Altium ActiveRoute Debuts at PCB West: Routes Under One Second Per Connection


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While at PCB West in Santa Clara in mid-September, I had the chance to sit down with Charles Pfeil of Altium and learn more about their exciting new tool, ActiveRoute, that was introduced and demonstrated in their booth during PCB West 2016. I also learned a bit about Pfeil, who is a living history lesson in PCB design.

 

Judy Warner: Charles, nice to see you again. You have been very busy here at PCB West, doing hourly demonstrations of your new product, ActiveRoute, in the Altium booth. Please tell us a little bit about what you're demonstrating here at the show.

Charles Pfeil: ActiveRoute is a tool that helps designers do their interactive routing. It's not an automatic router, although it has very high levels of automation. The intent is to provide the designer with a way to interactively route, following all the rules, constraints, and restrictions,Charles_Pfeil_Altium.jpg under their control so they can tell the routing technology where to route, what layer to route, and then they will route it very, very quickly. It generally routes in less than one second per connection.

Warner: What is the standard routing time?

Pfeil: I've actually run some tests and some competitions, and for the best designers, when we're talking about a 100–200 nets, the average is about one minute, and I'd say for the average designer it is closer to three minutes.

Warner: Impressive. So this speeds things up dramatically, up but still gives designers the control? I know with autorouting, designers lose some of that control, which they don’t like.

Pfeil: Exactly. Autorouting has a stigma, right? And rightly so [laughs]. The problem with autorouting is that it will put in way too many vias, and a typical statement I hear is, “It will take me more time to clean it up than if I had just routed it by myself in the beginning.” Although the autorouter itself would be very fast, the time it takes to clean it up and the pain to clean it up isn't worth it, so they'd rather route it interactively. This tool works as an interactive tool. You can take a small number of nets or a large number of nets, route them, and you have tools for guiding where it's supposed to be routed. The intent is to make the designer more productive, not just put it into a route engine and have it work on it for a while, and then give you back the results.

Warner: It sounds like it will speed up the design, keep the control, but give you the advantage of some of the speed of an autorouter.

Pfeil: The speed and the quality are really important. Designers like me are OCD, but quality is something that isn't just, "It looks pretty." It's about being efficient, and it's about, "I want the least number of segments, I don't want extra meandering, and I want it to be routed in groups. I want things spaced out at times." This is what quality is about. Sometimes quality is Pfeil 2.JPGmisinterpreted as pretty, but it's really about having efficient routing that is easy to edit in the future. The OCD part of us will make things symmetrical and evenly spaced, even when it's not necessary, but that's the way designers are. If you give a designer a tool to help with routing, they won't use it if they have to spend a lot of time cleaning up. Cleaning up means, “It didn't do what I would've done.” That's the hard part: producing the results in which a designer would say, "Yeah, that's good. I'm going to go to the next step. I don't have to adjust all these things."

Warner: Will this tool be an add-on or will it be integrated into Altium Designer?

Pfeil: It's included with Altium Designer. It's part of the base product.

Warner: Is that starting right now or on the next release?

Pfeil: It's starting with Release 17.0 which will be out before the end of this year.

Warner: Do you think that having this feature may help you sell more licenses?

Pfeil: In the end, it's the bottom line, right? It's one of many things that are new in 17.0. We did a lot of work on making the user interface easier. Our Vault capability has been enhancedPfeil 3.JPG significantly. We're continuing to improve the tool in whatever ways we can. I've been focused on the routing side, and really trying to make a tool that designers will want to use and become more productive.

Warner: You've been giving demos every hour here. Tell us a little bit about the response from the designers that you've been talking with.

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