Vault-Driven Electronics Design

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Parent article: Design Data Management

So just what exactly is "Vault-Driven Electronics Design" and how is it different to any other methods engaged to design and produce electronic products? Well, frankly speaking, we believe that although there are many ways to design electronics, and many ways to drive design software tools, we are honing the optimal way to design electronics using our tools and technologies moving forward, based on our own experiences and reinforced by the experiences of our 40,000+ users. So what we are sharing with you here, today, is a passionate, exciting glimpse of a methodology that we have rigorously formulated, crafted and continue to refine. A methodology that takes Altium Designer and Altium Vault Technology and essentially drives these two, in concert, and along with key design and management practices, to fuel a high-quality, high-yield design flow – empowering your design team to design with freedom in a highly-secure environment. A methodology that provides the one true way to effectively and efficiently use Altium's electronic design systems – the way they were intended to be used. A methodology that streamlines the design process and enables new designers to enter the design field 'running with the ball'. In a nutshell a design methodology that, quite simply, works, and works remarkably well.

Rest assured this evolving methodology hasn't materialized out of thin air. We proverbially 'practice what we preach'! In fact, we are in a rather unique (and powerful) position of being a design software vendor that develops its own hardware, using its own design tools. Altium's Hardware Team has extensively used Altium Designer and Altium Vault Technology to design various real-world boards, in-house. And it is this very design work that prompted the development and adoption of design techniques that streamline the design flow. The Team have honed and streamlined their use of, and experiences with, these technologies, to arrive at what could be coined the 'Golden Path' of electronics design. A best practice design methodology that, while still evolving, has been tried and tested with real results and marked gains in quality and productivity.

For a look at the Vault-Driven Electronics Design methodology, as it is currently defined and implemented by the Hardware Team at Altium today, see A Suggested Methodology for Vault-Driven Electronics Design.

And perhaps the overriding concept of this methodology is that of designing for reuse. This entails capturing and configuring all elements of design so that they can be easily reused across any new future designs. So models that can be reused in a new component, components that can be reused in functional sub-circuits, functional sub-circuits that can be reused in the design of a modular assembly, and then ultimately reusing a modular assembly in a larger design itself. Combine this concept with that of vault-driven design, whereby all elements in a design must be sourced from an Altium Vault, and we essentially arrive at a design for reuse flow that is spiral in nature. Starting with the lowest level design element and growing in its level of abstraction, where each subsequent design element must be created on the design side and then released into the vault, ready to be used in the next higher-level design element.

The 'spiral' nature of designing for reuse.

Altium already provides a myriad of great features and technologies as part of its Design Data Management System. And users naturally have the complete freedom to use whichever elements of the system they choose to suit their design needs and practices. But to really take electronics design to the next level, and use those features and technologies in the manner in which they were intended to be used, requires an open mind and following a proven new methodology to design. So jump aboard for a look at the future of electronics design, where vaults become the central hub of the 'Designerverse'. Where all elements used in all designs are source from that central vault. Secure, lifecycle-managed and company-ratified components, design sheets and other modularized design entities. Resident in a vault, to be reused in all future designs – true Vault-Driven Electronics Design.

Although each individual sub-part of the Design Data Management System offers distinct advantages in its own right, to fully embrace the Vault-Driven Electronics Design methodology requires that the entire design process be vault-centric. In other words, all elements of a design – from humble components, through to managed sheets of reusable circuitry, to a complete satellite design module that plugs into a parent board in another design – should come from a vault. If any element of a design is not sourced from within a vault, then that design is not considered to be a truly vault-driven design, and its integrity may suffer as a result.

Key Concepts of Vault-Driven Electronics Design

  • A methodology based on the cohesive use of both the right tools (Altium Designer, Altium Vault Technology, Version Control system) and the right design and management principles and practices. It's about using the software and related technologies to the best of their abilities, driving them the way they were designed to be driven. It's a methodology forged from over 25 years of industry experience, coupled with tremendous customer feedback and use of the tools to actively design our own hardware.
  • Vault-centric design. All elements of a design must be sourced from an Altium Vault, without exception.
  • Use of a version-controlled Design Repository for all design-side source:
    • Source domain model files (e.g. SchLibs, PcbLibs)
    • Source component definitions (in CmpLib files)
    • Source schematic sheets containing reusable sections of design circuitry.
    • Design templates (Project files, schematic documents, PCB documents)
    • OutputJob files.
  • Design for reuse. Capture and configure all elements of design so that they can be easily reused across any new future designs. From components, to sheets of schematic circuitry, and up to fully released modular design assemblies, all elements are released into a vault to essentially create a repository of managed design 'building blocks'.
  • Modularizing design – by designing at higher levels of abstraction, future designs benefit from ease of reusing these modular blocks of design.
  • Effective design decision making – knowing when to reuse existing vault-based design elements, when to refactor, and when to create something new (a component that doesn't exist in any vault, for example).
  • Streamlining design through use of template projects and using linked template source documents (Schematic top sheet and PCB document) and standardized output job configuration files.
  • Standardized naming conventions, revision naming schemes and lifecycle management schemes, depending on design element.
  • Strict adherence to standardized design and presentation principles, including net connectivity, hierarchy, design rules, and so on.
  • Generic models – reusing released schematic symbols (and on rare occasion PCB 2D/3D Component models) across multiple components as applicable, without having to 'reinvent the wheel' each time.
  • All data output released into a vault only – no generated output files stored in the design-side version control repository.
  • Direct and secure access to manufacturing data through the vault. Permission-controlled so that only those approved for access have that access. Eliminates the potential for errant manufacturing files being sent outside of the system.

Key Benefits of Vault-Driven Electronics Design

  • Incorporates and builds upon Altium's unified design and design data management paradigms to deliver a streamlined, highly-optimized design flow – in terms of both quality of designs, and yield.
  • Reduced design effort through use of defined file templates and configurations common to all new design projects, and the reuse of existing design building blocks. This provides an inherent boost in productivity.
  • Reduced error in new designs as only ever using company-ratified design elements sourced from a vault. In other words, using proven circuits over and over.
  • Improved quality of design outputs, through adoption of consistent naming conventions, presentation standards and design principles.
  • Design productivity ramps up as more design content is created, released to and subsequently approved for reuse from, the vault. Future designs become quicker to implement as the vault of design 'building blocks' grows, and required circuit functionality becomes available for placement in modular fashion.
  • Leverage 'meta-data' of designs.
  • Spend more time designing and less guessing.
  • Reduced training time and cost.
  • Facilitates team environments.
  • Ability to easily find components and designs.

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