ECAD-Simulation collaboration for PCB design process

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Written by
Paavo Tuomola

ECAD-Simulation collaboration for PCB design process; an example with Altium and Ansys SIwave

Using simulation software along with electronics design software provides the possibility of testing printed circuit boards (PCBs) and electronic systems at the early stages of the product development process. Getting the methods right before testing can help minimize the money spent on physical prototypes. Noticing possible design flaws before manufacturing can help streamline the time to market and avoid later corrections.

Flaws in electronics designs can range from simple missing connections to more complex challenges, such as signal integrity, power integrity, and component heating issues. USB has become a de facto for computer serial interfaces and powering or charging external devices in modern electronics. Ansys Electronics simulation can help an electronics designer validate that the interface complies with the standards.

Ansys SIwave is a specialized design platform for power integrity, signal integrity, and EMI analysis of electronic packages and PCBs, and it is a part of the Ansys Electronics suite. Transferring a PCB design from an Electronic CAD (ECAD) to Ansys SIwave is made easy, and getting started with the simulations is intuitive, even for designers without prior experience in simulations.

Altium’s partnership with Ansys supports the native EDB format, which makes exporting a design from Altium and importing it into Ansys extremely straightforward and efficient. Download the Ansys EDB extension into Altium and choose Ansys EDB as the export format. In Ansys SIwave, import an Ansys EDB file.

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Using EDB between the tools offers a seamless workflow, comprehensive design information, synchronization capabilities, parametric analysis, and great access to various simulation features. If you don’t have Altium Designer, Ansys SIwave also supports the ODB++ format, which you can use if your ECAD doesn’t support the EDB format.

This example shows how to export a PCB from Altium and Import it into Ansys SIwave.

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The process transfers all the data from Altium into Ansys. Components and their values, layer thicknesses and materials, net names, trace widths, dielectric constants, etc. Making changes in the design in Altium requires only exporting and importing again, and the updated data is used for simulations.

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Ansys SIwave offers an intuitive workflow wizard, which shows some steps to advance with the simulation process.

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Verification allows for checking that the data was transferred correctly into Ansys.

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The first natural step for many simulations is a DC IR Drop Analysis. When performing this analysis, a user must insert input current values for components that consume power and voltage values for voltage sources on the PCB. The result provides a visual illustration of the current values and current densities across the board, as well as the power densities and voltage values.

Click to view

The DC IR simulation is the base for thermal simulations with Ansys Icepak or Electromigration analysis on Ansys SIwave. Other analysis methods in Ansys SIwave, such as EMI, impedance, and crosstalk scans, can be accessed with simple clicks of the corresponding buttons.

Ansys SIwave offers a Signal Integrity wizard for signals, where you can simply select which nets you would like to analyze. There is also a DDR wizard for analyzing DDR modules on the PCBs. Based on the data provided by the Ansys simulation, you can adjust your PCB and see how your changes will improve the performance of your design.

Many simulations in the Ansys SIwave can be easily achieved, and the setups can be nearly automated. You can manually select parameters and focal points for your analysis if you want more control and accuracy. This makes Ansys SIwave an excellent tool with possibilities ranging from simple scans to complex analyses. It all depends on your desired outcome.

For an electronics designer, Ansys SIwave offers a tool that supports rapid validation of an electronics design and its performance. It also provides powerful tools for more complex analysis of a PCB and enables drilling into the root causes that might have led to a failure or why a design has bounced back from the testing lab.

With no prior experience in either of the two software, Altium ECAD and Ansys SIwave, I successfully transferred data between the two and obtained results from the simulations. Getting started with the simulations is rather intuitive and straightforward. With the help of some online learning tools and videos, the requirements for successfully utilizing SIwave in product development is a simple procedure.

Based on my experience Ansys SIwave could be implemented in the early stages of the design process. Making it a regular part of the workflow would provide an additional tool for confirming the quality and performance requirements of the PCB. Checking that all components are getting enough power, ensuring signal integrity is OK, not heating too much, etc., would benefit from implementing simulation solutions in the PCB design process.


Paavo Tuomola, Business Development Manager for CAE, PDSVISION


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