Why it’s time to unify electronic and mechanical computed aided design

Posted on 4 Feb 2021 by The Manufacturer

Finding a simple solution to a complex problem is exactly what developers at Autodesk have achieved with Fusion 360. David Marrakchi explains more.

In today’s cloud-connected world it would be reasonable to expect design tools would have overcome the long-standing collaboration challenges that electronics and mechanical designers often face. Yet, most development teams still struggle, relying on manual methods such as emails and exchanging files to overcome such a complex task.

Many designers spend enormous time and effort simply managing separate ECAD (electronic computer-aided design) and MCAD (mechanical computer-aided design) design tools. Hours are wasted trying to get disparate design systems to exchange accurate design data that needs to be transferred, translated and verified with every push and pull.

LifeFuels engineer verifying ECAD MCAD design using Fusion 360

LifeFuels engineer verifying ECAD MCAD design using Fusion 360.

Add to these administrative tasks the fact that designs themselves have become more challenging with the ever-shrinking product design real estate. Smaller, denser and low power devices pose another level of challenges that require integration between the electrical and mechanical domains unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Not to mention the pressure designers and project managers are facing to deliver products faster, with more features and at lower cost.

As product development changes, electronics design needs to follow. We need to start seeing our PCB (printed circuit board) designs from a broader perspective, in a 3D world, as part of a complete product development workflow.

There are three main reasons why every electronics designer needs to have a single ECAD – MCAD tool to prepare for these changes:

1. Collaboration is now a necessity. Today’s design process is anything but linear. Component availability changes, board layouts need to shift to fit enclosures at the last minute. Not having a way to understand how your product affects your PCB design process is handicapping your capabilities.

2. File formats are a burden. Putting your design in a box as a file format naturally lends itself to errors in translation. When was the last time your STEP file fully communicated your design intent? Probably never. No longer should hours be spent on documentation to supplement what should already be communicated in design.

3. The future is blending disciplines. Engineers are expected to do it all; documentation, emails, design, sourcing — you name it. Mechanical design is now being added to this list as our needs for smart devices deepens. And have you seen molded interconnect devices (MIDs)? You won’t be designing those boards only in 2D.

Complex product design blending multiple disciplines (LifeFuels)

Complex product design blending multiple disciplines (LifeFuels).

Solutions to the problems

Electronic designers continue to experience an industry of fragmented and disconnected toolsets – tools that were designed with specific design challenges in mind, and are good at tackling individual, discrete sets of problems (ECAD and MCAD). The burden should not be put on designers to step out of their CAD design environment into an unfamiliar setting and learn new tools.

These challenges embody why we created Fusion 360. It addresses many of the problems electronic designers face today and will face, increasingly, in the future. So what exactly is Fusion 360? It is 3D CAD reinvented. It is cloud- based, 3D CAD, CAM, CAE and PCB, all in one tool. If you’re doing any kind of product development, this is the world that you’ll live in.

Benefits to using Fusion 360 include:

  • ECAD/MCAD Co-Design – the cloud-based design environment allows all engineers to quickly iterate ideas and bring function and form together on any device.
  • Simulate – engineers can test fit and motion, perform simulations and generate realistic renderings all in the same tool.
  • CAM – when it’s time for production, it’s easy to create toolpaths for CNC machining or additive manufacturing.

In the past, electronic designers were typically left outside of the product development process in 3D CAD. The question was always the same; how do you bring the 2D world of electronics into a 3D world? Fusion 360 doesn’t simply provide a solution to this integration problem, but instead it removes the problem by making the ECAD tool the MCAD tool. Both disciplines – electronics and mechanical – are supported by the same tool. Finally, a single, unified platform uses a single dataset, and finally, electronics engineers can design in a new dimension (pun intended!).

Fusion 360 Design Unification brings ECAD & MCAD into one platform

Fusion 360 Design Unification brings ECAD & MCAD into one platform.

Design unification

Fusion 360 enables ECAD and MCAD designers to work natively and independently on the same design project within the same design management platform. This enables engineers and teams to share:

  • one common design environment;
  • one common design management system; and
  • one design dataset with no file exchange, export or third-party integration ever needed.

“Having the cloud collaboration, having the immediate changes from the rest of your team, having easy to find workflow going into the mechanical side makes everything a lot easier.” Abraham Maclean Embedded Engineering Manager, LifeFuels

ECAD/MCAD collaboration

Fusion 360 offers a truly connected experience for PCB, mechanical, and overall product design, ensuring every stakeholder is part of the product development cycle. With one cloud-based data management — powered by AWS technology for secure storage and infinite computing power — collaboration between all stakeholders becomes an integral part of the design process. This ensures change is seamlessly managed, be it revisions, board shape updates, component moves, library updates or enclosure changes. This means:

  • real-time ECAD-MCAD collaboration;
  • design changes can be fluidly passed and initiated by either ECAD or MCAD; and
  • stateless and concurrent design processes.

Collaboration in Fusion 360 from anywhere by any team member

Collaboration in Fusion 360 from anywhere by any team member.

With both ECAD and MCAD working on the same Fusion 360 environment with one dataset, 3D PCB data such as board copper, core material and components can be analysed, verified and validated on the MCAD side to ensure they meet product design specifications, including:

  • specify 3D PCB data properties such as copper to run design simulation;
  • check for collisions and interferences; and
  • one source of truth ensuring design teams working on the most recent dataset.

With Fusion 360 you can access comprehensive electronics and PCB design tools in one product development platform. Converge your ECAD and MCAD workflows for unified electronics design so you can engineer, design and make anything.

More information www.autodesk.co.uk/fusion-360

David Marrakchi, AutodeskDavid Marrakchi is Electronics Product Marketing Manager at Autodesk



All photos courtesy of Autodesk