to entice you to use their preferred format by allowing you to use a free version of their design software. If all manufacturers provided the same level of service, perhaps this would a good situation. Unfortunately, all CMs are not created equal and PCB designers are better served when they are able to partner with the best CM for their specific needs.
To accommodate this flexibility to select board fabrication and PCB assembly service providers virtually all CMs are able to utilize Gerber design files. With Altium Designer, not only can you create and export your original PCB designs as Gerber files, but you can also import native file formats from other EDA tools, modify and export your design using the PCB-to-Gerber converter.
Ever since I began designing PCBs, I have always worked by the adage No Job is Finished Until the Paperwork is Done. For circuit board layout, that means that the design is not complete until the PCB design file package is created. Moreover, the design file(s) must be in a format that your CM can use to accurately build your boards.
Since the release of RS-274X in 1980, this second Gerber file format has served as the “de facto” PCB file standard that most manufacturers accept. However, the quality of your Gerber file output is directly related to the process and tools used to create it. Don’t trust your PCB assembly and PCB manufacturing to any Gerber file format, trust in Altium Designer’s circuit board layout software to move your design from schematic capture to PCB manufacturing.
It is probably safe to say that most PCB designs begin with a schematic diagram and proceed through a series of steps that define the components, interconnectivity and material structure. Obviously, the design stage is not quite that simple and there are some essential steps that must be performed to ensure that your design files are complete for your CM. Altium Designer provides you with a unified environment and comprehensive tools to easily create your design whether beginning from scratch, incorporating previously designed and verified circuitry or when collaborating with colleagues.
Instead of backing you into a corner and forcing you to use a single file format, Altium is designed to be as flexible as possible and allow you to utilize file formats from many other EDA packages. This capability is invaluable if your organization uses multiple ECAD and MCAD tools or you need to make use a vetted design that was created by another PCB design program. import and create.
Use Altium’s Import Wizard to convert from other EDA tools
To make the utilization of file formats from other EDA tools as simple as possible, Altium provides you with an Import Wizard to step you through the process. Once imported, you can make use of the extensive design capabilities and functionality available for creating and reviewing your PCB layout and output file(s).
So as to maintain the integrity of your circuit board arriving at the manufacturing process, it is important that your Gerber viewer and Gerber file formats are in-order. Whether it’s trusting your layout software to effectively display the board layout of buried vias and pads or in having proper reference designators and smart PCB routing throughout your design, you should be prepared.
As with the other capabilities and functionality of Altium Designer, there are multiple options that allow the designer to customize their PCB design experience. These include an internal design file structure that includes schematic, PCB, output and other files that can be accessed and interacted with by text and graphically. Collectively, these files provide the data and information for the PCB-to-Gerber Converter operation.
Irrespective of the original source, internal or external ECAD or MCAD, Altium includes several means of verifying the accuracy of your PCB design. These include the ability to define the rules for your schematic, PCB and output files. And if design changes are necessary, Altium’s unified design environment will reflect the changes throughout the design files.
Most CMs accept the Gerber file standard, known as X1. However, there is thrust in the industry from organizations such as IPC - Association Connecting Electronics Industries, to create design file formats that are more compatible with the actual equipment used to manufacture PCBs. A step in this direction was the release of version X2 of the Gerber format. For the CMs that have adopted this update, Altium also allows you to create output files in the new format.
Defining the Gerber file output
The ability to speak your CM’s language is critical for the accurate fabrication and assembly of your PCB design. By speaking the universal language of PCB design files, Gerber, you have the flexibility to make the best selection of CM for your requirements. With Altium Designer’s PCB-to-Gerber Converter capability you have maximal control over your output file format and choice of CM.