What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: PCB Systems

SOLIDWORKS is more than just a mechanical system.As the years have progressed, the annual update to a new version has included additions to simulations, animations, renderings and electronic design. This year is no different—and many of the updates, including those focused on printed circuit board (PCB) and electronics design, are designed to integrate workflows. Most prominently in 2017 is the first full release of the newly branded SOLIDWORKS PCB.

The tool, which is a standalone product in partnership with PCB software developer Altium, is closely integrated with core SOLIDWORKS and now matches the look and feel of the parent product. This is not an entirely new product—Altium has been around since the 1980s—but instead is built on the backbone of Altium Designer, which has been a preferred SOLIDWORKS Solution partner for a number of years.

image001SOLIDWORKS PCB offerings. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

The full suite of electrical design tools now includes the core SOLIDWORKS, which includes CircuitWorks and electrical routing by default, and an additional five software products: PCB, PCB Connector, Schematic Standard/Professional, Electrical 3D and Electrical 3D Pro.

This array of tools has been collected to address the unique concerns of ECAD (electrical computer-aided design) compared to SOLIDWORKS core MCAD (mechanical computer-aided design), and some of the items were standalone partner tools before Dassault Systèmes bought them up.

Having standalone tools obviously leaves some gaps in communications. CircuitWorks has also been around for a few years to control schematic design but never reached the full functionality required to solve all board design. PCBWorks also helped out, along with third-party solutions such as those from Altium. But these projects left room for improvement especially when it came to collaboration.

image003SOLIDWORKS PCB in action. The collaborative workflow is shown on the side. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

In keeping with the style of Altium, PCB is the central focus of the new tool, but it puts emphasis on the importance of collaboration. Component layout, routings and board layout will all be familiar to users, but the integrated collaborative workflow should help when communicating with other designers on the project who are not working on PCB.

SOLIDWORKS PCB is designed to improve collaboration across departments because, as many designers know, even the slightest modification to a PCB design—for example,the addition of a mounting hole—can create a significant amount of rework on the board. A fully integrated engineering change order process is a major step in improving workflows across departments, as all of the underlying data is driven off one set of data. Now updates and changes can be proposed from either tool and accepted by other designers once they have validated the impact.

Electrical and Electrical 3D further allow for integration of board and wire design into standard 3D models. There is some significant lifting that must be done by the processors to execute this and simplify models and design. Consider that a single embedded system board can contain enough components to turn even the simplest of IoT devices into a large assembly, and you start to understand the reason why it took so long to get these tools talking to one another.

That heavy lifting is not lost though.Full simulations are available down to the component level. Things like flow simulations and electric cooling can greatly impact the time to market and reduce failures, and the marketing material for these tools is quick to point that out. In addition, the ability to render electronics and wire harnesses into presentations is improved once you eliminate the need to model dummy data just for 3D.

In addition to mechanical data, SOLIDWORKS PCB is also well-connected downstream through the supply chain. This means that accessing supplier catalogs, getting component data and even getting a quote can all be done from within the same design environment. It is still hard to imagine that a novice will be able to do a full board layout—you still need to know what to look for—but this level of data integration opens the doors to further improvement in optimization using machine learning techniques.

Unfortunately, the biggest change for SOLIDWORKS in 2017—the introduction of term licenses—does not extend to add-on components. That means that if you have a short-term project that requires PCB or electronics design, you need a perpetual license (at or above the Pro version) to get access to all of these tools.In time, that will change, as the company has said that“the rest of the product line will be available as Term License sequentially in future releases.”

Expect to hear more about PCB design directly from resellers and value-added resellers (VARs). During the beta, users and VARs were able to report feature bugs and ideas to amass points.

Users who are eager to dive into the details of PCB design, and there are many, should look out for a reseller event. More on SOLIDWORKS PCB can be found on the company website. And if you are from one of the 12 industries formally supported by SOLIDWORKS Electrical Design Solutions, let us know the projects you are working on in the comments below.

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