Product customization is increasingly popular to satisfy customer demand as both time-to-market and the complexity of products continue upward without abatement. By making variations of a baseline product, the new products can address different markets and requirements. But how do you go about keeping all of your PCB design variants synchronized?
Making the Case for PCB Design Variants
You are developing a PCB for a smartwatch that comes in three different memory variations; 4, 8 and 16 GB. Together with variations in hardware requirements, this watch should target different markets. The traditional approach would be to design three different PCBs for different hardware requirements and change parametric information to meet the market demand. However, with the complexity of today's circuits and PCBs, this approach will delay the product time to market and will increase the cost.
A better solution is to create a single base design and define variations in it by configuring the components and their parameters. A single reference design for all variations rather than to create a new variation from scratch yields quicker design completion and costs less. However, companies often have worldwide teams responsible for a single project, so variations in one part of the product may lead to errors and unsynchronized changes in another during the product lifecycle. Altium Designer can synchronize the workflow automatically.
Managing Your Variants
Altium Designer gives you a robust centralized variant management system. You can define any number of variations of a base design, then manage component parameters and configure the components as fitted, not fitted, or alternate parts. As these variants share the same bare board and have impact on the assembly process only, we call these variants assembly variants.
The key to using variants in any design is centralized management. In Altium Designer this unique functionality is integrated to improve the synchronization between different design stages. Within this single variant management dialog, you can define new variants as well as edit component parameters, leaving Altium Designer to automatically take care of synchronization between schematic, PCB and output files. To further support alternate components from different sources, the functionality is extended for independent libraries, database libraries, as well as for Vault based components.
To ensure parts are indeed swappable, an intelligent checking mechanism is implemented to check pin compatibility between the base and alternate component. This functionality makes sure that the pin type and the location is the same for both components. The user interface, shown in the image below, is easy-to-use and includes these additional functions:
Configure multiple components at a time.
Set variant parameters along with project and schematic level parameters.
Manage display data using filters for different component types.
Generate variant reports for documentation.
When a component or parameter needs to be changed In an enterprise environment where you have centralized component libraries, Altium Designer can update the schematic or PCB files from those libraries, and now, for PCB design variants as well. For any fitted or alternate part, you update parameters directly from the variant management dialog, as shown in Figure 4. You choose which parameter or component should be updated for any defined variant, giving you more freedom to make customized changes in a library.
Working with Variants in Altium Designer
Altium has recently introduced PCB Draftsman in version 16.1, which provides further content flexibility and detail in the output files for the PCB manufacturer. The approach to variant management is to provide cutting-edge technology in one complete software package including PCB Draftsman. You have an intuitive user interface within Draftsman to support assembly variants for different production files.
Learn how to work with this new variant technology by downloading a free white paper.
About the Author
Pierre is the current Sales Applications Engineer for Altium’s North America region. He worked in Mechatronics Design and Fabrication at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Bioinspired Robotics as an Electro-Mechanical Engineer. Pierre recently joined Altium’s engineering team, and continues his hobbies in design and fabrication of miniature PCBs, CNC machines, and IOS app development.More Content by Pierre Meyitang