Dan Beeker’s AltiumLive Keynote: It's All about the Space


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Dan Beeker of NXP Semiconductors was a keynote speaker at the recent AltiumLive 2017 event in San Diego. His presentation focused primarily on the design of three-dimensional structures and how it’s all about space. I caught up with Dan, and we discussed his presentation, his background and career, and what kind of advice he would give to young PCB designers.

 

BARRY MATTIES: In your keynote presentation here at AltiumLive 2017’s inaugural event, the main message was that it's all about the space. How would you summarize that, for our readers?

DAN BEEKER: It's about plumbing. We have to design three-dimensional structures that allow us to take an electromagnetic field, not electrons, from where it's stored, either off-board or in a capacitor, to where we want to do work with it. Whether that work be logic function, or to something like driving a motor in a fuel pump, or something like that. You take the energy, you move it from where it is to where you need it to do something, and all you can do with that electromagnetic field is convert it into kinetic energy, which makes something move. It even vibrates molecules as it heats up things, like in light bulbs, or it causes other things to move, like a motor or a speaker.

MATTIES: Now, just for context, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

BEEKER: I'm an application engineer in the automotive team at NXP, so I'm responsible for supporting microcontroller embedded design for our customers, basically around the world. I have also become the designer of the missing links in the tool chain. I develop what I call widgets, which are adapters and socket interfaces that will allow customers to more easily debug their software and hardware with things that you can't buy from a generic third-party tool vendor.

From that, I had to become a good system designer for real products, because all of my parts have to be CE certified, like most of my customers. So when I design a product, I design it to be the best possible behavior that I can without any concern about CE levels. When I get the test results back for my boards, they're typically 20 or 30 dB below what the spec requires. And that way, I can show customers these designs as an example of the right way to do it.

Every time I do a new board, I'm doing it with the idea that I want help teach my customers the right way to make their products; from that, also, I became the EMC specialist because nobody else seemed to care about fields.

MATTIES: In your talk, you mentioned having a kind of “A-ha!” moment with Rick Hartley, where your thinking was shifted 180 degrees.

BEEKER: I had been at Freescale, working on an advanced pre-silicone emulator, gate array-based design for a big customer program, and I had come from the Motorola tool group that did in-circuit emulators. We had this standard called the Motorola Active Probe Interface, and it defined how you connected boards, where the signals lived. I was working with a service bureau in Dayton and I said to the designer there, "You've got to follow this spec." And he says, "Well, I don't think you want me to do that. It doesn't do what you think it does." I said, “What do you mean? This is the Motorola spec. We've been using this for years, you work for me, I am the senior engineer, and I know what the hell I'm doing, so you’ve got to use it.”

He was stubborn, too. We both have the same birthday so it's really bad; we're both Scorpios. He said, "No, you're wrong, what you're telling me to do isn't going to work, and you need to get some training." I told him that I didn’t need training, that I’d been doing this longer than he’s been alive. And he told me that I needed to go get training in California. I went to my boss and said, "I really need to get some signal integrity training because something's wrong here. I need to know this. My customers need to know this." And he sent me to Rick Hartley’s class.

MATTIES: Off you go.

BEEKER: I went to Rick's class, and five minutes into it he's starting to talk about managing the transmission lines for directing signals. Basically, I went from being haughty and arrogant and knowing what I was doing to being absolutely shattered. I knew, at that point, that everything I did worked by accident, not by design. And, as a senior engineer, that's not the kind of thing you want to have happen to you. I hoped my boss doesn't figure this out, you know?

I started hammering Rick with questions, and about half an hour into the class, he stopped, looked at me, and he said, "Who the hell are you and why are you in my class?" And I said, "Rick, I'm Dan Beeker and I'm from Freescale, and I really need to know this stuff." So I went through the two-day class, and it was just really eye-opening.

Happy and Beeker.JPG

MATTIES: That sounds like it was a big moment for you.

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