Sharing PCB Data with Manufacturers in the Cloud

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: April 28, 2020  |  Updated: December 5, 2021
Sharing PCB Data with Manufacturers in the Cloud

Once you’ve finished your new project and you’re ready to push it to your manufacturer, you’ll normally be stuck in an endless email chain with an engineer, or you’ll have to share cloud links with each other. Personally, I find the long email chains and long list of links overwhelming, especially when I have plenty of other tasks that require my attention. Sharing PCB data with manufacturers shouldn’t be a headache, it should be a seamless process.

The cloud sharing and design release tools in Altium Designer and Altium 365 are a huge help in this area. This integrated set of design and collaboration features is ideal for creating assembly data and pushing your fabrication/assembly drawings to your manufacturer. In this tutorial, I’m going to take an existing project I’ve worked with in a number of recent blogs, create some fabrication and assembly documentation, and finally push this data to a manufacturer using Altium 365.

Creating and Sharing Your Manufacturing Documentation

In a previous blog post, I looked at how to deploy and comment on a new project in Altium 365. At this point, let’s assume you and your team have made all the required modifications to your project, and you’re ready to go through a design review with your manufacturer.

If you’ve never created manufacturing documentation, such as Draftsman drawings, bills of materials, pick-and-place outputs, or Gerber files, you can easily create these documents in Altium Designer. Mark Harris recently created a blog that shows how to create some of these important documents. Here, I’m going to create some of these documents in my Altium Designer project for a USB charger module I’ve been showing in some articles. Then I’ll deploy these into my Altium 365 workspace on the web.

To get started, make sure you’ve logged into your Concord web instance in Altium Designer. You should be able to access your project from the Explorer window, and everything will be downloaded to your local machine. You can then modify the project, add new files to the project, make deletions, or create your manufacturing documentation. My Draftsman document (.PCBDwf file) for my USB charger module is shown below. Here, I just went to the Project menu and added a new Draftsman Document to my existing Altium 365 project (this project can be found in the Projects panel).

Creating a Draftsman file output in Altium Designer
Draftsman file output in Altium Designer

Creating and Pushing Your Documentation to Altium 365

I also added a layer stack legend to this document, and I moved the different portions of the drawing around so that everything is easier to see. Once you’re happy with your documentation, you can add a new Output Job File to the project and create any other outputs your manufacturer requires. Read through Mark Harris’ blog if you’re unsure of how to do this. Once you’ve created your manufacturing documentation, you can go through the Commit and Push process to move everything over to your Concord web instance.

Pushing a Draftsman file to Altium 365
Pushing my Draftsman document onto my Altium 365 web instance

By deploying these project files into my Altium 365 web instance, one of my engineers can access these files, run a design review within Altium Designer, and then push any modifications back to the Altium 365 workspace.

Releasing Your Manufacturing Documentation

Simply pushing your files to your Altium 365 workspace will not make them available to a manufacturer as a released project. To do this, you’ll need to release the project with Altium Designer. In the Projects panel, right-click on your project file, and click on Project Releaser. This will bring up the window shown below, allowing you to configure your project release.

I’m going to take an existing project and deploy it in my Concord workspace so that it can be accessed by a collaborator. To do this, I’ll create a new project directly in Altium Designer and set Altium 365 as the project location. You’ll see a window that allows you to create your project release documentation and deploy it to your Concord workspace.

Performing a project release to Altium 365
Releasing a project to your Altium 365 workspace

Once you’ve gone through the steps on the screen, everything can be deployed to your Concord workspace. You can now log in through your browser and access your design data.

Where are the Project Release Documents?

If you log into the Concord workspace, it may not be obvious where the project release files are located. If you click on the “Uploads” tab, you won’t be able to see any of the released project files. To see all the files associated with a project, click on the Explore tab in the Concord workspace, then expand the project folder. Here, you’ll be able to see all the project release files. To see the schematic and PCB layout files, simply open up the project from your dashboard. The image below shows the list of project release files in my Concord workspace.

Project release files in the Altium 365 Explorer tab
Project release files are accessible through the web in the Altium 365 Workspace.

Releasing a Project to Your Manufacturer

This is the final step in getting fabrication documents over to your manufacturer. Rather than sending a full data package (e.g., as an email attachment), you’ll send a link to your Concord workspace directly to your manufacturer’s email address. To do this, simply open up your project, and click on the Manufacturing tab at the top of the screen. Once you get to this window, you’ll see your list of current releases and an option to send the data to your manufacturer’s email.

The image below shows the release screen for my USB charger module. In this example, I’m going to send the data to one of my company’s email addresses.

Sharing a project release in Altium 365
Sharing PCB data with manufacturers in Altium 365

Once you click Send, you’ve sent a link to your manufacturer, which they can use to access the manufacturing data and download it directly. The manufacturer can then go back and add comments to the design directly in the Concord workspace if anything needs to be changed before fabrication. You can also invite other designers to collaborate by sending them an email invite.

Getting to a design review is much easier when you can share PCB data with manufacturers through the cloud. The Altium 365™ platform makes it easy to share your projects, manage project data, and collaborate with your design team in a secure environment. All these features and many more are directly accessible in Altium Designer®.

We have only scratched the surface of what’s possible with Altium Designer on Altium 365. Start your free trial of Altium Designer + Altium 365 today.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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