SolidWorks & Altium pt. 1

This tutorial is intended to be a series of demonstrations on how to interact productively between these two amazing pieces of sofware.

Although this is a bit easy at first, I hope this provides some help for those who come into trouble when doing design with both suites.

In this part I will show how to create a custom PCB on Altium from a random model on GrabCAD in SolidWorks and then using the created work to assembly everything on SolidWorks.

I used SolidWorks 2014 and Altium Designer 2019, but I believe it is essentially the same for most versions.

  1. Step 1: Defining the part you will work on

    On this stage, let's assume that you have created or you have a casing for the PCB that you will be working on.

    For the case of this tutorial, I have chosen a random piece from our GrabCAD library (thank you to Alex Petuhov for this work):

    Please download the files and extract them to the folder that you will be working on:

    Now let's move to Step 2 in order to create our base PCB component.

  2. Step 2: Creating the PCB Sketch

    In order to see the casing, we can start by opening the Assembly File (Сборка.sldasm):

    We can see it consists of three parts. In this case we will be working on the part from the base (3) (Тело2.sldprt).

    Let's open the part and place in a way that we can create entities from the 2D perspective we want to create our custom PCB board from:

    Switch the component view to only lines as the picture below:

    Create a new sketch using the reference plane from the pictures above and start to select the primitives that the PCB will be created from:

    Consider doing the same for the entities that will be used ar reference for the PCB holes as well:

    Create the sketch by clicking the corresponding icon:

    Once again, create a new sketch with the same reference plane as before. In this sketch you will have to create the offset from the previous sketch. In my case I have selected an offset of 1mm, but this measure depends on your specific need:

    Delete all related measurement quotes and create the sketch:

    Delete all the other operations performed in order to just have the offset sketch:

    Now that we have the base sketch, we can extrude the component and save the created extrusion. In my case I have saved the result in a file called PCB_Base.sldprt

    We have now a base part to work our PCB on. Let's move to Step 3 in order to understand how to work this one out on Altium.

  3. Step 3: Creating the Drawing File

    For this step, we will need to create a new sketch(drawing) file:

    Please note that in this case the option to visualize the page format is not selected (this will simplify the job later on the Altium side).

    After creating the page, import the PCB component part (PCB_Base.sldprt) and create the top view:

    Delete the unnecesary side view and scale the component to natural (1:1)

    Finally, delete the unwanted lines (circle centerline) and save your file in DWG format. I have saved it as (PCB_base.dwg)

    Now, let's start the Altium part of this tutorial on Step 4.

  4. Step 4: Creating the Altium PCB

    Once that we have created our base drawing, we can import into Altium with ease.

    On your Altium PCB file, select File > Import > DXF/DWG

    Select the file we created on Step 3 (PCB_base.dwg), the following window will prompt:

    It is a good practice if you choose to import the drawing on the Keep-Out Layer. You can choose the upper options as per my suggestion or your favorite units.

    If done correctly, the drawing will be imported as shown on the picture above.

    From now, in order to create your PCB, you will have to select the necessary primitives to create the board from:

    Go to the top menu and select Design > Board Shape > Design from selected objects

    The board is now shaped to the shape that we need. Now we need to create the cutouts from the other primitives.

    Select one of the primitives and then on the top menu select Tools > Convert > Create Board Cutout from Selected Primitives

    If done correctly, the cutout will be created:

    Repeat the process for the other cutout primitives:

    You can press the key '3' to change the PCB View:

    You can now add your desired component to your custom PCB:

    Finally, on the next step we will just export this back to SolidWorks to visualize and render on Step 5.

  5. Step 5: Visualizing the entire assembly

    In this last part, we will generate a SolidWorks compatible file from Altium and watch the last assembly with the full parts and casing.

    In Altium, on your PCB Project file, select File > Export > STEP 3D

    The following window will prompt:

    At this time, and since this is not a complex PCB (no several components), we can just select the OK option in order to generate a STEP file that we can import on SolidWorks. Save the file on the corresponding path (e.g. the SolidWorks project folder).

    Open the STEP file on SolidWorks and save all the components as an assembly.

    Very easy right!?

    Now you can include the assembly and verify dimensions and consistency with your desired casing:

    I hope you enjoyed this short tutorial on how to create custom PCB shapes for your designs and renders.

    On Part 2, I will try to cover more on different complex parts and works between these two magical pieces of software.