How to Panelize Your PCBs Before Lunch with Altium Designer

June 4, 2018 Altium Designer

Unloading inline PCB router

Whether you have a slew of PCBs to mass produce for your customers or a handful of project boards you wish to prototype all in one simple swoop, panelization is an effective way to bring high amounts of efficiency to your production.

In earlier days of PCB design, you would need additional software, hours of clunky engineering, and maybe even feasibility meetings with manufacturing teams for PCB panelization. Fortunately, we’ve graduated through a tremendous amount of these early processes to arrive at a place where panelization is commonplace. Not only do manufacturing teams now expect it, but the software surrounding panelization has never been easier to implement.

With the proper PCB design software, you can prepare Gerber files and layout for panelization easier than ever. Let’s explore the simplicity of panelizing your designs in Altium Designer. 

Placing Existing Boards

For this example, we’ll use a previous PCB file from a past tutorial that will be familiar to work with. Once you have your PCBs finalized, you can pick and place where you’d like.

After saving your PCBs, we’ll need to add another PCB document to whichever project you’re working on. To do this, simply right click on your project, navigate to ‘Add New to Project’ then select ‘PCB.’

Just like most projects you’ve worked, you’ll benefit from setting an origin by navigating to ‘Edit’ > ‘Origin’ > ‘Set.’ Here is what we should see:

Altium  18 embedded board array

Blank PCB document.

Now we can start placing any boards your heart desires.

Navigate to ‘Place’ > ‘Embedded Board Array/Panelize’ which will present you with a blank rectangle and some crosshairs. This is simply our placeholder, before we place it, let’s specify the board we want to place.

By pressing ‘Tab’ during the placement period, the program will pause to give us a prompt to specify some parameters for our placement. I’ve gone ahead and navigated to the proper PCB file location and have entered some dimensions that both I and my manufacturers will work well with:

Altium  18 embedded board array

Embedded board array window.

Notice that each board here is linked rather than simply copy/pasted. This is huge when it comes to deep design edits in that it makes integrating each file together a breeze. Rather than having to edit each child document, Altium takes care of this for you.

Here is what I have now:

Altium  18 embedded board array

Vertically placed PCBs.

Ensure your edge clearance values are cohesive to your placements!

Placing Additional Boards

Instead of placing a vertical stack of boards here, let’s assume I want to place another board vertically next to my existing three boards. Maybe this is another design that you just want to toss into the manufacturing batch, maybe you are working with limited printing space, whatever the reason, you can pick and place as many various boards as you wish.

With the same process as used above, we’ll use a slightly different placement location and design.

Here is what I’ve decided to do (we’ll assume I’m working with a smaller space, but still need to fit four boards onto one print):

Altium  18 embedded board array

Vertically placed PCBs with one skewed.

Defining the Board Shape

As we explored in an earlier article, we can easily define any board shape we want by simply tracing out a shape over the top of our placements.

Here is my traced outline I’ll use:

Altium  18 embedded board array

Board shape outline.

I’ll select the entire shape, then I navigate to ‘Design’ > ‘Board Shape’ > ‘Define from Selected Objects’ and wala!

Altium  18 embedded board array

Redefined board shape with the outline.

Once each board is defined and placed where you and your manufacturers like, you’ve gone as far as you need for your panelization. All that’s left is to create your working Gerber file and send it off!

Long gone are the days of additional, clunky panelization software. With Altium Designer’s panelization features, you can fully define a completely panelized board and send it off to your manufacturer even before your first coffee break! Additionally, with the integration between design files and panelized files, you’ll no longer be kept up at night wondering if you missed an edit between files as every origin file edit is reflected in its peripheral parts.

With the ease and simplistic nature of Altium Designer’s interface, it’s no wonder why engineers from nearly every niche are jumping on board the Altium Designer train. To learn more about how Altium can be your new best DFM friend and make your panelization efforts, well, effortless, talk to an Altium expert today.

About the Author

Altium Designer

PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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