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Inside Altium 365: A Power User's First-Hand Review

Lena Weglarz
|  Created: October 30, 2023  |  Updated: October 31, 2023
Cover Photo for Altium 365 Review

In this interview, Ted Fryberger, an experienced engineer with over 40 years of expertise, shares his experience working with Altium 365, the first cloud-based electronic product design platform. As a long-time power user of Altium Designer, Ted uses Altium 365 to design custom single-board computers for intelligent instruments or dedicated controllers with multi-layer, fine line, surface mount, and through-hole PCBs. Ted discusses his top three benefits of working with Altium 365, including scalability, standardization, and cloud-based collaboration, and provides recommendations for getting started with the platform.

What can you tell us about your experience designing PCBs?

As a veteran engineer with over 40 years of experience, I have expertise in designing PCBs and other areas. I hold an M.S. in Ocean/Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. Additionally, I’m licensed as a Professional Engineer in Mechanical Engineering in MD and PA.

My primary areas of expertise include FEA stress, thermal, and dynamic analysis, ocean and mechanical engineering design, C & C++ software design (for engineering applications, CAD, and real-time embedded applications), and design of custom battery-powered single-board computers (SBCs). These SBC’s are typically used in my own engineering inventions.

What do you use to design your PCBs?

Altium Designer is the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tool I have worked with since Protel Autotrax. I use it to design custom single-board computers (SBCs) for intelligent instruments or dedicated controllers and their multilayer, fine line, surface mount, and through-hole PCBs. Typically, these SBCs are used in ocean engineering and diving applications. The EDA capability would run locally on my host engineering workstation PC.

Altium 365 is an online cloud-based platform that integrates with Altium Designer. It offers cloud backup of schematic, PCB designs, libraries, and includes a built-in GIT Version Control System (VCS). Additionally, it facilitates online collaboration and review between engineers, designers, programmers, managers, fabrication shops, and customers. This type of tool has to be cloud based to allow access by all project personnel, regardless of location.

What are the top three benefits of working with Altium 365?

I’d say standardization, scalability, and user interfaces (UI). I work as an independent consulting engineer, doing everything myself: ocean, mechanical, electrical, and software engineering. But even a solo engineer has to work with vendors, fabrication shops, testing shops, customers, and other engineers who may be helping on a specific piece of the job. So, Altium 365 is beneficial for this collaboration. 

It also provides additional secure, offsite backups for my schematic and PCB design files and libraries. It gives me a no-setup GIT VCS to keep track of changes, allowing me to manage revisions more easily and roll back or visually compare changes. Although working solo is the only time you can avoid using a VCS, the automation, flexibility, and organization from version control could simplify my daily work.

You also mentioned scalability.

Yes, Altium 365 offers a scalable solution that individuals and companies can share. It promotes standardization and scalability, as everyone interacts with its familiar web-based interface, regardless of their primary tools. For instance, a mechanical engineer can connect to Altium 365 directly from their MCAD tools, eliminating the need to learn a new software tool. The same applies to the ECAD team and Altium Designer, leading to my favorite benefit.

User Interfaces?

Exactly! All people and companies will be working through this common UI. As someone who often works alone in a multi-disciplinary context, Altium 365 reduces overhead for communication between my tasks. It saves me time and lessens unnecessary context-switching. Altium did it right. Altium Designer does not run in the cloud. It runs locally on your PC. And the Altium 365 platform adds additional capabilities and services through the cloud.

I use three different topographic mapping software tools for creating custom topographic maps for hiking, biking, backpacking, and backcountry skiing. They all run in the cloud and are obnoxiously slow! Even using an engineering workstation PC and with broadband access, you are waiting, too often, for the software to catch up to you. But it’s not the case with Altium 365. I haven’t had any performance issues connecting to the platform from Altium Designer or various MCAD tools.

In your opinion, who can benefit best from Altium 365?

The more people working together, the more Altium 365 helps with collaboration, management, and VCS. 

Giant corporations with large projects and an extensive geographically dispersed workforce can significantly benefit from the standardization and scalability Altium 365 provides. The more geographically dispersed the team, the more helpful Altium 365 is for collaboration and maintaining team cohesion and communication. Online collaboration is attractive versus time-consuming and expensive traveling. 

But Altium 365 can be helpful even for a small 2- to 3-person team. It allows them to share libraries, schematics, and PCB files while using a Version Control System (VCS). This ensures both designers and engineers are always using the same latest version.

Apart from standardization, the primary benefit for a one-person solo company would be the online backup of your design files and libraries in a VCS. Of course, you could access them via other online backup services, but these provide only backup, nothing else. Altium 365 offers many additional capabilities like visual comparisons of schematics, PCB designs, and Gerber files. You can also access project history and send your data to the manufacturer easily.

Do you have any recommendations for getting started with Altium 365?

Altium has provided many tools and reference materials to assist users in learning how to set up and use Altium 365. These are good and should be the first step users take to learn how to use Altium 365.

I recommend starting by watching Altium 365 Onboarding Session. It’s an excellent overview. Then, you can go to Altium 365 Getting Started User Guide and Altium 365 Documentation. Here, you’ll learn more about the platform’s capabilities and receive step-by-step instructions connected to sample data.

Altium Forum is a good place to connect with the community, engage in discussions, and ask your questions. You can search here for a specific topic by setting filters. At Altium 365 FAQ, you can check answers to the most common queries. 

Thank you for the engaging discussion.

Thank you, and enjoy using Altium 365!

About Author

About Author

Lena Węglarz is a dynamic and engaging content creator and storyteller, known for her  commitment to clarity and the 'write-like-you-talk' rule. She joined Altium in 2023, and since then she’s been the driving force behind Altium 365 content, letting the community know where the  world designs electronics. Her work stands out for its ability to make complex technical concepts accessible and relatable. Collaborating closely with engineers, Lena integrates their insights and perspectives into the narratives, bridging the gap between engineers' technical expertise and  the broader community. She fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of the intricacies  of electronic design.

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