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Rick Nelson,
Executive Editor

Engineers need to leverage modern technologies and manage projects, and Altium’s goal is to create the functional, cost-effective ECAD tools designers need to accomplish those goals. Altium executives brought their roadshow to Boston in May to demonstrate the company’s current products and lay out their roadmap to 2020.

Presenters at the Boston roadshow emphasized that as you innovate in the age of IoT, you shouldn’t have to wrangle with the design process. Altium’s goal is to let you focus on what you care about—“designing really cool stuff.”

Altium CEO Aram Mirkazemi described his company as one of the first to build affordable PCB layout tools. Altium, he said, was first with realistic 3D visualization for rigid and flexible PCBs. Although Altium is ECAD-centric, the company works to facilitate communications with the MCAD and PLM worlds.

“The heart of the IoT is electronics,” Mirkazemi said, adding, however, that changes to current technologies will be needed to effectively produce an estimated 50 billion connected devices. Altium Designer occupies the center of an effective strategy for IoT design, he said, with the company’s Octopart and Ciiva acquisitions adding support for search and discovery and for connecting design to manufacturing.

Mirkazemi positioned Altium products on a four-quadrant graph with the Y axis representing complexity and the X axis representing levels of collaboration. At the bottom right sits cloud-based CircuitMaker, a free tool that provides access to reference designs and promotes collaboration among the CircuitMaker community. With CircuitMaker, your IP is exposed to the entire community—making it most suitable for makers and students. One customer in attendance said CircuitMaker might meet his functional needs, but the IP exposure prevented him from using it.

Consequently, that customer uses CircuitStudio, which sits in the bottom left column of Mirkazemi’s four-quadrant graph. An intuitive package designed for the engineer who designs PCBs from time to time, CircuitStudio provides the capabilities necessary to capture a schematic, lay out boards, and send manufacturing data to a fabricator.

In the top left quadrant—for individuals performing complex designs—sits Altium Designer, the company’s flagship product. The top right is currently empty, but around October it will be occupied by Atina, which Daniel Fernsebner, global head of technical marketing, described as a workflow manager that lets you define your process automation. He noted that Atina adds collaboration tools on top of Altium Designer’s ECAD functionality as well as support for multiboard systems. The latter is important in the age of billions of IoT devices, he said, because even seemingly simple devices like fitness bands can have multiple PCBs to allow designers to most effectively fit the necessary functionality into small spaces.

Also in October, Altium expects to release Altium Designer 18. The new version will build on version 16’s support for 64-bit operating systems. It will transition to a Microsoft C# compiler and make full use of multithreading and system memory.

Ted Pawela, chief marketing officer, noted that if asked what tools engineers use, they often will simply say “Altium,” not “Altium Designer.” So he wanted to emphasize that CircuitMaker and CircuitStudio are not versions of Designer but rather tailored for their respective audiences. The goal is not to sell a stripped-down product and subsequently up-sell customers with features they come to need.

In that case, why offer a free product? Pawela cited the mobility and flow of people—the students of today may be the engineers of tomorrow working for commercial companies. But perhaps most importantly, to continue innovation, Pawela said, Altium needs to capture ideas that might bubble up in the maker community but that the commercial world may never think about.

Home Editorial - Rick Nelson ECAD maker balances functionality, collaboration
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Rick Nelson
Rick became Executive Editor for EE in 2011. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.