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Altium and Formula Student Bizkaia

Formula Student Bizkaia is a group of forty-nine students taking part in an engineering competition with other universities around the world. The team has its main facilities at the Faculty of Engineering in Bilbao, at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), in the north of Spain.

The objective is to design, build and compete in a single-seater vehicle each year, and test our engineering skills in the different Formula Student events held in F1 circuits around Europe. We have participated since 2008 in these competitions, manufacturing more than 13 vehicles. We started with internal combustion engines, but in 2012, our team switched to electric, and developed our first prototype in this new technology.

In order to achieve this goal, Formula Student Bizkaia is organized as an enterprise. Several departments exist that handle the technical and management aspects of the project: Aerodynamics, Chassis, Dynamics, Electronics, Organization, Powertrain and Simulation. All work under the supervision of our management team, composed by our most experienced team members, and the guidance of the Faculty Advisors, who advise the team through the different challenges that arise during the year.

Relationship with Altium

From the Electronics department, we are in charge of the design, programming and manufacturing of the different PCBs that allow the car's low voltage electrical system to work properly. We are also in charge of data acquisition, control algorithms, sensors conditioning and electrical safety.

To be able to carry out all these tasks, it is necessary to have the right tools, which allow us to fulfil in the most efficient way the objectives set out year after year both at the design and production level. This is why for the tasks of designing and manufacturing of PCBs, we count on the great help of Altium.

We think it is very important when designing our circuits to incorporate new, better and more reliable components into our vehicle; that is why, when designing, a tool that is kept up to date is of the most importance. Also, the ability to import our own component designs to our common 3D model is a great advantage, which gives us flexibility.

One of our latest designs has been the DCDC control board, which is responsible for maintaining the power and electrical integrity of the low voltage system. This PCB is quite simple, but when designing the schematics some problems can be found because the modularity of the system. Nevertheless, Altium provides several tools in order to make easier to divide the system in “blocks” and allow the designer to improve the designs with a better clarity, as it can be seen in the following pictures.

In addition, departments have to work in the same direction to finally get the vehicle manufactured. Space is a critical issue when competition vehicles are designed. In this area, Altium shows one of the most useful tools for us, the 3D visualization, which allows us to identify the size that our PCB will have with just a click. This is very important when designing, as we have a common vehicle CAD which is used to find interferences with other departments.

In particular, packaging has been an important issue when dealing with our Electronic Control Unit or ECU, the one in charge of managing the electrical system of our vehicle. Our ECU is composed by two main elements, a commercial rapid-prototyping SoC PCB, and a self-designed Carrier Board. The latter handles all the connections from the rest of the vehicle to the rapid-prototyping SOC processor. Hence the quality of the Carrier Board must be as high as possible to ensure performance and safety, a characteristic only achievable with Altium.

Moreover, Altium Designer is a great software when designing several PCBs interconnected between them, such as the Accumulator Management System (AMS) of our vehicle. This one, is in charge of the control of all the Accumulator Enclosure: the heart and muscle of our vehicle where the batteries are located. The several functions required from the AMS are distributed among eleven PCBs. This fact, makes really difficult to route and design this system, because a single failure in the interconnection between PCBs will make the whole system unusable. However, with Altium Designer tools we are capable of routing the AMS introducing all the schematics and boards in a single project where all the signals and boards are interconnected with them. This way, it is much easier to design an electric ensemble, with no misunderstandings and no routing errors.

But, what about footprints? One of the most difficult tasks while designing PCBs is to come up with the correct component´s footprints. Usually, electronics manufacturers provide free libraries in order to make it easier to designers. But, more often than expected it is very difficult or even impossible to find the correct one. With Altium Designer, this task is much easier due to the footprint wizard tool that allow us to create footprints in just a few seconds.

The up to 20 different PCBs of our vehicle have similar stories to tell. Space being a luxury in Formula type racecars, the PCB size, its paths and routing have to be pushed to the limit. However, thanks to the help and tools provided by Altium Designer software, the sometimes nearly impossible requirements can be met, easing the challenging path of manufacturing our designs. Hence, we are very grateful for the collaboration of Altium. Thank you very much Altium!

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