In today’s PCB design process, you need to be able to integrate mechanical design workflows into an electrical design tool. Transferring inaccurate design data back and forth between the ECAD and MCAD worlds not only causes frustrations for both design teams, but can also drastically increase the number of design spins required to fit the PCB into its final assembly. And regardless of the electrical design tool’s actual 3D capabilities, if you don’t have accurate component 3D modeling information, you can’t accurately analyze mechanical clearances.
Does Your Design Tool Support 3D Modeling?
Different EDA environments offer different levels of support for 3D modeling. Some have none at all, so all mechanical information needs to be supplied by an MCAD tool. Others use outdated methods like DXF or IDF to exchange information. Altium Designer supports embedding STEP models to provide accurate modeling information that can not only be passed over to the MCAD world, but can also be used directly in ECAD tools.
There may be situations when you either can’t or simply don’t want to use a STEP model. You may not have an internal MCAD department. You might not own any 3D MCAD tools. Or maybe your organization doesn’t allow externally-sourced CAD data of any sort, thus preventing you from downloading the models. Other security restrictions may prevent you from accessing the Internet altogether.
Fortunately, Altium Designer provides you with methodologies to create mechanical details of your components directly inside the tool. This is ideally done in the footprint library itself (.PcbLib), but can also be done right at the board level (.PcbDoc) for one-off situations.
How to Create Your Own 3D Component Bodies
Altium Designer provides three basic 3D shape types for creating mechanical models: Extruded, Cylinder, and Sphere. Each of these can be used alone or in combination with one another. The Cylinder and Sphere types are self-explanatory.
Using these simple shapes, a large variety of surface mount and through-hole components can be created, ranging from the simple to the surprisingly complex. Learn how to create your own 3D component bodies in Altium Designer by downloading a free white paper.
About the Author
Dave has been an Applications Engineer for 20 years in the EDA industry. He started in 1995 at a mid-Atlantic reseller that represented PADS Software, ViewLogic, and a host of other EDA tools. He moved on to work directly for PADS Software, and stayed on as they were acquired by Innoveda and then by Mentor Graphics. He and a business partner formed a VAR of their own in 2003 (Atlantic EDA Solutions) to represent Mentor's PADS channel, and later on Cadence's OrCAD and Allegro products. Since 2008, Dave has been working directly for Altium and is based at his home office in New Jersey.More Content by David Cousineau