Altium Designer® 18: Key Benefits of ActiveBOM

Vincent Mazur
|  Created: July 11, 2018  |  Updated: March 20, 2020
Altium Designer® 18: Key Benefits of ActiveBOM

If you were unable to attend the July 19th live ActiveBOM® webinar, you can view the the presentation slides and video recording at your convenience. If you prefer, you can also review the summary below for the session highlights. I briefly discussed some of the challenges design engineers encounter as they search for, select and source parts for designs. Then, I introduced ActiveBOM and provided a demonstration, followed by a summary and Q&A session (listed below).



Key Webinar Highlights

Some Component Browser Challenges

It’s key to find the part manager that support mission objectives, but there seems to always be a number of issues we encounter, including:

  • Finding components that support project goals
  • Early identification of at-risk components
  • Coping with part shortages at build time
  • Counterfeit part risks
  • Environmental compliance
  • Designing to cost
  • Part lifecycle dynamics

Electronic components are like airline tickets – the availability and cost today is different than a month from today. Both are influenced by a variety of dynamic factors that change daily. Frequent, real-time monitoring can help to prevent component issues that can delay board manufacturing.

What is ActiveBOM?

ActiveBOM is an editor in Altium Designer that sits alongside, in importance, with the schematic and PCB editors. You can think of ActiveBOM as an alternative (table-based) way to view and interact with your design. The schematic provides the logical representation of the design and the PCB provides the physical representation. ActiveBOM supplements these two domains with focus on selection, sourcing and cost of the items needed to realize the PCB assembly in volume, and can serve as an effective part manager in this way.

Advancing a design through manufacturing can be derailed if any of these three domains is compromised. You can have the most unique and high-performance design, but if you can’t get the parts at the right time and at the right cost, it’s an uphill battle. ActiveBOM is an interactive BOM plugin that provides designers with a strategic tool to proactively mitigate these issues.

ActiveBOM consumes data from a variety of sources, from global/cloud to on-premise/local, enabling users to optimize the live BOM to meet project objectives. The BomDoc is a living project document that is design-aware. It updates in real time to any changes made to the design. Once your BOM is good to go, the BomDoc is the single-source for downstream outputs such as Draftsman® documents, BOM reports and output jobs. ActiveBOM supports any type of Altium libraries you have.

Overview of ActiveBOM Key UI Areas and Capabilities

Component List Table View

  • Complete view of all BOM reflected from design with fully customizable column data/source, line item numbering schemes, reference designation grouping and saved views
  • Displays live BOM checks (configurable) for aspects such as availability, stocking suppliers, End of Life (EOL), Not Recommended for New Design (NRFND) and more
  • Consolidated view displays complete BOM of design variants as well as fitted and unfitted status
  • Cross probe directly from BOM reference designator to schematic and PCB
  • Supports adding custom items such as custom/stocked parts, NRE costs, glue, mechanical parts, heatsink compound, etc.

Component Supply Chain Matrix

  • Rank manufacturer part number (MPN) choices and view available supplier part numbers (SPN), stock, cost, minimum order quantity (MOQ) and price-breaks
  • Solution tiles include one-click, direct links to manufacture datasheets and supplier websites
  • Favorite suppliers can be defined and prioritized as desired
  • Manual solutions can be added for internally stocked parts

Properties Panel

  • Change production quantity for an immediate “what-if” analysis view of impact on price-per-board, target price achievement and resultant part choices and supplier part numbers
  • View summary of BOM check errors and customize BOM checks
  • Select and prioritize favorite suppliers and define BOM sets (saved views)
  • Control column visibility and configure data sources


ActiveBOM provides a tool for getting real-time insight into the parts you need for your designs, and it supports “early and often” monitoring of your live BOM to prevent manufacturing delays and setbacks. Additionally, it assists as a part manager by identifying part choices that can be risky, such as the Not Recommended for New Design (NRFND) and End of Life (EOL) components shown in the demonstration. Best of all, it’s an interactive BOM plugin that's already part of Altium Designer 18 and there’s little to learn.

Questions and Answers

Q: During this webinar I received many similar questions along the topic of how to update existing designs and libraries to work with ActiveBOM. I have combined the questions into the following answer.

A: ActiveBOM pulls the manufacturer part number solutions from your Altium component libraries, component instances in the design (those that include supplier or manufacturer links) and ActiveBOM manual solutions.

If the manufacturer data is not available, ActiveBOM will not show any part choices and their supplier solutions, unless you manually add them in the BomDoc.

Supplier links have been available in Altium Designer for quite some time, and work in ActiveBOM. However, the supplier-driven approach only provides a solution that is only that part, from only that supplier, and limits the part choices and supplier solutions that will be provided by ActiveBOM.

Manufacturer links are a newer construct and enable using a (Manufacturer, Manufacturer Part Number) “pair” or coordinate, if you will, to add a unique part choice to a component.  If not already in the component, parameters such as: “Manufacturer1 = KOA Speer”/”Manufacturer Part Number1 = RK73B1ETTP513J”, “Manufacturer2 = Vishay”/”Manufacturer Part Number2 = CRCW040251K0JNED” and so forth, need to be included in the component. In this example, the result would be two part choices for the component. You can have an unlimited number of part choices per component. You can then rank the part choices as you see fit.

The other essential step in utilizing Manufacturer Links is to tell the ActiveBOM BomDoc what parameters to look for when pulling part solution data. This is done in the Properties Panel of the BomDoc under the “Solution” section; look for “Manufacturer Link” and click the “Edit…” button.

Once you have manufacturer link parameters and have them linked in the BomDoc, click the “Refresh” button to the left of the search box at the top of the BomDoc. This pulls the linked part choices into the BomDoc and updates suppliers from Octopart.

More detail can be found in the “Including Supply Chain Information in the Parts” section of BOM Management with ActiveBOM.

Q: If there is only one ActiveBOM per PCB design, how are variants handled?

A: Variants are part of a single PCB design and are completely handled in ActiveBOM. You can select from three different views of the BOM:

  1. Flat view - a row for every component.
  2. Base view - a row for each unique component in the project, the Designator column lists the designators of all components of this type. Multiple presentation options are available for grouped designators; select the required Designator Grouping mode in the Properties panel.
  3. Consolidated view - used when the project includes variants, to display a consolidated BOM for all variants.

For additional information see the “Working with Variants” section of BOM Management with ActiveBOM.

Q: Setting a component’s Type parameter to "Standard (No BOM)" is fine for artwork like test points, but what about a flag for "not installed or NI"?

A: This can be addressed in a couple of ways. The first is to use a variant and “un-fit” those components you do not wish to have installed. This will also assure that the unfitted components are not part of any manufacturing data files generated such as pick-and-place. You can then select the “[No Variations]” Variant to perform BOM cost optimization, parts ordering, etc.

Q: Where would the cost for the bare PCB be listed?

A:  In the ActiveBOM view, select “Add new > Custom row.” A custom row is an easy way to add a custom BOM item that needs to be accounted for in the design (bare board, glue, etc). All fields in a custom row are user-defined. Custom rows are not managed by ActiveBOM, for example if the quantity is set to 3, there will not be 3 separate items displayed in Flat view. For additional detail, see the “Custom BOM Items and Columns” section of BOM Management with ActiveBOM.

Q: Is it possible to have multiple "Cross-Reference" parts to the same Part Number (P/N)?

A: Yes, ActiveBOM supports an unlimited number of part choices per component. For example, if your component Name is MMBT3904 you can add a part choice for as many equivalent or cross-referenced parts as desired. Part choices are defined by the manufacturer and the manufacturer part number.

Q: My prototype board house has a format for MS Excel file BOMs.  Can this be automated like I have done with a template in Reports/BOM?

A: Yes, clicking “Reports > Bill of Materials” while in the ActiveBOM editor brings up the familiar BOM report dialog that allows using templates. However, the input source of the BOM Report is now the ActiveBOM .BomDoc file. For additional detail, see the “Generating a BOM” section of BOM Management with ActiveBOM.

Q: Is ActiveBOM only available for AD18? I am still using AD17 and have not heard of it.

A: ActiveBOM has been part of Altium Designer since the later sub releases of AD13, but the functionality introduced in AD18 has been greatly improved.

Q: How many alternate manufacturers can you have per part? And what is the criteria to determine which parts are "close enough" to be grouped together?

A: ActiveBOM has no limits on the number of part choices per component. SPNs (Supplier Part Numbers) are also not limited and are automatically ranked by availability and price.

Q: If I spend time  finding multiple part options for a component (i.e. 10K 1% resistors from multiple manufacturers), can I leverage this information for other designs?

A: Yes you can. If you rely on a centralized library (.SchLib, .IntLib, Managed Components, etc.), the component choices you add can be reflected to any designs that use those components. You can also leverage the part choices you put directly into schematic component instances by copying the components from one schematic to another, but this is not my preferred approach. I’m personally a fan of a library-driven approach that will result in the most reuse and consistency, because it supports a “change once and update to many” philosophy. In some cases, you also have the ability to load part selection data from an existing BOM document.

Q: How do we use our company part numbers?

A: Just include the internal part number in your Altium library and that data can be selected for inclusion in the BomDoc. You can also include the custom part number directly in the BomDoc, but, once again, the library-driven approach will result in the most reuse and consistency.

Q: Updating of supplier status only occurs when you manually open each ActiveBOM. What if I have a closed design and I decide to manufacture it after a few months, do I have to reopen the ActiveBom each time?

A: No, you do not have to open the ActiveBOM BomDoc each time. If you are using the Project Releaser, you can automate the BOM checking process. When the outputs are  properly configured, the Releaser will stop and report BOM Checks violation if something has changed with the parts, such as zero stock, manufacturer status, etc.

Q: Is it possible to run ActiveBOM without a full Altium license, and does ActiveBOM work with the Altium Viewer license? Our purchasing dept. would love to use something like this but we couldn't do another Altium license.

A:  ActiveBOM BomDoc files can be opened and saved using a Viewer license. BOM’s can be optimized and BOM reports can be generated as well. This provides others in your organization with convenient access to ActiveBOM functionality without the cost of a full Altium Designer license.

Q: Can ActiveBOM work both with a schematic and with an assembly of boards, flex, and connectors/etc.?

A: Yes, The muli-board capability of Altium Designer together with ActiveBom provides the ability mange BOM for each of the PCBs as well as any (non-schematic) items required to connect the boards to each other.

Q: During the demonstration you mentioned seeing the datasheet links per component. Where is that accessed?

A: The datasheet link button is shown just to the right of the component picture and below the Manufacturer Part Number. For more detailed information, see “The Supply Chain” section of BOM Management with ActiveBOM.

Q: How do you access the Octopart database?

A: Altium Designer 18 and versions going forward access Octopart inherently. When connected to the internet, ActiveBOM and the Part Search panels always access Octopart. In addition, clicking on the manufacturer part number link just to the right of the component picture will bring up the device on the Octopart website, along with a listing of suppliers and stock levels. Users can also access Octopart at

Q: What's the relationship between Octopart and Altium? Is Octopart a subdivision, a partnership?

A: Octopart is a wholly owned subsidiary of Altium and continues to grow and operate independently from its headquarters in New York City.

Q: If your library or vault does not have any supplier information, does active BOM still work? For example, if you have, say, 5 manufacture numbers but no supplier info/number, does it still show?

A: ActiveBOM supplier solutions are driven by the Manufacturer and Manufacturer Part Number. Provided your Altium library or Vault/NEXUS includes this information, ActiveBOM will generate supplier solutions. You can have an unlimited number of part choices per component. Supplier solutions are limited only by the total number of suppliers Octopart supports (currently over 200) and any filter you have defined for Favorite Suppliers. See BOM Management with ActiveBOM for additional detail.

Q: Earlier versions of Altium Designer 18 integrated the Part Search panel with the Add New Manual Solution, allowing you to import part information to the manual solution. The newer version of Altium Designer no longer has this. Is there a new mechanism to accomplish this?

A: The Part Search panel will be reintegrated into an improved Add New Manual Solution dialog in an upcoming Altium Designer 18 release.

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About Author

About Author

Vincent Mazur, BSEE, is a Field Applications Engineer at Altium. Prior to rejoining Altium, he co-founded a scientific electronic instrument business where he architected and designed handheld, battery-operated products using Altium Designer. Vincent has over 25 years of combined experience in the electronics industry designing hardware and software for embedded systems and in the EDA industry assisting companies in optimising their electronic product development processes.

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