Altium Unveils the First “Design With Manufacturing” Platform
Announced at AltiumLive, the new Altimade application brings designers, supply chain experts, and manufacturers all on the same continuous digital thread.
Anyone who has designed a PCB for a commercial product knows that making a system work is just half of the battle. One of the biggest challenges is preparing a PCB that is manufacturable.
Altimade hopes to merge design, manufacturing, and supply chain.
According to Altium, production is an obstacle in a design cycle because of the separation between designer and manufacturer in terms of workflow, priorities, and tools. Part of the problem is that high-tech manufacturing often uses low-tech processes, like hand-written paper travelers and back-and-forth phone calls across time zones.
In an attempt to mitigate this issue, Altium has today announced Altimade: a new software tool part of Altium 365 that merges design and manufacturing collaboration. This cloud platform connects directly to contract manufacturer MacroFab, allowing users to request a quote and place an order for a PCB to be assembled.
All About Circuits interviewed Ted Pawela, chief ecosystem officer and head of the cloud business unit at Altium, to hear about this new platform.
DFM Processes Lost in Translation
Designing PCBs for manufacturability can be notoriously painstaking, taking almost as long as any other part of the design life cycle. While DFMs (design for manufacturing) necessitate multiple design revisions, the communication between manufacturers and designers is rife with challenges including language barriers, file conversions, and missing information.
Pawela explains, “There's more challenges in manufacturing, of course, that relate to the new technologies that we're introducing, like high-speed and high-density technology.”
The friction that exists between designers and manufacturers is due largely to differences in information, software tools, and priorities, Pawela notes.
Altium says the new platform shows up-to-the-minute availability and pricing of components.
“Generally, design people are interested in function. Manufacturing people are interested in manufacturability and costs. Supply chain people are interested in availability, cost, and timelines,” he says. “But each of them work with different toolsets and different data formats as well.”
He continues, “Engineers design their boards in tools like Altium, but they export from their design tools a set of files like Gerber files and Excel documents for the manufacturer. But that's not what they're designing for. And inevitably, once you make those kinds of exports and imports from one tool chain to another, you lose something in translation.”
Altimade: Merging Manufacturing and Design
In an attempt to resolve the lack of cohesion between the designing and manufacturing stages of PCB design, Altium today announced Altimade.
Created in collaboration with MacroFab, Altimade is a software tool aimed at accelerating the PCB design process by connecting design, manufacturing, and supply chain data on the cloud via Altium 365. Through Altium's 365 cloud platform, Altimade is connected directly to MacroFab’s digital manufacturing platform, which enables Altimade users to instantly request quotes, place orders, and see supply chain component availability and pricing in real-time.
Example of the Altimade user interface.
Altium calls the new software the electronics industry’s first “design WITH manufacturing” application.
“Instead of exporting from their design tool and then emailing files to someone or going through FTP, they stay in the design environment with a single click,” Pawela explains. “They get their pricing, they can order the board, and they don't have to go through these exports and imports that inevitably lead to errors in the design data.”
He notes, “It also means that the manufacturing people and design people and supply chain people are all looking at the same thing. They're literally looking at one representation, not copies. This ensures there are no losses from any changes that take place because those are all seen by everybody.”
An "Uber-like Experience" in the Design Environment
Altium says Altimade offers an "Uber-like customer experience" by offering users real-time information on how much a board will cost and how long it will take to produce with "up-to-the-minute" supply chain data.
Real-time updates of the production process.
To bring these boards to life, Altium has partnered with MacroFab, a digital platform for electronics manufacturing with a network of over 75 factories across North America. Altium claims Altimade can slash typical design cycles, sometimes by more than half, by putting all eyes—from the designer to the supply chain professional to the manufacturer—all on the same continuous digital thread, where any changes are saved. Altium Designer also includes a design rule checking (DRC) feature to ensure that all designs are up to MacroFabs' manufacturing requirements.
Altium has announced Altimade at its virtual summit AltiumLive. The company says this new platform is immediately available to all Altium Designer 22 and Altium 365 users.
All images used courtesy of Altium.