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PCB manufacturing requires generating a number of specific documents for your fabricator. Even though PCB production is an involved process, it doesn’t need to be a major headache. Working with unified design and deliverable creation tools ensures that your fabricator fully understands your design intent. Your deliverables should be generated in a standardized, easy-to-read format. Only Altium Designer integrates your design and deliverable generation tools into a single program, making it easy to create thorough documentation for your manufacturer.
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A fully unified, heavily rules-driven PCB design package that automatically generates manufacturing outputs.
Now that it’s time to start planning to manufacture your next finely-crafted PCB, you’ll need to generate a number of specific files for your manufacturer. Your PCB design software will need to take the layout, stackup, and routing information from your board and build a number of files for use by your manufacturer. These files are used to plan the entire fabrication process, including instructions for CNC machines that are used to drill and separate your boards.
If you’re new to planning for PCB manufacturing, you’ll quickly realize that your manufacturer needs more than just a copy of your PCB layout and some CAD files. When viewed on their own, they can leave some room for ambiguity in manufacturing and assembly. It takes time to comb through a layout, define automated fabrication instructions, determine tooling requirements, and a host of other processes. Your deliverables specify each aspect of the manufacturing process in standardized formats.
Chief among these deliverables are your Gerber files. Your Gerber files detail where to pour copper, place silkscreen, drill locations, solder masks, and other details. Legacy file formats would place each piece of information in a single file, and each file had a unique extension corresponding to each component on a layer. New industry standard formats ensure that any manufacturer can read and use these files.
Great PCB design software not only includes tools for viewing PCBs and Gerber files, but your software should also include tools for creating Gerber files directly from your design data. An online Gerber viewer makes it easy to examine Gerber files before you send them to your manufacturer, but using one tool for design and an online for evaluating Gerber files hampers your workflow.
Your PCB design software should include comprehensive manufacturer deliverable generation tools that are easy to access and easy to use with any PCB file. There is no reason your PCB software should kick you to a separated online tool just to generate or view your Gerber files or CAD file or any other deliverable.
Generating Gerber X2 files in Altium Designer
If you are on a shoestring budget, working with online documentation viewers and deliverable generation tools can be quite convenient. But not all online tools are designed to work with all CAD formats, and they may not generate deliverables in a format required by your manufacturer. Working with online Gerber viewers and generators do nothing to solve workflow and productivity problems.
Instead, your PCB design and deliverable generation tools should integrate all these features, allowing your design data to feed directly into your documentation. You won’t be left writing out documentation by hand and you remove the risk of errors in your documentation. Only the best PCB design software offers all of these features in a unified environment. This enhances your productivity and ensures your manufacturer has all the standardized documentation they need to begin production.
Your Gerber files contain all the information your manufacturer needs to replicate your layout in an actual PCB. They need these files to plan the fabrication process and will use a Gerber viewer to access all the important information in your Gerber files. Your PCB design software should also make it easy to view Gerber files from your design data, rather than leaving you to access an external tool.
Another important document that needs to reach your manufacturer before beginning production is your bill of materials. A bill of materials for PCB production details all the required components that will appear in your printed circuit board. Your PCB design software should synchronize information between your layout, bill of materials, Gerber files, and other documentation in a standardized format, rather than leaving you to prepare these documents by hand.
Viewing your manufacturing outputs in Altium Designer
In the old days of planning for PCB production, you would need to generate deliverables for your manufacturer using a number of separated programs. This was an involved process, where different boards required different workflows. Important documents like bills of materials would have to be written manually and drill tables would have to be drawn up by scanning through CAD layouts. This took a large amount of time and left plenty of room for error.
These days, we are blessed with software that unifies your deliverable generation tools with your design tools. Most PCB design software claims to offer a fully unified environment, but only Altium Designer packages all of your PCB design and deliverable tools into a single interface. Your deliverable generation tools take data directly from your design, ensuring that your manufacturing outputs are error-free.
Whether its managing layers in your PCB editor or organizing a CAD file or a PCB file or any other file formats for your printed circuit boards, you’ll want to make sure that your design environment is user-friendly enough to manage the components of your board.
Unifying your design and deliverable generation tools ensures that your manufacturing outputs have a consistent format and accurately communicate every aspect of your design intent. Only Altium Designer places all of your deliverable and design tools in a single program while still giving you the ability to customize your outputs.
Altium Designer gives your access to much more than just a suite of design and deliverable tools. The unified, rules driven interface integrates powerful simulation and analysis tools with your design tools. You can get an in-depth look at every aspect of your PCB before you send it off for production.
Learning new design software can be daunting, especially if the software company leaves you to learn the product on your own. Altium Designer includes several useful examples to help you get started. You’ll also have access to the AltiumLive forum, a thorough knowledge base and webinars and podcasts with industry experts. Altium Designer makes sure you have all the support you need to reach success.
The best design, analysis, and deliverable generation tools can help you move into production successfully. Altium Designer is the only PCB design package that unifies all these tools in a single environment. The rules-driven design engine ensures that these tools work together seamlessly. Try Altium Designer for all of your manufacturer deliverables.