Multi-board Design Basics in Altium Designer 18 - Webinar July 26th

David Haboud
|  Created: August 2, 2018  |  Updated: March 20, 2020

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The webinar touches on electrical and mechanical challenges of system and product level multi-board pcb design. A demonstration follows, showing how to mitigate challenges of the pcb design process with the capabilities of Altium Designer. Circuit boards rarely operate in isolation. Working with enclosures housing multiple board designs is a growing scenario in the electronics industry. You need to manage the whole system connections, resolve conflicts, and update system-child projects. Coordinate separate board rotation, alignment, and enclosure fit is like a game of three-dimensional chess. How do you conquer all of these challenges? Check out the webinar recording below to learn how to combat these challenges to ensure product quality in Altium Designer 18. Watch the webinar video recording below or view the presentation slides in the PDF above.

 

Video:

 

 

Electrical and Mechanical Challenges

The main electrical challenge can be seen when defining board-to-board interconnections. As for mechanical challenges, designers are often bogged down by time intensive model rendering and file transfers!

  • Board change management
  • System/Product connectivity definition
  • Positioning, fit, and collision prevention
  • Placement optimization: Component, Connector, Board, Enclosure

 

Logical System-Level Design

Multi-board schematic documents allow you to create the logical design interconnections between modules. Each module represents a complete printed circuit board project with all associated files.

 

 

 

Multi-board Schematic Signal Definition

 

Connection Definitions

Altium Designer references four types of board interconnections:

  • Direct Connection: Direct contact between boards.
  • Wire: A single wire connecting two points across boards.
  • Cable: An inseparable bundle of wires used to connect boards.
  • Harness: A collection of cables and wires connected two or more points across two or more boards.

 

 

Defining Interconnections

 

 

Maintaining Board Connectivity with the Connection Manager

The Connection Manager simplifies connectivity management by tracking each signal across each pcb layout. Any components or connectors that have been pin swapped will prompt you to “Confirm” or “Revert” the changes on the design to ensure acknowledgment of changes. You can also select “Swap Pins” to pin swap the component or connector on the connecting board.

 

Signal Integrity with Pin Swapping

 

Visualizing Your Product’s Interior Using Cross-Section View

It is important to be able to see how your boards are positioned in the enclosure. The cross-section view provides direct visualization into your complete product assembly with adjustable X, Y, and Z section planes. You can also quickly flip plane views and toggle visibility of each plane section.

 

Cross-Section View

 

Assembly Hierarchy Navigation

The multi-board assembly documents represents the physical connections between individual designs and enclosures. You are able to navigate between complete board assemblies and individual design layers, nets, net classes, and components. The image below shows the interconnections between the DD4 net classes between the SODIMM and the MiniPC design allowing you to track signal connectivity on a physical and logical level.

 

 

 

Physical Net Connections Between Boards

 

Board Alignment

Multi-board designs require precise board alignment for each board. You can use plane to plane and axis to axis alignment to get the perfect fit of all of your boards. The SODIMM and WiFi boards have been aligned to using a combination of the two methods with the connectors on the MiniPC board.

 

Wifi Module Placement Using Axis-to-Axis Alignment

 

Optimizing Part Placement

Placement is one of the most important aspects of product design. With Altium Designer, you are able to move components on any selected board in the assembly and changes will be sent to the original PCB design. The image demonstrates movement of three components ensuring their relative position to each other while allowing placement optimization.

 

 

Component Placement Optimization

 
 

Q&A Session

Below are the top questions from the webinar. Please ask any addition questions in the comments or send me an email at david.haboud@altium.com.

 

Q: How do you define connectors between the boards?

A: You define connectors by setting the “System” component parameter to "Connector."

 

Properties Panel

 

Q: Is there a collision detection function?

A: Collision detection runs through the entire multi-board assembly including boards and models that have been made invisible. The Messages Panel shows the full list of violations allowing you to cross probe to any violation. Meanwhile, the multi-board assembly provides visual violation feedback.

 

Messages Panel

 

Collision Detection with Hidden Enclosure

 

Q: Do you have to individually import separate PCB project into a multi-board project?

A: There are two ways to add multiple individual designs to the multi-board schematic. You can add existing projects in the Projects Panel and you can define modules and connect them to existing designs. Connecting modules to a design will automatically add the design to the multi-board project. Defined modules can be associated to any existing design with the Properties Panel.

 

Adding Modules to the Multi-board Schematic

 

Q: How do you align connectors?

A: Altium Designer uses plane-to-plane and axis-to-axis alignment to get the perfect fit of all of your boards. The SODIMM and WiFi boards have been aligned to using a combination of the two methods with the connectors on the MiniPC board.

 

Q: What happened on the original PCB file when you move a component on the multi-board assembly?

A: Moving a component in the multi-board assembly, moves the component on the original PCB design file. Although you must currently update the tracks and polygon in the original design file, we are looking at developing the feature further to facilitate placement optimization.

 

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About Author

About Author

David Haboud is a Product Marketing Engineer at Altium. He studied electrical engineering with an emphasis in computer architecture and hardware/software design at the University of Southern California. David began his career as an embedded software engineer in the aerospace industry and has always strived to make it easier for hardware and software engineers to communicate. During his tenure as an embedded software engineer, he focused on firmware development and data acquisition for auxiliary power units. In his spare time, David hosts and performs in improvisational and stand-up comedy nights in San Diego, California.

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