Altium’s New Collaborative Platform Said to Slash the Lofty Price Tag on Design Miscommunication
There's a high price to pay when electrical engineers and mechanical engineers miscommunicate. Altium's new collaborative platform, Altium 365, may help.
This week, Altium announced its latest design suite that aims to revolutionize the development of electronic products: Altium 365. In this article, we will look at what this platform is and how it may help engineers work in better-coordinated teams to create the next generation of products.
Electrical-to-Mechanical Disruptions in Product Design
When you read through descriptions of Altium 365, it's not difficult to imagine the design situation that inspired such a platform. Designers will sometimes call on mechanical engineers for certain components, enclosures, and production steps that if not properly coordinated can result in expensive redesigns, refits, and reruns of parts.
There are plenty of opportunities for miscommunications during the product design stage. For example, a PCB designer may produce one version of a design that a mechanical engineer develops an enclosure for. The design must have correct CAD drawings of the PCB with all mechanical information included, such as drill hole locations and protrusions. But if the PCB designer creates a second version without notifying the mechanical engineer or fab house of the design change, you may be faced with a costly mistake that slips through the cracks.
Trying to coordinate an engineering project can be tricky, but there is a wide range of software and development tools that can help.
Altium 365 can help you send the correct files, viewable in 3D, to fab and assembly providers. Screenshot used courtesy of Altium
To help organize multi-team projects, Altium has announced its latest development platform, Altium 356.
A Collaborative Platform
Altium 365, which works in tandem with Altium Designer, is a cloud-based platform that helps to bridge the divide among electronic design engineers, mechanical engineers, fab and assembly providers, and parts suppliers. It provides version control for PCB designs and helps to unify BoMs, allowing for alternative part sourcing.
The platform also allows designers to assign members to specific portions of a project and make comments on designs; this communication can occur in real-time. By storing all the design comments and information in one platform, designers can keep track of information, providing both parties with the latest version of a design.
Altium 365 allows users to share links, which allows teammates on the other end to view and comment on a design. Image used courtesy of Altium
Because Altium 365 is a cloud-based platform, it can operate on any device, including PCs, Macs, and smartphones, making them a practical option when working with multiple workstations in different locations. All information stored is unified across projects, such as component libraries that ensure all designs use identical footprints and parts.
The platform also has tools for mechanical engineers being natively integrated to Solidworks, Creo, and Inventor. Instead of a PCB engineer having to export files, the PCB can be converted while designs are kept in sync with the cloud. Version control also allows designers to check design history and can identify issues that may have been caused by a past change.
Different Options for Different Teams
Altium 365 is a cloud-based platform that helps PCB designers, mechanical engineers, and parts suppliers to work together. However, Altium 365 is not a platform that allows electrical engineers to design schematics and create PCBs. Instead, it's a platform that stores PCB designs and tracks their changes. Designers still must capture schematics using other Altium products. PCB designs are “pushed” to the cloud for storage and viewed by all team members.
The company says Altium 365 allows fellow designers to see what you're seeing in real-time. Screenshot used courtesy of Altium
Altium 365 comes in four different varieties: Viewer, Basic, Standard, and Pro.
- The Viewer version allows users to share designs and CAM manufacturing data through a web browser for free—no installation of Altium Designer required.
- The Basic version requires users to be registered to AltiumLive. This version opens the collaborative aspect of Altium 365, including "snapshot" storage of designs, commenting, and redlining.
- The Standard version has three prerequisites: registration to AltiumLive, Altium Designer, and a current Altium subscription. This option provides global sharing and live collaboration with one's connected company workspace, including shared component libraries and designs for real-time commenting.
- The Pro version provides users the "full formality and structure of data management." As such, it requires AlltiumLive registration, Altium Designer, an Altium subscription, and Altium Concord Pro. In addition to all the features offered in the Standard version, Pro tacks on the features from Concord Pro: "full managed components with component validation and where-used capability, component templates, part requests, and component synchronization."
How Remote Teams Might Use Altium 365
Remote teams have become an increasing reality with shelter-in-place orders. Altium suggests that this new platform can ease this transition for teams going remote or provide ongoing support to engineers who regularly correspond with off-site teams during regular business operations.
Altium 365 would be of most use for teams already using Altium products (or who plan to use Altium products), like Altium Designer.
If a design team only ever works with circuit boards and does not require enclosures, then that team may not find Altium 365 as useful as others. The platform can still be useful for version control of PCB designs, but all mechanical CAD features would go unused.
The press release does state that the platform allows users to "bring together the stakeholders and participants of their choosing (even those who do not have Altium Designer)" with the free web-browser accessible version.
Designers can review each other's work and leave instructive comments in the margins. Screenshot used courtesy of Altium
It should be noted, too, that version control can easily be incorporated using many other software packages. However, this platform would be especially helpful to diminish the number of incorrect CAD drawings created from old PCB designs, which can run a high price tag.
Altium 365 is a project management solution that helps to unify design teams and organize tasks. While not it's not a design suite itself, Altium says the platform can help all parties stay updated on design changes, communicate effectively, and coordinate teams efficiently.
Have you had experience working with multiple remote teams? How do you minimize miscommunication? Share your experience in the comments below.