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3D PCB Editor Simplifies Concurrent ECAD/MCAD Modeling

Created: April 24, 2018
Updated: October 29, 2020

Phone conducting a circuitry scan of a device in real-time

Spending my weekends contending with powerful, yet non-intuitive modeling software is getting old. It is a shame we’ve come so far from the first CPU and its promise of computing power to still struggle with endless menus, and setting intricate parameters just to get started. The learning curves continue to suck precious hours from engineers and PCB designers, leaving many to give up new functions, such as 3D, in favor of reliable 2D environments.

Sure, it is great to have powerful functions, such as 3D, but project managers rarely see the value in spending time on anything other than work that gets the printed circuit board directly into fab and assembly houses for build. Who has time to fiddle with orientation parameters, especially when the export leaves out important information such as holes, silkscreen, or solder mask?

Many users agree, however, that product development could evolve most elegantly if 3D tools absorbed the intricate setup tasks, leaving designers in intuitive environments where they are able to drag and drop components from MCAD to ECAD and back again. Such power would enable collision checks for DFM, remove drawing iterations, eliminate steep learning curves, and allow export of complete drawing packages without losing information.

Take the Difficulty Out of Using 3D Software for PCB Design

It is frustrating to spend hours meticulously selecting and drawing components and pieces only to have them interfere when assembled. The world invents amazing devices for all of us to use. Given challenges the design world faces, it is amazing we have highly-functioning devices available for everyday use. Tools to translate complex tasks keep a good work-life balance.

Who wants to spend their entire weekend fiddling with separate modeling environments only to line up holes across document formats? Critical alignment checking, when done manually, creates an opportunity to miss something when examining a complex, three-dimensional assembly, especially when you’re tired.

Man inspecting a circuit board
Find errors before you build with Altium’s PCB 3D editor

Ease Use of 3D Placement and Modeling

Today, PCB software is evolving to intuitively model interconnected 3D, along with their smaller intricate pieces. Libraries and component wizards are available with 3D functionality easily available so your work may move forward seamlessly. Product teams are increasingly able to model fine details of their hardware in 3D, finding and fixing competing interfaces before they are built.

You can be assured that once you place the component in your schematic, the mechanical engineer will have access to 3D models of the components, including hole information along with solder mask and silk screen. Instead of manually delivering a short list of the tallest, or fattest, components to your mechanical engineer, along with best practice locations for placing, your ME will have the 3D component models used on your PCB and can place them alongside other within the product’s envelope.

Using the PCB 3D Editor, you’ll be able to partner with your DFM engineers, as well, to analyze board outline and keepouts within the product’s 3D model, identifying and fixing collisions early. Rather than spending numerous hours setting up the environment, you’ll be generating the design and sharing it out in .STEP files across the enterprise in an accurate model representing complete information for the board and product build.

Remove Drawing Iterations with Powerful .STEP Integration

Altium’s 3D capabilities are an advantage when integrating your PCB drawings with your mechanical team’s dimensioning software. You’ll be able to create 3D component models, import standard-format 3D component models and product enclosures from other software modeling systems, perform collision checks within the 3D PCB editor and export the loaded board in a standard file format compatible with your mechanical team’s modeling platform.

Through a variety of easy to use ways, interdepartmental drawings can be accomplished with Altium Designer®. You no longer have to read through cryptic help menus or search the online community for hard-to-find processes for making the software work. Altium provides the 3D PCB Editor, a powerful tool that creates 3D component models and allows you to view in 3D, easily zooming, panning, rotating, and changing orientation.

There are several ways to make 3D component models.

  • You can create shapes with 3D body objects, and this is great when you are in the early stages of designing a custom part for use in your design.
  • You can draft a 3D model while in development, later refining, if needed, to the final custom part shape.
  • You have the PCB Component Wizard that easily guides you through creating a 3D object for your components.
  • You can make enclosures as well, or you can import a 3D mechanical model from your mechanical department’s modeling software.
  • Using the PCB Editor, you can orient and position the resultant 3D part into your intended design.

Not only can you import from your mechanical modeling software, you can now export to your MCAD software. It is no longer a one-way street. And importing 3D product case or enclosure allows for the most accurate representation of the hardware when it is built. There is collision check within the 3D PCB Editor to visualize any interferences missed in your mind’s eye. You can measure your enclosure and the PCA within the enclosure.

Support for export to your mechanical modeling software happens through the ISO 10303 standard, STEP, a highly-detailed format for use across platforms. Formats, such as .STEP, are sharing information in 3D across ECAD and MCAD drawings with one click to deliver envelope and assembly drawings early in the design cycle.

Example of 3D circuit board and components in Altium’s 3D PCB editorLet 3D modeling give back your creator time

So, get your beach gear out and ready for the weekend, because Altium 18 is going to give you back your fun time. You’ll rest easy knowing that the tool represented all interdependent in 3D and checked all intricate details of your design.

For further help in streamlining your design process and finding the right tools that you need, call an expert at Altium today.

Start the journey to switch over to Altium Designer today.

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