PLM experts, pay attention to Renesas’ $5.8B acquisition of Altium

It’s a bid to make electronics, PDM and PLM tools more accessible.

The acquisition of Altium by Renesas Electronics for $5.8 billion (A$8.8 billion) marks a significant move in the realm of electronic design, mechanical co-design, PLM integration, and associated engineering product data management (PDM). Altium, known for its ECAD solutions such as Altium Designer and Altium Enterprise Solutions, has been at the forefront of printed circuit board (PCB) technology since it was founded as Protel Systems in 1985 by Australian electronics designer Nicholas Martin. Interestingly, according to Reuters, Altium had previously rejected a $3.3 billion (A$5.0 billion) takeover offer from Autodesk in 2021.

This article speculates on future opportunities from the acquisition, including:

  • Will it accelerate Altium’s product data management roadmap, further expanding its portfolio into the wider scope of data management and product lifecycle management (PLM)?
  • How could this portfolio be consolidated by integrating schematic and PCB design editors into a managed product development environment, coupled with seamless interfacing with other PLM, MCAD and simulation solutions?
  • How will such an ecosystem facilitate workflow automation and accelerate product development cycles as a holistic PLM offering?

An overview of Altium’s technology

Altium’s ambition goes beyond electrical CAD (ECAD) with Altium Designer and cloud based Altium 365 for engineering data management.

An overview of Altium 365 capabilities. (Image: Altium.)

An overview of Altium 365 capabilities. (Image: Altium.)

For instance, its website reads, “By integrating schematic and PCB design editors into a managed product development environment and seamlessly interfacing with existing technology such as PLM, MCAD and Simulation, the last mile of digital transformation is not only possible, but easy.”

Altium Designer’s reputation as a progressive tool in ECAD design and analysis differentiates it from competitors like Autodesk, Cadence, EPLAN, Siemens, SOLIDWORKS, Zuken and more. Users have praised its features and user-friendly interface, making it a preferred choice for many engineers and designers.

Altium also offers CircuitMaker, a free-to-use schematic and PCB design tool for the open-source hardware community.

ECAD-MCAD product innovation made easy through integration

Over the years, several integrations have been developed to embed Altium data into mainstream CAD and PLM solutions. This includes partnerships with CAD editors such as Autodesk, CATIA, Creo, Inventor, NX, Pro-E, SOLIDWORKS, Solid Edge and more.

The aim is to enable seamless data exchange and process collaboration between ECAD and MCAD. Such integrations contribute to streamlining workflows for engineering teams and designers who often utilize multiple software tools across the product development lifecycle. This enables them to leverage the strengths of each platform while maintaining data integrity and consistency, despite many challenges inherent to complex multi-CAD environments.

Furthermore, dedicated ECAD-MCAD data integrations between Altium Designer and major PLM platforms such as 3DEXPERIENCE, Fusion 360, Teamcenter or Windchill facilitate the convergence of electrical and mechanical design data within the broader product development context. These integrations enable holistic design collaboration, multi-CAD design synchronization, change management across ECAD and MCAD domains and more.

Altium 365, launched in 2020, represents a significant step in electronics lifecycle management. It goes beyond the process flow controls provided by Altium Nexus. Altium 365 is designed to bridge the gap between engineering and procurement functions while offering a comprehensive suite of features aimed at streamlining design collaborations, managing multi-CAD integrations, handling bills of materials (BOMs), accessing simulation results, maintaining libraries of standards, storing electronic supplier components and facilitating product pricing assessments.

Integrated ECAD-MCAD data management also provides the following business benefits:

  1. Linking physical design and layout data with source code, documentation, manufacturing files and other relevant documents.
  2. Streamlining redesigns, sourcing and assembly by connecting design data with component information.
  3. Improving supply chain collaboration from approved component libraries to 3D interference, heat transfer and other simulations.
  4. Enhancing efficiency by integrating component data with internal inventory management or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
  5. Facilitating the seamless transition from initial design to prototyping, full-scale production and eventual product decline.
  6. Efficiently tracking change orders and associated project data, fabrication data, assembly data, source code, designs and functional requirements.
  7. Managing obsolescence status for products, components, assemblies and documents.

Will an end-to-end ECAD ecosystem signal a new PLM venture?

According to the release, the acquisition of Altium by Renesas is set to streamline ECAD design and engineering BOM data integration, fostering best practices and expanding access to data standards in a more comprehensive manner.

Renesas made a choice to adopt Altium 365 in 2023, aiming to enhance both its supplier- and customer-base experience. Following this partnership, Renesas views the 2024 acquisition as a step towards greater ECAD democratization, aligning strongly with its digitalization strategy. The release says, “The transaction […] represents the company’s first significant step in bringing enhanced user experience and innovation at the system level for electronics system designers […] The current electronics system design flow is a complicated and iterative process that involves multiple stakeholders and design steps, from component selection and evaluation to simulation and PCB physical design. Engineers must be able to design systems that are not only functional but also efficient and cost-effective under shortened development cycles.”

In other words, Renesas’ acquisition of Altium signifies a significant stride towards establishing a comprehensive ECAD lifecycle ecosystem within a dedicated PLM environment. This strategic initiative aims to overhaul the management of electronic design processes by seamlessly integrating ECAD tools with robust PLM capabilities and streamlining development from product conception until decommissioning.

The integration seeks to deliver a unified workflow spanning schematic design, PCB layout, simulation, sourcing, manufacturing and maintenance. Renesas foresees substantial synergies, leveraging Altium’s cloud platform expertise to enhance collaboration and standardize design processes across its ecosystem. Expected benefits of this integrated ecosystem include unified data management, seamless supply chain collaboration, improved integration with native PLM functionalities, comprehensive embedded analytics and customization tools to address industry-specific requirements.

The establishment of an end-to-end ECAD lifecycle ecosystem within a specialized PLM platform holds immense potential to revolutionize electronic product development. However, questions arise regarding how this PLM platform would complement or potentially compete with capabilities offered by established PLM solution providers. Nonetheless, the fusion of Altium’s advanced ECAD solutions with Renesas’ formidable OEM capabilities promises to accelerate innovation, boost productivity and confer a competitive advantage in the electronics industry.