Altium ActiveRoute Debuts at PCB West: Routes Under One Second Per Connection

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Pfeil: It's been very good. The first person who saw it had one comment: "Wow." What they want to know is, does it follow the rules? Yes, it follows the rules. One of the things that I think differentiates ActiveRoute is that it's able to route on multiple layers simultaneously. This is a significant enhancement, because if you're routing 100 nets between BGAs, the hardest part in manual routing is, how do you escape them from both ends, and then get them to connect without additional vias? It's all about the ordering. Not only will it figure out the order, but it will also distribute it on the number of layers that you choose. You’ve got a fairly even distribution (+/-10%) of the routing on those four layers, and what it will do then is give you an environment where you can now tune those, for example on a DDR circuit, because there's now space. As opposed to just packing it in on one layer, and then whatever is left over you go to the next layer, and next and next. It distributes it, so that's something that is a game changer.

Warner: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Pfeil: I will say that we’ve had a lot of traffic. We're running this demo, a video, and people look at the video and they'll say, "That's nice, but what does it do on the real board?" So in the live demo, I show them some real scenarios, and I think they're no doubt impressed by the speed and the quality, but the thing that grabs them deep is knowing how hard it is to route lots of nets between BGAs. There it is all of the sudden in 20 or 40 seconds. It's routed 50 or 100 nets. That is pleasing and I'm pleased. We've worked really hard on it to come to where we are, and it's a first release. We have more in the pipeline to make it even better.

Warner: Lastly, just tell us a little bit about your background as a designer. I always say no one got into the industry on purpose, except EEs. What's your history in our industry?

Pfeil: Here's my history. When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad worked at Northrop Corporation in Hawthorne as an engineer. He got me and my two brothers summer jobs inspecting Rubylith designs with a magnifier to look for scratches, which we would take a red pen and fill in.

Warner: I'm sad to say I know exactly what you're talking about [laughs].

Pfeil: That's where I started. I worked two summers there, and the following summer I went off to college and the next summer I got a job as a designer at a company called Datatronics, which did keyboard design. So that got me started as a designer in the LA area, and I job shopped through college, and then finally in 1978 I started my own service bureau, Computer Circuits in Fairfax, Virginia. We bought a Racal-Redac minicomputer in 1979, and started Pfeil 4.JPGdesigning using computers. We lost all our customers because they didn't want computer-aided design. Fortunately, there were enough customers in that Virginia-Maryland area who were using Racal-Redac and we hooked up with them and did well. Then in '82, I went to work for Redac, and that's where I started on the dark side, the software side. I worked there as a product manager. A few years later, my service bureau was bought by Automata, a fabrication company. I stayed with them a couple years after that, and then came out to San Diego and worked for ASI.

I was an engineering manager there, and Cadence bought them in ‘89 or ‘90. I worked for Cadence for a couple of years, and then I went to Intergraph in Huntsville, Alabama in '91, and we were developing a PCB design tool on UNIX, and then we eventually developed Expedition as VeriBest. I was an original architect of Expedition, and then in 1999, Mentor bought VeriBest. I always worked on the Expedition side at Mentor, not the BoardStation side. I was at Mentor for 23 years, counting my VeriBest time. Then I took an early retirement and moved to San Diego. I was retired for 11 days [laughs], and took the job with Altium.

Warner: How long have you been with Altium now?

Pfeil: Almost a year and a half.

Warner: That’s quite a story. You're like a walking history book of PCB design.

Pfeil: I've been around.

Warner: From Rubylith to cutting-edge ActiveRoute.

Pfeil: It's been good, and when I came to Altium I didn't want to just catch up with what I had done with Expedition in the routing area. That's a challenge. That's what ActiveRoute is; it's a step beyond, and we have some more plans for additional features coming out relatively soon that will really separate us.

Warner: It sounds like your last chapter will be an exciting one, and a fun one.

Pfeil: Yeah, and it's in San Diego.

Warner: I’ve been to the Altium office in La Jolla. What a beautiful office. It's not a shabby place to work. I want one of those window offices in La Jolla!

Pfeil: It's very nice. I have one.

Warner: Beautiful, but you probably never look up from your computer screen.

Pfeil: Well, there's always that. I do get to stand up and just look out. It's beautiful.

Warner: Well, thank you very much for catching us up and good luck with the show.

Pfeil: You're welcome. My pleasure.




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