3D PCB Design and Analysis: The Benefits of MCAD and ECAD

Sam Sattel January 9, 2021 2 min read

Most printed circuit board (PCB) designers are familiar with utilizing different software for a singular project. Differing PCB software can hinder efficient 3D electronic design, manifest miscommunication, and stall functionality. Let’s explore the three main benefits of using PCB design software to combine ECAD (electronic computer-aided design) and MCAD (mechanical computer-aided design): bidirectional workflows, cloud-based data management, and single-sourced library.

3D Printed Circuit Board Design

The old method of testing board-to-board and component-to-component interference was executed using third-party software that required manual comparisons. However, 3D PCB software such as Fusion 360 creates a single environment for designers to coexist in the worlds of ECAD and MCAD. PCB design begins with a foundation of schematic creation, library management, and PCB layout. You can learn more about this process through our recent collaboration with tutorial resource TeachmePCB.com.

Traditional PCB Design


PCB software that does not integrate more than a couple of PCB design components is essentially outdated for the needs of current electronics designers. Traditionally, MCAD and ECAD worked independently and did not always communicate or transfer 2D or 3D models correctly.

How Do MCAD and ECAD Work?

MCAD is ideal for various design iterations (form factors and physical placements) and provides a 3D visual reference for testing structural integrity. MCAD combines CAD, CAM, and CAE; however, when MCAD is not integrated with ECAD, the user must manually check the 3D design to ensure that board components do not interfere with each other.

ECAD is a software workflow based on electronics design. ECAD programs usually include component libraries, layout editors, and schematic editors. ECAD software allows for experimentation with multiple or stacked PCB boards, tests thermal performance, and ensures PCBs comply with defined requirements.

After initial designs are transferred between MCAD and ECAD software and requirements are met, a prototype is created. As described, this transfer process is robust. It generates an increased risk of data transfer errors and human communication errors, which can be minimized when MCAD and ECAD are integrated into a collaborative PCB software.

MCAD/ECAD Collaboration


Using two separate software environments to create one cohesive prototype can be frustrating and time-consuming. PCB design software collaboration optimizes PCB assembly and reduces the risk of error. MCAD and ECAD integration allow for a one-stop-shop of accuracy.

Bidirectional Workflows

Bidirectional workflow routing promotes collaboration and flexibility during the design and prototyping processes. The modern design process has evolved beyond singular workflows and instead reaches for a coherent and forgiving system. Streamlined bidirectional workflows allow engineers to fix mistakes or make last-minute changes without sacrificing large segments of time.

Cloud-Based Data Management

Cloud-based data management provides a unique setting where MCAD and ECAD collaboration is routed and communicated in real-time. Cloud-based solutions avoid traditional errors incurred by divided MCAD and ECAD PCB design software. Multiple users can work on the same board layout without missing any revisions, and designs can easily be shared with PCB manufacturers to be turned into real electronic products.

Single Sourced Library

A cloud-based library of PCB schematic symbols, 2D footprints, and 3D models sew workflows and data management together to create instant comparisons of 3D PCB design.

Try Fusion 360’s integrated MCAD/ECAD PCB design platform to experience team access to a common design environment with a dedicated management system suitable for the most intricate 3D printed circuit board and electronic component designs.


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