The Rise of Altium: Driving Innovation in Electronics Design

The electronics industry has experienced tremendous growth and change over the past few decades as new technologies emerge at an ever-quickening pace. From smart devices and IoT to autonomous vehicles and medical devices, electronics now permeate nearly every aspect of modern life. Driving much of this innovation has been advances in electronics design software created by leaders like San Diego-based Altium.

What began in 1985 as a small PCB design tool company in Australia has grown into a global powerhouse enabling the next generation of electronics. With over 100,000 users designing hundreds of billions of chips annually, Altium’s unified platform approach aims to empower designers across disciplines from schematic capture to PCB layout and beyond.

In this blog post, we will chart Altium’s journey from its founding to becoming an essential partner in electronics development worldwide. We’ll explore their technology innovations, business milestones, strategic acquisitions, and vision for powering the future of design.

Early Beginnings in Australia

Altium was founded in Melbourne, Australia in 1985 by electronics engineer Werner Krape, who set out to build design tools that empowered engineers in productivity and collaboration rather than focused on esoteric features. His first Altium program released in 1987 streamlined manual PCB design tasks, quickly gaining traction with local engineers.

In the late 80s/early 90s boom years, the Altium team introduced groundbreaking innovations like auto-routing which automated tedious routine chores. They also brought design data into the digital era through technologies leveraging emerging computing and networking capabilities. This early focus on productivity and workflow automation positioned Altium strongly versus competitors.

Global Expansion and Nasdaq Listing

As Altium’s footprint grew across Asia-Pacific and software capabilities expanded, the company made strategic hires and partnerships through the 90s to penetrate new markets. In 1995, they acquired UK-based PCB design tool developer Nemec LTD to establish an R&D center, accelerating innovations.

By the 2000s with over 15,000 licenses, Altium reached global scale across 50 countries. Major business milestones included their 2001 initial public offering on the Australian Securities Exchange, raising $58 million. This fueled expansion and a 2005 Nasdaq listing to raise Altium’s international profile.

The company was now well positioned for rapid digitalization underway changing how designers collaborated across distributed teams and organizations worldwide. Their solutions evolved accordingly through sustained R&D investments.

Unified Platform Vision Emerges

In 2010 Altium acquired TASKING, known for embedded software development tools, marking a strategic shift beyond PCB design toward a unified electronics product development environment. This aligned with Werner Krape’s vision of integrating the entire electro-mechanical design flow into one design platform.

Subsequent acquisitions further advanced this vision, including the 2012 purchase of PSoC designer tool creator Premier Farnell’s business unit and modeling simulation firm ChessCAD in 2014. The combined technologies formed a comprehensive platform spanning schematic capture, PCB layout, component selection, embedded software development, and more.

AltiumLive Launch & Continued Growth

AltiumLive marked another major milestone, debuting in 2013 as the industry’s first cloud-enabled electronics design platform. The breakthrough model combined powerful on-premise applications with collaborative cloud services including libraries, team projects, and design data management.

AltiumLive streamlined geographically distributed teamwork central to modern product development. The shift cemented Altium’s leadership beyond 2D tools into coordinating complex global workflows for next-gen designs across disciplines.

Annual revenues surpassed $200 million by 2017 as Altium empowered innovation within automotive, medtech, industrial, consumer, and more. Their solutions now support over 1 million designs spanning aerospace, IoT, renewable energy, and beyond. Sustained 20%+ yearly R&D investments constantly advance the platform.

Key Acquisitions Expand Reach

Strategic acquisitions continued extending Altium’s unified platform into adjacent markets:

  • 2018: Britesem and TASKING VX purchase expanded into industrial IoT and automotive design.
  • 2019: 3D modeling tech from Belgian 3DIT boosted into electronic enclosures/mechanical integration.
  • 2021: Russian PCB software company Pads extended Altium’s reach while bringing collaborative library sharing.
  • 2022: Integration of Simulation-driven design via the acquisition of NPI, specialists in design-oriented simulation.

These mergers combine Altium’s leading design tools with specialized capabilities, delivering end-to-end solutions and collaborative libraries for emerging technologies. They accelerate the platform’s scope and value for customers.

Platform Advancements

More recently Altium has introduced major platform updates cementing their leadership in next-gen design environments:

  • Altium Nexus debut in 2019 unified all tools/features into an integrated 3D design experience.
  • New PCB design toolsets in Altium Designer 21 focused on hyperconnectivity/IoT applications.
  • Enhanced libraries and data management including Industry 4.0 templates.
  • Expanded collaboration with Version Control and other DevOps-style features.
  • Embraced simulation applications through acquisitions like NPI for physics-driven validation.

These advances reinforce Altium’s unified platform approach of integrating all tools/data to empower collaborative electronics design across disciplines and connected product development workflows.

Growth Outlook and Vision

With over 100,000 active users designing billions of chips and PCBs annually, Altium’s customer base spans Fortune 500 companies to SMB innovators. Going forward they are increasingly focused on emerging applications in automotive/transportation, 5G infrastructure, medical technologies, renewable energy, and more.

Strategic initiatives include expanding into China, growing their FAE presence worldwide, and nurturing an ecosystem of partners providing complementary design technologies through Altium Vault. Long term, Altium’s vision promises to continue blurring traditional design boundaries through a unified connected platform.

As electronics continue infiltrating every market and industry, Altium is well-positioned at the forefront of empowering innovation through its powerful yet easy-to-use design solutions. Decades of sustained R&D investments establish them as a pioneer in driving the connected future across the entire electronics product lifecycle. For engineering teams globally, Altium software is increasingly mission-critical to bringing new technologies to life.

About Author