Altium Designer makes ultra-high-performance design move faster at Spectrum Integrity

July 18, 2012 //By Michael Ingham, Spectrum Integrity
Spectrum Integrity designs ultra-high-speed digital, RF, and microwave PCBs which, at 20 to 110 GHz and beyond, are among the most challenging applications in industry. Its customer design challenges require a proprietary “outside the box” process. Yet at the same time, the company must interface with industry standard component libraries as well as the design review processes of its clients.

To design such esoteric designs, the company relies on a collection of very specialized tools. The native schematic capabilities in such tools have proved completely unusable. Spectrum Integrity had to rely instead on a third-party schematic tool that prevented synchronization of layout and schematic and no cross-probing capability. The process had become too disjointed.

Furthermore, there was no free external viewer feature for the board designs, and no simple way to export design files. The frequent client reviews were a tedious and long process.

The company had tried to streamline the process using PADS, but its schematic capture tool was similarly inadequate, and its version control was missing critical built-in functionality.

Spectrum Integrity and its customers needed a more integrated design environment that could accommodate the magic of high-speed and RF PCB design.

Solution

The company has adopted Altium Designer, and has seen an immediate improvement through its advanced features and integration across the design process.

“The Altium schematic program is very powerful,” explains Michael Ingham, director of engineering at Spectrum Integrity. The design suite synchronizes with major component suppliers including Digi-Key, Mouser, and Newark, “an unexpected major benefit that has made our component engineering much more efficient.” It also embeds component information to automate most of the effort of making accurate BOMs.

Spectrum Integrity also found it straightforward to customize the Altium Designer environment for the intricacies of RF design. “We added strategic, proprietary improvements to the tool suite to make them very powerful and efficient for RF and ultra-high-speed digital design,” says Ingham. To streamline interaction with RF analysis, it exports board designs in Gerber data into a 3D field solver. After completing analysis, Altium Designer reads the files back in AutoCAD or DXF format, an easy process that retains net intelligence within the integrated tool suite. Also, Spectrum Integrity reports that creating custom footprints, with non-standard features, is much easier in Altium Designer than its old tool

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