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Advancements in mechatronics demand ECAD-MCAD Collaboration for Co-design of Smart Products

Mechatronics, which is also called mechatronic engineering, is a multidisciplinary branch of engineering that focuses on the engineering of both electrical and mechanical systems, and also includes a combination of robotics, electronics, computer, telecommunications, systems, control, and product engineering. As technology advances over time, various subfields of engineering have succeeded in both adapting and multiplying. The intention of mechatronics is to produce a design solution that unifies each of these various subfields. A mechatronics engineer unites the principles of mechanics, electronics, and computing to generate a simpler, more economical and reliable system.


Mechanical modeling calls for modeling and simulating physical complex phenomena in the scope of a multi-scale and multi-physical approach. This implies to implement and to manage modeling and optimization methods and tools, which are integrated in a systemic approach. Mechatronics is thus getting ever more important for the whole product development, you see control systems exploding in cars and planes and trains and machinery and the IoT cannot happen without PCBs in all those products. Electronics, Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) specifically, have been increasingly prevalent in all sorts of traditional mechanical products for some time now. Second, the development of these PCBs have a real mechanical problem. Thermal management is the today’s biggest single design issue for PCBs as designers integrate more and more powerful chipsets into their products. That generates heat that must be dissipated out of the enclosure. In fact, this issue has become so pressing that it is often the limiting factor in the entire product.


Nowadays, electronic design has become increasingly complicated, and so it takes a lot of time to finish such a design. Worse still, missing a step results in wrong information, which affects the cost and efficiency of product development.  Today, 3D PCB design is the rule, not the exception. Nor can board design take place in a vacuum; it is just one aspect of product design. Designing mechanical elements alongside PCBs and incorporating the mechanical parts for the enclosure, brackets, and heat sinks collaboratively is best done within an ECAD-MCAD collaboration design framework.


The latest trend gaining momentum in the market is integration of ECAD and MCAD. To achieve all this and deliver the best end-product, a digital model is created within the CAD environment. As mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD) and electronic computer-aided design (ECAD) are used for electronic design and mechanical design, respectively, engineers need to transmit design information between the two through an intermediate data format (IDF).


The need for better integration of ECAD and MCAD arises from the growing complexity of product development. This is due to increasing demand for customized products from the end-users. In addition, an increase in demand for electronics in sectors such as the automobile, which were dominated by mechanical parts, is also promoting the need for the ECAD and MCAD integration. For instance technological advancements and new market demands have contributed to the exponential rise in the complexity of aircraft designs over the last decade. ECAD-MCAD integration leads to increased productivity while ensuring a robust design and reducing the cost of quality. Aerospace mechanical and electrical designers are now able to synchronize their data more efficiently and collaborate more effectively on critical design items, thereby ensuring proper implementation of design intent.


For PCB design connectivity information is very important. They start with an electronic schematic showing how components (chips, resistors, capacitors, etc.) are functionally connected to each other. Board layouts show how traces run through each 2D layer of the PCB and how they connect to components. PCB design has gone 3D. Both have critical ‘from-to’ information showing how things are connected. The mechanical systems such as pipes or cables,  also start with schematics showing how components (pumps, flow reducers, power sources, etc.) are functionally connected. They also have 2D layouts showing how such systems are built physically. Routed mechanical systems also include ‘from-to’ information that shows how components are connected.


ECAD-MCAD collaboration for PCB design

Poor electromechanical co-design processes – or a lack of them – account for projects missing deadlines and cost targets by 50% or more. Ignoring the need for electrical and mechanical collaboration throughout your flow results in time wasted fixing costly mistakes, PCB design respins, and missed schedules.


Digital information available from either domain can be shared easily via collaboration applications to that assist in moving in data between tools more quickly, easily and accurately. Such sharing means that electrical engineers can, with a few clicks of a button, import design content created by their colleagues in mechanical engineering. The types of data items that can be shared for ECAD-MCAD collaboration include board outline, component placements, and mounting holes.


As the mechanical engineer works through the process of designing that next great product, its electrical part will at some point need to be added. In most cases, the PCB will contain constraints based on the mechanical enclosure. Examples of such constraints include I/O interface connectors, internal structural and mounting features, thermal requirements, and aesthetic features. There are others. Once the design reaches the point where the board outline can be constructed, critical electrical elements can be added to ensure the proper fit. This is where teams can start sharing design content.


Most product design process today involves the creation of a PDF drawing, Drawing Interchange Format (DXF) file, or semi-intelligent Intermediate Data Format (IDF) file. It will include the PCB outline, height-restricted areas, and component locations that the electrical engineer takes as a starting point. Using a drawing or DXF file can allow mistakes to creep through that may not become apparent until the first prototypes are produced. An IDF file adds intelligence by automatically creating the board area, placing parts, and adding the height-restriction areas. However, even here, no design history information is saved and all these approach lack the ability to let engineers make incremental changes between the ECAD and MCAD domains as the design process progresses.


Once the mechanical portion of the PCB is ready for the electrical engineer, you can export an intelligent model in the industry-standard Incremental Design Exchange (IDX) data format. IDX is the next generation of IDF created and is maintained by the industry group ProSTEP IVIP. As the ECAD-MCAD collaboration process deepens, design history information is created with tracking of the changes that occur during the development cycle. This can be very useful when a design needs a change to be restored back to a previous state or data is needed for compliance documentation.


ECAD-MCAD collaboration over IDX provides two data-sharing options. First is email, where a file is created and sent to the appropriate engineer(s). The second, and most common option, is directory-based. Everyone working on a project agrees to use a specific folder that is placed in a shared network location. Each tool is then configured to work from this location every time the collaborative application or platform is used.


Most tools require the ECAD tool to be in 3D mode before opening the collaboration app. This is required as the collaboration process allows you to review all incoming data. Whether it is a baseline, first import of data or a proposed change, the designer has the option to import all objects or choose only those that are relevant. To assist, the collaboration application should provide preview information that allows the designer to consider what data will be imported. After review, the designer can accept or reject any changes.


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