Mentor Graphics’ PADS Platform Bridges Design and Manufacturing


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At PCB West, I spoke with Paul Musto, marketing director for Mentor Graphics’ Systems Division, about Mentor’s PADS Product Creation Platform and their introduction of scalable software tools to help design better boards, from the enterprise level down to the entry level and hobbyists. We also discussed the continuing evolution of the design process infrastructure in North America vs. Asia, and what design engineers should focus on to increase their value within that process.

Barry Matties: One of the most common concerns I hear in the marketplace is that many designers don't have hands-on manufacturing knowledge.

Paul Musto: That's true. In general, with the PADS Product Creation Platform launch, we're trying to shift our focus to the engineering desktop. These are design engineers who don't have a lot of experience or training in board design and typically don’t have a lot of knowledge about that manufacturing element of it. Traditional PCB designers would certainly get trained through various means, such as IPC, and they would be very well aware of manufacturing requirements and constraints that they need to follow. With the evolution towards design going to the engineering desktop, these engineers are trying to do it all, so they have less knowledge about the specific manufacturing requirements to get their design successfully fabricated.

What we can do as a tool provider is give them easy, intuitive access to run manufacturing-based checks on their design, right there on their desktop, and be able to easily get information and feedback that enables them to go through and correct those violations. In the PADS environment, we have a product called DFMA that encompasses about 100 of the most common Valor DFM checks and it is plugged directly into the PADS environment. You can run those checks and get graphical feedback of where the errors or violations are, with very intuitive ways of how to resolve those errors and issues.

Matties: Programming that must have been a lengthy undertaking.

Musto: We were able to leverage the Valor NPI technology, which is a very comprehensive DFM analysis and checking environment, so we were able to utilize the robustness of these checks and improve the usability and integration to make it easier to use within the PADS environment. There's still some effort in setting it up and making sure that you understand what manufacturing checks are required, depending on what fabricator you use, but for an engineer, it's all about reducing risk and this effort can pay big dividends. There are two things:  engineers don't want to send their design off and have it come back because they've made some violation or had some issue from a manufacturing perspective. The other thing that's very common is that fabricators will actually change design content to improve yield and manufacturability, or if they encounter an error they'll do whatever they need to do to fix it on their end. Often these changes are made without the engineer ever even knowing.

Matties: It shouldn't get to that point, right?

Musto: It shouldn't. The point is that if you're a design engineer and you're working on a really complex design, you don't want your fabricator changing anything that you've designed and validated on your end. You’ve run simulations, you know this works, and now you bring it to the fabricator and he tweaks something that might have violated design intent.

Matties: Is that “no time to do it right, plenty of time to do it over?” Or is that just somebody's interpretation of what's best? If a fabricator comes back, saying, "Oh, we should do it like this." The designer's saying, "No, no, this is exactly what I want."

Musto: It goes back to the original point you were making, that the fabricator understands all the nuances to make a design higher yield from a manufacturability perspective.  Or, without the DFM checks, the designer would have violated some manufacturing constraint or rule. Again, there's that gap in knowledge. If you have a design engineer who's an EE, they're not going to know all the intricacies of manufacturing, so they're not going to understand the rules. This DFM environment enables them to take that 100 or so very common checks and bring that further up in the design process. So without them really being manufacturing experts, they can run the same checks that would be typically run by the fabricator.

Matties: When they run a check, what sort of acceptance do you expect the fabricator to have?

Musto: 100%. Again, these are 100 core Valor NPI checks that most manufacturers will use during their verification process.

Matties: Having Valor in your tool chest must give you a heck of a competitive advantage.

Musto: Absolutely. The one value that Valor brings to the table is that we can see the design all the way from inception down to the shop floor. In fact, our  technology not only does the design for manufacturing checks, which we're trying to drive further upstream in the design process, but we also have the technology that's actually going to drive the SMT machines. That technology then collects the data and does the material management and the quality assessment. Where we're going in the future is to take that Valor knowledge and push it further upstream into the design process. Imagine how valuable it would be to modify or engineer your design based on actual manufacturing yield data that you've collected on the shop floor, on that product, on your SMT lines.

Matties: That's incredibly valuable. Are there other companies that are positioned the way Mentor is in terms of these assets?

Musto: No, not in that respect. Valor’s pretty much the de facto standard for manufacturing design verification and shop floor.

Matties: Was this a natural evolution to bring Valor into the family, or was it more of a strategic vision that somebody had?

Musto: It was the vision of being able to tie that element of manufacturing closer into the design process to mitigate the risks associated with throwing a design over the wall to fabrication, and manufacturing a design that's not optimized or has potential errors.

Mentor has always been interested in being more than just the PCB schematic capture, design and, place-and-route tool supplier – we want to look at the entire design flow. Our customers don't think about just building a PCB design; they have to worry about the entire product creation process. Mentor is really the only PCB solution out there, and the only EDA company that can really provide a solution that helps designers work on PCB systems design in a holistic way.

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