How to Use ECAD/MCAD Co-design for Your PCB Enclosure and Board Layout

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: January 22, 2021
Enclosures for Flex, Rigid-flex, and Multiboard Designs

Printed circuit boards are fun to design and lay out, but a PCB will need an enclosure to hold it mechanically stable. PCB enclosures can be purchased off-the-shelf or they can be custom-designed in MCAD tools. No matter which route you take to create your enclosure, you’ll need to import your PCB layout into MCAD tools to ensure your board and components will not interfere with the enclosure.

When you’re working with a complex layout, multiboard system, or flexible PCB, you’ll need to quickly access MCAD tools to inspect interference between your PCB enclosure, your electronic components, and your board. Altium Designer contains the MCAD tools you need to check mechanical interference as you design your circuit board and your enclosure, and it includes the most powerful set of circuit board design features. Designers can create complex boards for any application alongside their enclosures.


The only PCB design package that integrates ECAD and MCAD features into a single program for PCB layout, routing, and enclosure design.

Since every PCB needs an enclosure, it’s important to check that a PCB assembly will fit into the enclosure without interference. In addition, designers need to check that their components will not interfere with each other when placed in the PCB layout. In some cases, you may want to design an enclosure to fit a finished PCB layout, or you may need to design a PCB layout to fit into a custom enclosure.

In either case, your PCB design tools should include a range of MCAD features to help you design and inspect your PCB enclosure and verify that it will fit your circuit board. Instead of continuously moving back and forth between multiple programs to do this type of interference checking manually, your design tools should include a range of features that automatically check your layout features against your enclosure model, and vice versa. Here’s how you can implement this type of interference checking in the best PCB design and layout software with integrated and external MCAD features.

How to Design a PCB Enclosure and a Layout to Prevent Interference

When you need to design an enclosure around your PCB layout and prevent interference between components, you have a few options to help ensure accuracy in your design:

  • Export your PCB layout as a STEP file and import it into an MCAD application for enclosure design
  • Export your enclosure as a STEP file and import it into your PCB design application

Altium Designer supports both processes as part of PCB layout and enclosure design. However, when you need to prevent interference, you can import a STEP file into your PCB project and check for interference manually or automatically. The design tools in Altium Designer go a step further and help you quickly check for interference between board sections, components, enclosures, and other mechanical models.

Integrated MCAD Tools Aid ECAD Layout and

Altium Designer includes MCAD tools that allow you to create your PCB layout in 3D. In addition, DRCs can be run in 3D mode to check electrical design rules and mechanical clearances. Once a STEP model for an enclosure is imported into Altium Designer, it can be visualized alongside the PCB layout to ensure fit to the enclosure and check for interference.

ECAD MCAD integration in Altium Designer

Enclosure clearances and interference can be checked in 3D using Altium Designer’s integrated MCAD toolset.

Enclosures for Flex, Rigid-flex, and Multiboard Designs

Not all boards are designed on rigid substrates. Some rigid boards are part of multiboard systems or rigid-flex PCBs, and both types of circuit board designs require accurate mechanical modeling to prevent interference. In addition, fully flex or rigid-flex boards need accurate modeling to ensure the board can bend or fold in the correct way and without collisions between circuit boards, components, or an enclosure.

Working with Complex 3D PCB Layouts in Altium Designer

The MCAD design features and mechanical clearance checking tools in Altium Designer also extend to flex, rigid-flex, and multiboard designs. Any design you can imagine can be created in 2D, examined in 3D, and exported for use in an external MCAD application for PCB enclosure design. Finally, when you’ve created your enclosure for these advanced boards, you can import the enclosure back into Altium Designer for interference checking and manufacturing preparation.

PCB enclosure design multiboard system

Altium Designer’s MCAD features help you design complex multiboard systems and an enclosure.

Accurate Mechanical Modeling Requires Instant Interference Checks

Other CAD tools might allow you to export your board for use in an external MCAD program, or they might allow you to import an enclosure model into your PCB layout. However, MCAD applications can’t check for mechanical interference, clearance rules, and electrical rules simultaneously. Similarly, most PCB design applications make interference and clearance checking difficult because they only focus on electrical design. Thanks to Altium Designer’s ECAD/MCAD integration, both sets of rules and constraints can be checked in a single application.

Use Rules-Driven ECAD/MCAD Co-design in Altium Designer

Altium Designer’s comprehensive toolset is integrated into a single program with a comprehensive rules-driven design engine. Designers will have access to a complete set of design and verification tools that operate in 2D and 3D, which includes electrical and mechanical rules checks. Rules-driven design tools are critical for ensuring all aspects of your board meet your intended design and functionality requirements.

3D view of modular USB design for PCB enclosure design

Altium Designer interfaces with Solidworks, PTC Creo, and Autodesk Inventor for multiboard systems design and PCB enclosure design.

Altium Designer is the only PCB design platform that provides a complete set of ECAD and MCAD features for any electronics application. Whether you’re designing simple PCBs or complex multiboard systems, Altium Designer has the electrical and mechanical design features you need to create cutting-edge technology.

Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers unprecedented integration to the electronics industry until now relegated to the world of software development, allowing designers to work from home and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.

We have only scratched the surface of what is possible to do with Altium Designer on Altium 365. You can check the product page for a more in-depth feature description or one of the On-Demand Webinars.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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