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3 Reasons Electronic Designers Need MCAD Collaboration

Sam Sattel


ECAD/MCAD collaboration: Three Reasons Why Every Electronics Designer Needs MCAD Software in Their Toolbox

Product development has changed. Gone are the days of designing in our separate boxes, passing PCBs and enclosures down the line. These days, if you’re developing in ECAD, then you’ll likely need MCAD. Whether that’s to throw together an enclosure, verify fit, or run a simulation. We’re not just PCB designers anymore; we’re product developers.

When Was the Last Time You Designed Just a PCB?

It’s rare to find an electronics designer making just a PCB these days. Electronics are the unseen intelligence in our world, and they always need a physical counterpart to connect with the human. Buttons, switches, boxes, we love to touch.

There’s still this myth though, in an age of smart, connected devices, that we can exist as engineers in only our ECAD software. How does this hold up? In 2020 there’s going to be more than 34 billion connected devices around the world. Devices that require smaller package sizes, and integration between the electrical and mechanical domains unlike we’ve ever seen before. How are you going to design all of that with one tool?

You can’t.


Think you’ve got small package sizes now? Here’s a Smart Plug with energy monitoring and WiFi. (Image source)

This is just the start of our problems though. Since the beginning of the Industrial Engineering Era, we have been relying on file formats as our sole method of collaborating and sharing design data. You know them by name – STEP, IDF, BRD. The dance is always the same, pack your data up, email it back and forth, and hope for the best.


Who needs to collaborate when you can just pass your design down the line? (Image source)

So what are we to do? As product development changes, so too does electronics design need to follow along. We need to start seeing our PCB designs in a larger perspective, in a 3D world, as part of a complete product development workflow. These are the three reasons why every electronics designer needs to have an MCAD tool in their toolbox to prepare for the coming change:

  1. Collaboration is now a necessity. Today’s design process is anything but linear. Component availability changes, board shapes need to shift to fit enclosures at the last minute. Not having a way to understand how your product affect your PCB design process is handicapping your capabilities.
  2. File formats are a burden. Putting your design in a box as a file format naturally lends itself to errors in translation. When was the last time your STEP file fully communicated your design intent? Probably never. I think we’re all tired of pouring hours into documentation just to supplement what should already be communicated in our design.
  3. The future is blending disciplines. Engineers are expected to do it all, documentation, emails, design, sourcing; you name it. Mechanical design is now being added to this list as our needs for smart devices deepens. And have you seen molded interconnect devices (MIDs)? You won’t be designing those boards in only 2D.

Designing MIDs will require a new way of thinking about electronics design. (Image source)

You Need Answers to These Problems

Product development might have changed, but some tools just aren’t keeping up. As electronic designers, we’re still looking at an industry of disconnected toolsets. Are you working in Altium Designer? Prepare to spend thousands on SolidWorks. That’s just one traditional example, where neither of these tools actually communicate together outside of a file exchange.

This is why Fusion 360 was created, and why it can answer so many of the problems that electronic designers face now, and in the future. You might know it by name, but what exactly is Fusion 360?  It is 3D CAD reinvented. It is cloud-based, 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE, all in one tool. If you’re doing any kind of product development, this is the world that you’ll live in. We see design teams all over the world using Fusion 360 to:

  • Design. The cloud-based design environment allows engineers to quickly iterate ideas and bring function and form together, on any device.
  • Simulate. Engineers can test fit and motion, perform simulation, and generate realistic renderings all in the same tool.
  • CAM. When it’s time for manufacturing, it’s easy to create toolpaths for machining or use the 3D printing setup to bring a prototype to life.

In the past, electronic designers have typically been left outside of this product development process in 3D CAD. The question was always the same – how do you bring the 2D world of electronics into a 3D world? With the release of Autodesk EAGLE 8.3, we’ve tightly connected EAGLE and Fusion 360 to blend (or fuse) the ECAD and MCAD worlds together. In this release, EAGLE has entered a new dimension, allowing electronic designers to work with:

Fusion 360 Sync

Now you can easily link your PCB files in EAGLE to a Fusion 360 PCB file and sync changes as they happen. When updating a board file, changes can be pushed to Fusion 360, and new models are added to a 3D PCB. Or maybe you start off working in Fusion 360 and make a change to your board shape; those revisions will be updated in EAGLE.









3D PCB Editing

It’s a pain to find out your board doesn’t fit, especially if it requires a significant redesign. In the past, your mechanical designer had zero control over this, but now they do. Change board shapes, move components around, all in a 3D space in Fusion 360. Whatever changes are made get sent to EAGLE.


Team Collaboration

Ever wish you had an easy way to share designs with your entire team without needing everyone to install design tools? Fusion Team Collaboration allows anyone to view your design in 3D, right from a browser on any device. Now you can comment, add text and callouts, and download your design in any format imaginable.


Need ECAD and MCAD? Here’s How to Get It

Yes, product development has changed and so has the kind of tools you need for your daily work. Whether you’re working as part of a design team or flying solo, the days of just needing one tool to get the job done are gone. But this presents a whole new set of problems. Do you fork out thousands of dollars for a traditional ECAD/MCAD bundle? Getting two different tools that barely communicate together? We can do better.


We’re excited to introduce the EAGLE and Fusion 360 Bundle! Buy EAGLE Premium and Fusion 360 Standard together and save 25%. This is a great way to get a complete product development toolset on any budget. It’s perfect for solo professionals, small businesses, and a whole lot more.

Enjoy the best of ECAD and MCAD. Design your way and save 25% today!

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