Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Creating an Embedded Side-View LED

Practical steps for creating embedded components with side-emitting LEDs


The Bluetooth Sentinel design, included with Altium Designer 14’s installation, gives a good introduction to some of the new rigid-flex tools available. I was asked to modifying this design to incorporate a different style of flexible region, but the repurposed board was left without room to place LEDs around its perimeter. Finding a way to add the LEDs back in posed an interesting challenge, and gave the perfect opportunity to try out some of the new tools.

One of the cool new features added for AD14 is the ability to embed components within the board. This can be done for a number of reasons, including cutting down on space in very dense designs, and shortening return lengths in high speed applications. For the modified Bluetooth Sentinel design, an alternative was needed for the LEDs, and embedding Side-View LEDs maintained the original functionality of the design, without having to modify it too much.



A thin package like the 48-213 SMD LED to the left was ideal for embedding, but really, the choice was only limited by the amount of vertical space available in the board. Creating this footprint was fairly straightforward, with only a couple minor additions to take advantage of the new features.

1. Footprint information and package dimensions were both available in the datasheet. When creating a footprint, one of the fastest ways to achieve a good end result is to set an appropriate Reference Point and Grid spacing. From there, it’s simply a matter of placing Pads, 3D Bodies, and any additional Mechanical information required.

2. Extruded bodies worked fine for most parts of the LED, the lens object being the lone exception. While the extruded bodies are surprisingly robust, and work well for polygonal shapes, the arced corners of the lens were more feasible to create externally and bring in as a STEP model.

3. Preparing a component to be embedded starts from the footprint itself. A Cavity - simply a Solid Region configured as shown - must be placed in the Library. Its height, as defined from the Properties, should be just large enough to allow for the component body. The LED package was 0.3mm, so the Cavity was created with a height of 0.35mm. This, of course, will ultimately depend on your specific Layer Stack and overall design intent.

4. It’s important to note that Cavities can be placed within any footprint, whether or not it will ever be embedded. When the component is placed on an inner layer, the Cavity will carve out a section of the core material, but on an outer layer, it won’t affect the design in any way. Placing one of the newly-created LEDs on an inner layer showed how cool this looks in action.

5. Technically, a Cavity alters the Layer Stack in that particular area, and it’s crucial that this information is conveyed through fabrication notes. The Layer Stack Diagram that can be automatically generated and placed already takes this into account. In this design, there was no question where the Cavities were added, or what layers from the stackup were included in those areas.

6. Assembly must also be considered, since embedded components are placed before those on the outside of the board. It’s a good idea to create a separate pick and place report, as well as an extra assembly drawing printout, for any inner layers embedded with components.

I’ve included the footprint and completed design for reference, but this is certainly not the limit of how embedded components can be used. Just an interesting way to solve this problem!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Development of a Methodology to Determine Risk of Counterfeit Use, Part 1

Development of a Methodology to Determine Risk of Counterfeit Use, Part 1

Counterfeit components have become a multi-million dollar, yet undesirable, part of the electronics industry. The profitability of the counterfeit industry rests in large part on its ability to recognize supply constraints and quickly respond, effectively taking advantage of a complex and vulnerable supply chain. Factors such as product obsolescence, long life cycles, economic downturn and recovery, local disruptions in manufacturing due to natural disasters, and lack of proper IP legislation all represent opportunities for the counterfeit component industry to flourish. Electronic counterfeits affect every segment of the market, including consumer goods, networking and communications, medical, automotive, and aerospace and defense. In manufacturing, the use of undetected counterfeits can lead to increased scrap rates, early field failures, and increased rework rates; while this presents a major problem impacting profitability, the use of counterfeit components in high reliability applications can have far more serious consequences with severe or lethal outcomes.

The independent distributor level has typically been seen as the weak link in the supply chain where counterfeits are most likely to be introduced. With the emergence of new legislation and through the efforts of different industry entities, new standards and guidelines are now available for suppliers to establish and maintain product traceability and to establish receiving inspection and detection protocols. There is no substitute for a healthy supply chain, and distributors play an essential role in the dynamics of the system. At the same time, there is an increased awareness of the need for proper management of electronic waste. Regardless of the nature of the counterfeits, whether cloned, skimmed, or re-branded, counterfeits are dangerous and too expensive to be ignored.

The work presented here by the iNEMI Counterfeit Components Project takes a comprehensive view of the problem by surveying the possible points of entry in the supply chain and assessing the impact of counterfeit components on the industry at various points of use. We then propose a risk assessment calculator that can be used to quantify the risks of procuring counterfeit parts. This calculator is aimed at all segments of the supply chain and will be of interest to component manufacturers, product designers, distributors, loss estimators, industry groups and end users.

Read the full article here.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Announcement: Techdocs - a new era for Altium’s technical documentation

In conjunction with the release of Altium Designer 14, Altium is pleased to herald the arrival of a new home for its technical documentation

This represents a significant milestone for Altium and kicks off the start of a campaign to ultimately get our documentation 'house' in order - and then some! It reflects our strong commitment to a singular overriding quest, and that is to provide high-quality, highly-relevant and accessible documentation to assist our customers optimize their use of our design solutions.

As a humble, and battle-hardened author of many of Altium's technical documents over the years, I feel empowered by the possibilities that this new documentation platform promises. Not only for myself and my fellow authors but, more importantly, what it can deliver for you as our readers.

So join me as I take you through what can only be regarded as the beginning of a new era for Altium's technical documentation. Through this blog I hope to explain what it is about this new site and direction that has us excited, and along the way I'll provide you with a little insider's insight as to where we are, and where we are headed.

Not a 'Wiki'

Before you roll your eyes and run for the hills, I can't stress this point enough. I know how the very name 'Wiki' has drawn exasperated gasps of frustration from our readership over the years. Imagine my reaction when I left the office at 11pm one day producing PDF-based documentation, and the next day the Wiki was the 'new world'!

A Wiki, by definition, is the culmination of efforts across a many and varied base of contributors, about a neverending variety of topics. Altium's documentation on the other hand, is a finite set of topics that, if we're being realistic, can, and should, be written and delivered by members of the Altium Team. It is an unrealistic expectation to place that burden on our users.

With that, albeit late realization clearly in mind, the paradigm for documentation became one of delivering a premium content-managed system, rather than a documentation space driven by the Altium user community.

And we already had the platform to do this in place, having relaunched the Altium website earlier, and built on the open-source Drupal Content Management System.

Unified Delivery of Documentation

In the past, a barrier to getting documentation has been, well, 'getting at' that documentation. This was hampered by the silo'd approach to the documentation, with some Wiki articles here, some PDFs there, and some older-style WinHelp and HTML Help files thrown in to confuse the mix. Our divergent documentation completely flew in the face of our unified design software!

The techdocs site provides a single, cohesive environment from which to source all of the documentation - from the highest-level conceptual document regarding some new-release feature, to the lowest-level resource document explaining what a dialog control does, or how a command is used.

What's more, by utilising the Drupal platform, we have been able to fully integrate the documentation with the AltiumLive community. As a general reader, there is no signing in required. But as a contributor, this means you no longer have to juggle a separate login. Simply sign-in once to AltiumLive with your usual credentials.

The First Step...

Having started with the company back in the days of 99 SE, I still have recollection of the size of the documentation available back then. A mere drop in what was to become a veritable ocean of words! Quite a double-edged sword in reality - the more that is written, the more that has to be maintained. And we were under no illusion as to the gargantuan task that lay before us.

But every journey starts with that first step. And I can proudly attest to the determination and rejuvenated outlook the merry band of authors have brought to the task. Concentrating primarily on resource reference material for the core technologies - namely in the Schematic and PCB arenas - I can share the following statistics of just what has been addressed in this initial site launch:

·         394 dialogs.

·         1541 commands

·         52 preferences pages

·         57 objects

·         13 panels

·         28 design rules

Not to mention a variety of 'hot-off-the-press' articles detailing the many new features available in the Altium Designer 14 release!

Browser-based Dialog Help

Yes you read that correctly! We've steered the documentation away from reliance on out-dated help methodologies and technologies, favoring delivery of all documentation through the single, cohesive Techdocs site. In terms of dialog-level help, no longer do you need to click, click, and click again to see help for options in a piecemeal fashion. Now, simply press F1 with the dialog open and get a page of information on that dialog in its entirety – being able to see, at-a-glance, what each option and control does. Presenting information for a dialog on a browser page delivers numerous benefits, above and beyond that of its previous WinHelp-based incarnation, including:

  • Ability to elaborate on the detail of a control, with additional note, information and tip highlight boxes.
  • Ability to keep the information visible while clicking elsewhere in the dialog.

·         Ability to add cross-linking to other pertinent areas within not only the technical documentation, but the wider AltiumLive community.

  • Ability to maintain the documentation for a dialog in a far more streamlined and expedited manner – making updates without having to compile installable files.

This initial release sees a myriad of resources supported by this reinvigorated approach to F1 help functionality in Altium Designer. And while you will undoubtedly run into resources that don't pop a specific page, rest assured coverage will continue to grow!

Ease of Browsing

While accessing the resource material directly from the software is one means of entry, it is by no means the only method. For those who like to browse through the documentation using a nav tree and search facility, we have you covered.

For a start, you will notice that content has been separated into specific and specialized content areas. This practical grouping of pages offers a more logical browsing experience and facilitates quickly finding the information you need.

And the platform's native search facility also benefits from this partitioned approach, allowing you to either pinpoint documentation from across all spaces, or only that residing in the space at hand.

The Road Ahead

On any journey, it is difficult to know how long each stage of that journey will take, what obstacles may lay on the path, or indeed what might be encountered around the next corner. But armed with a fresh and powerful content management platform, dedicated support from developers who are Drupal Masters, and a growing team of documentation authors, we have already started to formulate a decisive plan of attack, in a campaign that will realistically span a number of releases to the software. The following are just some highlights of forthcoming attractions to whet your appetite (in no particular order, of course).

Offline Documentation

By using an open-source platform for our technical documentation, we are well placed to deploy localized documentation repositories without the burden of paying licensing fees for each deployed instance. In essence, it will provide you with the option of having offline documentation that doesn't require an internet connection. And with the ability to reconnect to the techdocs 'mother ship', in order to synchronize your offline repository with the AltiumLive-based 'master'.Content Quality

While this initial release has addressed a sizeable portion of the resource reference material, it is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A large part of this will be to address the higher-level content in the Altium Designer space of the site. This features some 700+ pages of material which, in some cases, has exceeded its useful shelf life!

Getting this updated at the same time as providing additional new feature content is paramount and will go a long way to earning back some credibility with you, our users.

Reference Material

Having delivered an impressive array of resource material in this initial launch, we will of course be carrying that momentum forward. Addressing the remainder of resources for the core technologies, followed by the servers related to ancillary technologies thereafter. And let's not forget the plethora of detailed references in need of an overhaul too!

Advanced Semantic Search

While the documentation can be searched, the current search is, at the end of the day, very basic in its nature. To bring credible results to our users, we need to take this basic search and turbo-charge it. To use tagging and indexing to empower the search facility, allowing advanced searching not just of the technical documents themselves, but of all other services within the AltiumLive community, and the wider Altium website as a whole.

Productivity Boosters

By introducing features such as annotation and sharing, you will be able to create your ideal documentation 'set' and share it among your team. Just think of the ability to mark a page of the documentation with some well-honed personal remarks, and then share those with others - clip notes on a whole new level!

Language Support

Many people have asked me over the years why support for different languages has never appeared to 'take off'. And this is a very good question. Various spaces for a range of different languages have been available, but their content has never really mimicked that of the English content space. But again, that has more to do with the authoring tool available than the dedication of the authors in those spaces. But now, with Drupal as our platform, we have the ability to re-energize this whole area.

For us, supporting multiple languages across our technical documentation is an important part of our global operational reach, and one which we very much intend to deliver upon moving forward.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Announcement: Altium Designer 14

Announcement: Altium Designer 14


This latest release is definitely one of the biggest PCB releases that we’ve made for a very long time and it’s very gratifying to deliver such concrete evidence of our renewed focus on our core technologies and customer value. With a number of the added features coming directly from customer requests, it affirms our ongoing intentions to support you with the technologies you need today and into the future.

The key highlights of this release include:

·  Support for Flex and Rigid-Flex Design

·  Enhanced Layer Stack Management

·  Support for Embedded Components

·  Differential Pair Routing Improvements

·  Via Stitching within a User-Defined Area

·  AutoCAD Importer/Exporter Enhancements

·  CadSoft EAGLE Importer

·  Ibis Model Implementation Editor

·  Preferences-based Control over Vendor Tool Usage

·  Supplier Support for TME

·  Support for Xilinx Vivado Toolchain

·  New Installation System

·  Browser-based F1 Resource Documentation

See the What's New documentation area and our website for more information about the specifics of the release.

Accessing Altium Designer 14

All customers with valid Altium Designer subscription will be receiving an email shortly, but if you can’t wait for that and want to install now;

1. Goto AltiumLive to download the new installer

2. Download, Install and Run Altium Designer 14

3. Locate and use your existing Altium Designer license.

Note: If you are using a Private Server license or Standalone license and you have renewed your Subscription since activation, you will need to reactivate your license to use Altium Designer 14.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Altium Designer 14 - Coming Soon

Hi All

I'm excited to share with you the imminent release of Altium Designer 14. We have updated our website today in preparation for this event.  We are in the final stages of the release process and you will be notified when the software is available for download.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Announcement: New Xilinx Series-7 & Linear Technology Board-Level Components

The Altium Content Team has released new updates to the Vault and Content Store.

We're happy to announce the addition of Xilinx Series-7 FPGA board-level libraries including Artix-7, Kintex-7 and Virtex-7 - all available now. Also released are board-level components for Zynq-7000 devices. To view the latest from Xilinx in the Content Store click here.

In Linear Technology, Comparators join Op Amps with 630 new library parts added to the collection - covering all high speed and micropower comparators from Linear. Linear Technology Comparators

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Altium Designer 14


We’re working hard on our upcoming major product releases. Why not join us each day to see what new and exciting things we’re working to bring to the help you create your next generation electronic design.

23 September 2013

Ruminating Rigid Flex - Part 4

In this blog post, I want to show a handful of important rules to follow when routing copper for flex and rigid-flex circuits, that not only increase the fabrication yield but also the reliability and lifespan of the flex circuit.

Read more

18 September 2013

Ruminating Rigid Flex - Part 3

In this blog, I discuss a few of the documentation requirements needed to get a flex or rigid-flex circuit board fabricated. Along with that, there are a few flex-circuit related issues to watch out for.

Read more


16 August 2013

Ruminating Rigid Flex - Part 2

How are flex, and rigid flex PCBs manufactured? In this blog I discuss how the materials are combined, laminated and cut out to create the final product.

Read more

31 July 2013

Ruminating Rigid Flex - Part 1

More and more designers are facing the need to reduce size and cost of the products they design, while increasing density and simplifying assembly.

Read more

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