AltiumLive Munich Draws Designers from Around Europe


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I’m finally unpacked after last week’s AltiumLive PCB design summit in Munich. Much like the AltiumLive event I attended in San Diego last October, the conference drew hundreds of PCB designers.

This marked the second AltiumLive PCB design summit held in Munich, and Altium seems to have it down to a science. This year, Altium moved the show into the Hilton at the Munich Airport. The best thing about holding a conference at an airport hotel is that, well, it’s at the airport. After a nine-hour flight to Munich, this feels like a late Christmas present. You land, show your passport, and you’re done. Ta-da!

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I spoke with designers from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium, just to name a few countries. Many of them were involved in the automotive segment but some were in medical and industrial controls as well. It’s great to be at an event that is full of PCB designers, because designers are few and far between at most PCB industry events.

I found that there’s a real thirst for design information in Germany. There are plenty of designers based in Germany, but there aren’t any conferences that focus on PCB design, and there aren’t many German publications that offer articles on PCB design topics. So, Altium is really filling a need with AltiumLive Munich.

Everything went according to plan, except for Altium VP of Corporate Marketing Lawrence Romine catching a cold; he lost his voice completely during the kickoff speech. Romine welcomed everyone to the show, and he and Altium’s Leigh Gawne discussed different ways to utilize Altium 365, which allows real-time, cloud-based collaboration between electrical and mechanical designers, component distributors, and fabricators all on one platform. Then, Romine’s voice was gone.

Fortunately, Judy Warner, director of community engagement, was on hand to take over as MC for the rest of the show. But Romine was a real trooper, even as I avoided getting too close to him. As someone who has had the flu at IPC APEX EXPO, I feel his pain.

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Keynote speaker Dan Beeker of NXP Semiconductor was a hit with his song “All About That Space.” He had everyone singing along to a recording of his daughter’s remake of the Meghan Trainor tune “All About That Bass.” Beeker’s message was that designers should focus on the behavior of the electromagnetic fields (the spaces), not just the traces and hardware.

He asked, “Why aren’t designs right the first time?” He explained that designers can have their boards pass the first time just by truly understanding the basics of PCB design and Maxwell’s equations. Naturally, some people who sell analysis tools consider this view to be heresy, but Beeker does all of his group’s EMC checks without an EMC tool, and his boards pass the first time.

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Other big draws at AltiumLive included Lee Ritchey’s high-speed class, which was packed to the walls. And there were so many attendees at a class by Mike Creeden and Altium’s David Marrakchi that I could barely open the door. Later, I asked Creeden, “Were you giving away free beer and steak?”

Altium even had the little things perfect like offering turkey sandwiches, vegan sandwiches, and smoothies at the morning coffee break. At most conferences, you’re lucky to get a dry muffin at a coffee break. Small touches like that mean a lot.

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There was also a small tabletop exhibition during the show. The Technical University of Munich (TUM) Hyperloop team drew a lot of attention; they won the SpaceX contest last year with a self-propelled pod that reached 290 miles per hour, and the vehicle was open so that the PCBs were visible. And students from the Technical University of Delft’s Project March showed off their futuristic exoskeleton, a device that enables paralyzed people to walk.

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The most fun part of the event was the robot challenge. These people lost their minds for a few hours, putting together robots and then battling each other for bragging rights. Some of these teams acted as if they were in “The Hunger Games” and their lives depended on winning. It was great to see some of these middle-aged designers acting like kids.

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No trip to Munich would be complete without a visit to a beer hall. On the first night, a group of us went to the Hirschgarten—one of the oldest beer gardens in the world. When our train arrived at the destination, the door closed really fast, and half of us were stuck on the train. We ended up going on quite an odyssey. How is it even possible to get lost on a train, with people who have advanced degrees? When we finally found the Hirschgarten, it was a welcome sight indeed.

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Overall, the weather cooperated. We had been warned that it was going to be below freezing all week, and Munich’s meteorologists had been predicting “schneechaos” (snow chaos) for weeks. I even brought a good warm coat and gloves, which I rarely need in Atlanta, but it was in the upper 30s for most of the conference and barely below freezing at night. It snowed a few times, but there was no schneechaos.

It was another successful AltiumLive event, and Altium’s U.S. and German staff deserve a big round of applause. For now, auf wiedersehen, Munich.

 

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