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A focus on PCB design productivity

Altium took the opportunity to announce, just prior to electronica, the forthcoming launch of Release 17 of its flagship product Altium Designer. Graham Pitcher talked to Rainer Asfalg, VP sales EMEA, about the package and Altium's view of the market.

Release 17, intended to improve the efficiency of the electronics design process, includes a number of new features: ActiveRoute allows engineers to design high quality PCBs by offering guided routing technology; Dynamic Copper is said to save time by allowing users to modify copper polygon shapes on PCBs; while Back Drilling is intended to reduce signal integrity disturbances on high speed designs by providing control over drill hole specifications.

Rainer Asfalg, Altium’s VP of sales for EMEA, noted: “Our focus is increasing productivity. Each release of Altium Designer adds new functionality, while refining existing elements. It’s part of a long term relationship with users.

“The software needs to be robust, stable and easy to use and to address the needs of electronic engineers, whose job is to design products.”

He used the new ActiveRoute function as an example. “Altium Designer has always had a good routing engine,” he said. “But today’s components have high pin counts and if a designer is constrained to two layers, plus signal and ground, they can’t always use classic autorouting technology because it’s biased towards direction and doesn’t always give the right result.

“We looked at how to automate the tool while giving the user full control of the design and came up with ActiveRoute. It gives designers the ability to translate their ideas into reality.”

According to Asfalg, Altium Designer is making significant progress. “We have added more than 5500 new licenses in our last financial year – and that means new customers. In many cases,” he contended, “we’re pushing out competitors because of Altium Designer’s innovations, ease of use and the ratio between its cost and its functionality and productivity.”

Europe has been an important part of this growth. “It’s a very important region for Altium,” he asserted. “Europe is a technology driver and a lot of high tech is born in Europe; there’s a lot of innovation.”

He said most industries share the same core needs; the difference between them is which is the focus. “Automotive, for example, is focused on high volume and safety. Medical devices are all about safety and redundancy, while the mil/aero sector is concerned about redundancy and variance. We have to make sure that we can meet their functional needs,” he said.

In his opinion, designers are looking for ease of use and not all of them want to be EDA specialists. “A few years ago, there were design groups. Today, designers are getting more responsibility; not just core development, but also schematics, layout, test strategy and manufacturing. So they want tools they can use to get the job done as quickly as possible.”

Altium is also working with engineering software developer SolidWorks to ease the process of integrating electronics into mechanical designs. “Everyone talks about the integration between electronics and mechanical,” Asfalg said, “but they are two different disciplines and users want to work in their own domains. Our job is to create bridges to allow them to communicate. The relationship with SolidWorks facilitates this.”

He also believes the links need to be beyond the IGES level. IGES – the Initial Graphics Exchange Specification, published initially in 1980 – is a vendor neutral file format that allows the exchange of information amongst CAD systems. “It’s static,” Asfalg said. “It doesn’t support incremental change. The links we have with other packages are not ‘all or nothing’ interfaces; they are collaborations that meet the needs of ECAD and MCAD designers. But we won’t try to create a version of Altium Designer that features mechanical design,” he concluded.

Graham Pitcher

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