Panelizing different PCBs together with Altium designer

Thread Starter

acheriti

Joined Apr 26, 2020
22
Hi Guys,
I'm currently working on a couple of different PCBs and to reduce costs I would like to combine them in one panel so that I can produce them together and thus reduce my costs.
However there are a couple of things about I'm an unsure. My PCBs are in Altium Designer. Altium does have the ability to combine different PCBs together and it's quite easy.
However first of all when I do combine my PCBs, I lose most of my mechanical layers of my different PCBs. I end up losing informations about my PCBs.
Second of all, do I need to redfine my board outline? I guess my new board outline will be the edges of the new panel with the multiple PCBs on it?
I'm used to writing fab notes guidelines and of having a cartridge around my PCBs when I produce them. Should I still put them on the new panel?
Thanks for the information guys !
 

jeffl_2

Joined Sep 17, 2013
63
The system I used to use was sold to Altium, it then became proprietary and the cost went out of sight, so I'm no fan of Altium! I'm currently using a free program called KiCAD, it has a pretty amazing library and the autorouter (although technically not part of the package) is a "rip-and-repeat" style that is light years ahead of the "Manhattan-style" router I was used to:

https://www.kicad.org/

It turns out I'm a week or so away from starting my first panelizing project, so I'm currently studying this problem closely. The panelizer that is recommended for this package is located here, I don't know anything about its applicability to Altium:

https://github.com/ThisIsNotRocketScience/GerberTools

Now I found this link in an article on Hackaday that I think you would find fascinating, it discusses the issue of panelizing in general for all manner of PCB design packages and discusses a myriad of solutions, I'm sure you'll find answers to some of the questions you have there:

https://hackaday.com/2017/06/21/panelizing-boards-the-easy-way/

I apologize for throwing out all these links and being seemingly "non-responsive" to your initial question, I'm getting there! Actually the previous article links the first of a set of three videos that constitute a tutorial on putting Altium designs into production which includes panelizing, I included the link below but I wanted to explain completely why in the case of Altium I can't really answer any of these questions myself:


In other words if you're happy with Altium and can get it to do what you need, more power to you, but I think in the long run proprietary PCB programs of modest performance are going the way of the dodo bird, I'm sure many of you would disagree with me, I haven't found a need for them but I have described the way I'm going if you're interested, good luck to you!
 

PadMasterson

Joined Jan 19, 2021
33
Adding multiple boards is fine to help reduce cost an all, but there are several things you should be if not already aware of. First, all of the boards need to be the same stackup, you can't mix layer counts. If you are doing IPC-D-356 Netlist testing, your panelizing program should be able to pull in the different board netlists and combine them to the panel since the X-Y data will have changed or create it's own D-356 file and when you dimension your panel, you need to define the origin of each board so the FAB shop can enter offsets for each boards netlist if a combined version is not available. If you are doing controlled impedance be sure that you don't have like trace widths on a board that doesn't need controlling or it might add cost for more than you need. Unless you/your company, are depanelizing the assembled boards, make sure your assembly shop is aware of what you're doing and if you're using Pick-n-Place files, the same offset data needs to be conveyed to them for placement and part location, etc. Same goes for any ICT or Flying Probe testing at a panel level, you'll need data either combined or with offset information. To really make sure you are creating a good panel and assembling it, you should contact both your FAB and Assembly shops. They will be happy to make sure you give them what they need to prevent stopping production for questions that may have been avoided by just calling and getting information. I don't know how many times shops will put a job on hold for a seemingly silly issue but they don't like making scrap, so they stop and ask. Same goes with your assembly group. Call and talk to them about what you are doing. Make sure you give them the tab info and make sure you know how they will separate the boards, etc. Communications is key to doing any board FAB and Assembly. I've been doing boards for 30+ years and I still learn new things that help here and there. As for Altium and the other tools mentioned above, I can't help on that part, I've not used the tools. My info here was hopefully to help you with the process of what you are planning to do and what to look for, etc. Good luck and drop back in and let us know how it went. Later...
 

Ian0

Joined Aug 7, 2020
4,068
Another point - if you send a design consisting of several different panelised pcbs to most of the Chinese suppliers, they will insist that you un-panelise it.
On the other hand, they don't charge extra for making several small pcbs, so it is generally not worth the effort of panelising it.
 

jeffl_2

Joined Sep 17, 2013
63
Actually the reasons for panelizing are a bit more nuanced. The PCB folks obviously don't want you jamming together a bunch of IDENTICAL boards to just "cut the item count" and your cost. But normally a certain collection of specific, mostly UNIQUE PCBs constitutes an "assembly" (or shipset, pick your vernacular). When you're doing inventory on assembled PCBs, if they're "panelized" together you may only need to count inventory of the panelized assemblies thereby saving yourself a lot of work. Also for the SMD "pick and place" folks a panel only constitutes a single inventory list, not a dozen or more that you may need to keep track of in various proportions. Then there's the handling of the panel in both assembly and test fixtures, if you only need to design one instead of many it's easier. I would say in my experience if you have a decent argument for panelizing an assembly, most board houses will find a way to accommodate you rather than lose the business.
 
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