Design Data Management - FAQs

Frozen Content

Use the following links to browse through frequently asked questions relevant to Altium's Design Data Management System. For further, more detailed information on aspects of the system, use the links available in the panel to the right.

General

Do I have to use this system to generate my fabrication and assembly outputs?

Not at all. By all means, you can still use the same methods you have been using to generate your manufacturing outputs. The beauty of the Design Data Management system however is that it provides an automated and repeatable design release process. One-touch releasing – no manual stages or risks. From taking the snapshot of the design files, through validation, output generation and final committal of the release data into the Item Revision in the target Altium Vault, there is no manual intervention. If a part of the process fails, the release fails. Simple as that. This gives you superior data integrity over existing methods of producing manufacturing data in Altium Designer.

In addition, the system facilitates a solid audit trail. Whenever a new revision of an Item is generated, during the release process Altium Designer records the version control repository address and revision of the project and commits this information to the target vault. This method means that at any point in the future it is possible to retrieve an identical snapshot of all files in the design project from version control – a perfectly transparent audit trail from the latest released revision all the way back to the first checkin of the source design documents. Visibility. Accountability. Integrity.

Can I include Release-type information on my PCB?

Yes. A range of special strings are available, allowing you to add the configuration name, Item ID, Revision ID and so on. For a complete listing, see Including Release Information on Generated Outputs.

Design Repositories

Do I have to store my design projects in a version control system?

No, you are in no way forced to use a version-controlled Design Repository to gain access to Altium Designer's high-integrity board design release process. You can still release design projects whose source documents and dependencies are stored in folders on or across local or networked storage locations, outside of version control. However, the full benefits of the Design Data Management System really do come into play through the dedicated integrity inherent to version control. A version control repository provides safe, reliable, and secure storage for all your design documents, giving you peace of mind that all the data checked into your Design Repository will be protected against accidental loss.

Altium Vault

How do I access an Altium Vault using my Web Browser?

To access the Altium Vault from a preferred external Web Browser, simply type the address for the vault in one of the following formats:

  • http://<ComputerName>:<PortNumber>
  • http://localhost:<PortNumber>

(e.g. http://jhowiehome:9780, or http://localhost:9780, for an Altium Vault installed using the default port assignment). You will be presented with a Sign-in page.

Depending on your browser, you can drop the http:// part, and simply enter <ComputerName>:<PortNumber>, or localhost:<PortNumber>.

Sign in through the browser interface using the same vault credentials used to connect through Altium Designer.

Why can't I delete an Item from my Altium Vault?

An Item can only be deleted if you are an Administrator of the vault in which that Item resides. In addition, you must delete Items from the 'top-down'. That is, you can't delete a child item which is used by a parent item, you need to delete the parent Item first.

When I attempt to sign into the Vault I get a message about a missing library, how do I resolve this?

The Altium Vault relies on a number of Microsoft runtime components for successful operation and access, in some situations these may not be present on the target machine. If you receive an error message about a missing library (DLL) when you attempt to sign into an Altium Vault, it indicates that there are missing Microsoft runtime components. To-date, this is only known to occur on Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 Datacenter.

Use this link to download and install these missing components: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/confirmation.aspx?id=29

When I attempt to sign into the Vault I get the error message "HTTP Error 503. The service is unavailable", what should I do?

This error can occur when the Vault is installed on a computer that is also running Microsoft Exchange Server. The installation of the Exchange Server can change the Internet Information Services (IIS) configuration in a way that conflicts with the Vault.

To resolve this, the following changes must be made to the applicationHost.config file:

<handlers accessPolicy="Read, Script">
...

<add name="kerbauth" image="C:\Program Files\Microsoft\Exchange Server\V15\Bin\kerbauth.dll" preCondition="bitness64" />
<add name="WSMan" image="C:\Windows\system32\wsmsvc.dll" preCondition="bitness64" />
<add name="exppw" image="C:\Program Files\Microsoft\Exchange Server\V15\ClientAccess\Owa\auth\exppw.dll" preCondition="bitness64" />
<add name="cafe_exppw" image="C:\Program Files\Microsoft\Exchange Server\V15\FrontEnd\HttpProxy\bin\exppw.dll"  preCondition="bitness64" />

...
</handlers>

For information about the ApplicationHost.config file, refer to this article.

For information on editing the file, refer to this article.

Vaults Panel

What happens if I don't set folder types correctly when creating my vault folder hierarchy?

Nothing at all. A folder's Type property has no bearing on the content of the folder. It simply provides a visual 'clue' as to what is stored in a folder and can be beneficial when browsing a vault for particular content.

I can't find any lifecycle state information - where is it hiding?

Management of the lifecycle states for all revisions of an Item is performed from a dedicated view for that Item. This can be done from the Lifecycle aspect view for the Item, in the Vaults panel, or from the detailed view for the Item. Access to the latter is made by right-clicking on the Item of interest in the Vaults panel, and choosing the Full Item History command.

Items and Item Revisions

What's the difference between an Item and an Item Revision?

The various data entities (released from the Design Area or otherwise) are represented in an Altium Vault by unique Items. An Item simply represents a specific object, and is uniquely identified through use of an assigned Item ID. From the perspective of the Design Area, each releasable source data entity in that area maps to a unique Item object in the vault.

What exactly is represented by, and stored in an Item can vary, depending on what has been mapped to that Item. A design project, for example, can be the source of multiple bare or assembled boards. Each of these is a distinct physical object built by the production team, and so would be represented in the vault as different Items, each with its own unique ID. A design itself might utilize vault-based components, which themselves are released entities – each a separate Item and each assigned their own unique Item ID. Drill down further and you reach the finest level of granularity, with the schematic symbols and domain models – used in the definition of those components – also released and represented as uniquely-identifiable Items.

An Item Revision simply identifies a particular version of an Item and is uniquely identified through the use of an assigned Revision ID. There will always be at least one revision of an Item, but there could be many, depending on how many times the source data entity mapped to that Item is changed and/or released. An important point to make here is that each time a change is made to the source design data, a new revision of that Item is created in the vault, ready to accept (store) the newly-generated data. This ensures the highest integrity as the data for any given revision can never be overwritten.

How do I know which data is related to which Item Revision?

All generated data files from a release process are prefixed with the Item ID and the Item Revision ID, ensuring there can be no ambiguity as to which revision of which Item the data is associated with.

Vault-based Components

What is a Component Definition?

On the design side, each design component released to a vault is specified using a source Component Definition. A component definition is simply just that – a definition of a particular design component. A definition that ties together the required models and parameters for that component in a clean and ordered fashion. Each component definition on the design-side maps to an Item – a Component Item – in the target vault. To put this another way, you are defining the source definitions that will, when released, provide a set of components which you can re-use again and again in your designs.

What is a Component Library?

A Component Library file (*.CmpLib) is the design-side entity in which to create and manage one or more component definitions. Each component definition is mapped to a unique Component Item in a target vault. To put that another way, each vault-based component is produced by releasing a design-side component definition, stored in a Component Library file.

In general its good practice to have one component definition per Component Library but there are exceptions where it makes sense to manage components as a set, such as a set of chip resistors for example. Component Libraries provide for hierarchical factorization of models so when there are large sets of components that share symbols or footprints then sharing these in a single Component Library can facilitate a higher level of data integrity. If a footprint is changed for example, all of the 0603 chip resistors can be easily updated to use the new revision of that footprint, without the risk of missing one.

Is a vault-based component the same as a Unified Component?

Yes and No. It all depends whether the vault based component – a Component Item – has an associated Part Choice List Item or not. When a source component definition in a Component Library is first released, the resulting Component Item, referred to as a vault-based component, simply represents the engineering, or design view of that component. It is, in essence, a container into which all information used to model that component in the Design Area is stored. This includes links to all requisite domain models (schematic symbol, PCB 2D/3D component, SI, Sim, etc), as well as parametric information. It has great meaning to the designer using it in a board design, but is not meaningful outside of the design arena. To become a truly 'Unified Component', that unites the Design and Supply Chain areas, the Component Item must be mapped to physical, real-world manufactured parts. This is done by specifying Part Choices for the component, which are saved into a revision of an associated Part Choice List Item in the vault.

And it is this intelligent mapping of a component – from the traditional electronics design arena into the bigger 'product arena' as seen by the rest of the organization – that turns the humble vault-based component into a truly Unified Component!

Can I batch-release Component Libraries and related domain model libraries?

Yes, batch-release of CmpLibs, SchLibs and PcbLibs is made possible through use of the Release Manager (File » Release Manager). Before you can release component definitions in CmpLibs, the domain models that they reference (schematic symbols and PCB 2D/3D component models) must have already been released to the target vault.

Is there a fast way to create CmpLibs from existing SchLibs?

Yes. The Release Manager provides a migration tool that allows you to quickly generate Component Libraries from existing Schematic Libraries. Note that the symbols in the schematic libraries, and the PCB 2D/3D Component models in the associated PCB Libraries must be released to the vault first, since the component definitions that will be generated in the Component Libraries require to link to the resulting Schematic Symbol and PCB Component model Items.

Component Libraries can also be generated directly from the active Schematic Library, using a dedicated command available from the main Tools menu.

How do I keep the components in my design in-sync with changes to those components in the vault?

Each placed component has a link back to the source Component Item in the vault. This information can be found in the associated properties dialog for the component. At this lowest, individual component level, the placed instance can be updated to a later revision of the same Component Item (or changed to a totally different Component Item) simply by clicking the Choose button. The Choose Item dialog will appear, with the currently linked Item (and revision thereof) focused in the source vault. Select the later revision, or browse for another Component Item to use.

For a single, centralized place from which to effect multiple changes in a batch-like manner, use the Item Manager (Tools » Item Manager). It presents all managed components and/or sheet symbols found in a single schematic sheet (free document), or the set of schematics in a board design project. You have full control over which of these managed entities to update, and how. Select an entry and choose a later revision of the linked Item to be used. Select a group of entries that utilize the same linked Item and choose the next revision in one hit. All proposed changes are reflected back in the manager.

Once changes have been set up as required, simply generate and execute an Engineering Change Order (ECO) to effect those changes.

Part Choices

What do Part Choices give me as a Designer?

The best person to indicate which real-world components can be validly used to implement the design-level components in a board design is the actual architect of that design – the designer. Part Choices allow the designer to specify up-front, during the design phase, which physically-manufactured parts to use. This gives the procurement team a beneficial and timely 'heads-up' on what parts to procure, offering a significant improvement in terms of procurement cost and time, when manufacturing the assembled product.

What is the Altium Vault's Local Part Catalog?

This is a managed local part catalog database, provided as a service through the Altium Vault installation. This service is dedicated to the management and tracking of manufacturer parts and their associated supplier parts.

The Local Part Catalog stores items representative of actual Manufacturer Parts, along with one or more items representative of Supplier Parts – the incarnations of those Manufacturer Parts, as sold by the Suppliers/Vendors. Each Supplier Part is a reference to an item in a Supplier database. This can be an external database (Supplier web-based service), or an internal company database (ODBC-based). It is this link to the Supplier database that yields real-time pricing and availability data.

How do I access the Part Choice List for a Component Item?

Interaction with the Part Choice List Item associated to a Component Item is performed within the Part Choices dialog. This dialog is accessed by clicking the Edit link at the top-right of the Solutions region in the Supply Chain view for that Component Item – all from within the Vaults panel.

Managed Schematic Sheets

Is this another name for a Device Sheet?

Similar, but vault-based and far more powerful! The Design Data Management System provides the ability to formally release a schematic sheet (or tree of sheets), along with any associated Harness Definition files, into a target Item (and revision thereof) in a target vault. Once the sheet has been released, and its lifecycle state set to a level that the organization views as ready for use at the design level, the sheet – which is now referred to as a Managed Schematic Sheet – can be placed into design project schematics.

Since they are released to, and stored in a vault, their integrity is assured. The ability to revision and manage lifecycle state means that a library of company-certified circuit schematics can be built, and accessed for re-use in future designs.

PCB Project Configurations

What is a PCB Project Configuration?

Configurations are part of the actual design project and provide the link from the design world to the manufacturing world. Each configuration represents an Item that we want to build in the real world, defining the data that will be required by a manufacturing organization to actually build that Item. When we release a board design project, we are in fact releasing a configuration of that project. The generated 'release data' are stored in a revision of the target Item specified as part of that configuration.

What type of Item does a configuration map, or link to?

When releasing a board design, a configuration can map to one of two types of Item – a Blank Board or Assembled Board. The former is a fabricated, bare board, containing no components. The latter is a Blank Board Item that is populated with components in accordance with a generated BOM (part of the 'instructions for building the Item, generated as output from the configuration targeting that Item).

Validation

Where do I set up validation checks for use as part of the board design release process?

Validation reports are defined as part of an Output Job file. You can setup:

  • A Differences Report - using the comparator to determine if the source and PCB design documents are correctly in-sync.
  • An Electrical Rules Check - checking the electrical/drafting validity of the captured source design.
  • A Design Rules Check - checking the validity of the PCB document in relation to specified board-level design constraints.
  • A Footprint Comparison Report - which compares footprints on the board against their source library to ensure they are up-to-date, and matched.
  • An Environment Configuration Compliance Check - providing a means to conclusively test and enforce the use of company-authorized data elements in a design. Simply put, if you are not using data items permitted through the environment configuration available for use by your assigned role, the release will fail.

Board Design Release Process

How do I know my data is correct before I release?

First, if your project is under version control, then the system requires all files to be checked in and up to date before releasing. This ensures that no "private copy" of an essential design document is ever allowed to sit on an engineer's hard drive – with the potential of becoming lost. This simple rule can save hours down the track in costly searching for the right set of design documents that were used to generate a released product.

Second, for additional peace of mind and to ensure the integrity of the design data, you can optionally add validation checks into the release process 'flow'. These can include not only a standard Electrical Rules Check (ERC) for the source schematics and Design Rules Check (DRC) of the PCB, but also the ability to check that the source project and PCB are in sync. The release will fail if any validation checks are not passed successfully.

Third, by using the PCB Release view in Design Mode, you can 'trial run' execution of validation reports and generation of outputs. If all outputs are generated successfully – validations all Passed and other outputs are Up To Date – then success is guaranteed with respect to these stages when running the flow in Release Mode.

Of course, the system provides you with a high-integrity release process to ensure what gets built at the manufacturing plant is exactly as you designed it from your office or lab. The system can't ensure the actual design itself is correct though, in terms of its functionality – that's down to the design team. Rather, the system ensures the integrity of the data generated from the design.

When would I use the PCB Release view in Design Mode?

This mode of the PCB Release view is used for controlling and managing the Board-Level design process. Here you can run validations and generate outputs as needed, and in any order, 'testing the waters' as it were to ensure all is as it should be, prior to initiating the actual release of the intended configuration.

In this mode, you are free to move between defined configurations in any of the currently open projects. The aim, in this mode, is to essentially concentrate on a particular configuration of the project you want to release, and ensure that everything is ready-to-go. When it is, you'll be able to switch the view into its Release Mode, and perform the actual release.

Why is the release process flow disabled after I release?

This is referred to as 'one-shot releasing'. The system only allows you to release a configuration of a design project once to any given revision of a targeted Item. In fact, a successful release results in committing (storing) the release data in the Item Revision, then closes that revision. No further data can be generated and released into that same revision, ensuring the high-integrity of the released data.

Why is the Validate Design stage in my release flow not available?

This stage of the flow is used only to run validation report output generators defined in an Output Job file assigned to the configuration being released. The stage will be 'grayed out' if the system finds no such output generators defined.

What happened to the ability to run a trial release?

You can still do this, just in a far more powerful, intuitive and streamlined manner. With the PCB Release view in Design Mode, you are able to run the Validate Design and/or Generate Outputs stages of the design release flow. This allows you to 'test the waters' as it were to ensure all is as it should be, prior to initiating the actual release of the intended configuration. These two stages are the 'meat' of the flow and their successful running is crucial to the board design release process. If either of these stages fail, the release fails – simple as that. So within Design Mode, access to these stages gives you arguably the most valuable pre-release checking aid possible.

What is actually committed to the target Altium Vault?

The following data is committed to a defined new revision (planned revision) of the target Item, stored in the nominated vault:

  • Generated outputs (including any defined validation reports) as part of Output Job file(s) assigned to the released configuration of the design project.
  • Design document snapshot (source documents and dependencies).
  • System BOM

Upon committal, a summary of the data committed to the vault is presented in the Release Summary dialog.

What is a System BOM?

The System Bill of Materials (BOM) is used to obtain a visual display of the BOM when interrogating the Item Revision in the detailed Item view. It is really only applicable if the configuration is being used to generate the data to build an assembled board Item.

The System BOM does not replace the need to generate a BOM document as part of output data from a configured Output Job file. It simply facilitates browsing of the BOM in the Item view.

How does the system know which project source documents were used in the release?

Whenever a new revision of a Blank Board or Assembled Board Item is generated, during the release process Altium Designer records the version control repository address and revision of the project and commits this information to the target vault. This method means that at any point in the future it is possible to retrieve an identical snapshot of all files in the design project from version control.

Lifecycle Management

What kind of lifecycle management is provided?

Altium Designer provides varying degrees of lifecycle management – from basic management, through simple management including states and state transitions, to fully structured management, where the states and state transitions are organized into distinct stages, with a link between those stages and the revision ID. Based on these different lifecycle management strategies, a number of standard lifecycle definitions are defined, from which you can choose to model the state transitions that an Item Revision may undergo over time. Add definitions that include 'Approval'-type states and transitions – pause for that signature of authorization as it were – and the result is an impressive (and extensive!) array of lifecycle management solutions to suit any requirement.

How do I promote the state of a released Item Revision?

Controls for the management of an Item Revision's lifecycle can be found in the Lifecycle aspect view for the Item, in the Vaults panel, or from the detailed view for the Item. Access to the latter is made by right-clicking on the Item of interest in the Vaults panel, and choosing the Full Item History command (or by using one of the various hyperlinks available in the PCB Release view). Select the required revision of the Item and access the lifecycle management commands from the right-click menu.

Publishing Release Data

What are 'Publishing Destinations'?

For released data generated from a PCB design project, Altium Designer supports the ability to publish those released documents – generated output from Output Job files assigned to the released project configuration – for any Item Revision, to a storage space, such as Amazon S3, FTP and Box.com.

In terms of distribution and collaboration, this provides an unparalleled advantage in a world where the collective members of the overall 'product team' – the design team, the manufacturing team and all others involved in the process of getting a product from thought to reality – are often dispersed around the globe.

 

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