Altium’s Craig Arcuri on Design Rules: Past, Present, and Future


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We recently spoke with Altium’s Craig Arcuri about his views on design and manufacturing rules. Craig has experience running both design and manufacturing companies, so he has a fairly circumspect view of constraints from both sides of the product realization process. In this interview, Craig details some of the challenges with setting and managing hundreds of often divergent design and manufacturing rules, and how both design and manufacturing constraints need to evolve to better serve all of the stakeholders in PCB design.

Andy Shaughnessy: Craig, there seems to be a lot of disagreement about design and manufacturing rules, and it seems that there’s not much agreement on best practices. It’s very fragmented, and everyone does design rules their own way. As an EDA tool company guy, what are users asking you all for regarding design rules?

Craig Arcuri: Let me give you a different perspective. Of the last three companies I ran, one was a design company that did engineering design and used CAD tools to create data that was then passed on to manufacturing. Although we tried to care, and said we cared, we really didn’t worry about what happened after we sent the data out because that was somebody else’s problem. Then it was poetic justice that my last two companies were manufacturing companies that had to deal with those folks who didn’t really worry about what happened after the handoff to manufacturing!

You know the phrase “poop rolls downhill.” Well, the manufacturing folks are pretty close to the bottom. At the end of the day, the engineer and layout person have done their job, and a big pile of data comes down and lands on manufacturing. My job is to make a physical thing in less time with less money at a higher quality than is probably reasonably possible given the pile of poop that I was given. Over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve seen 200–300 unique customers per quarter send the data to the manufacturing people, from the perspective of being close to the bottom.

Some of the data comes from companies like Google, Tesla, Intel, and Microsoft. You might think that those companies would provide pristine data and that the design rules would be absolutely well-defined, followed, and implemented in the design EDA tool, and translated through the software into a package where I would think, “This is going to be a piece of cake. What am I going to do with all the money I’m going to make?”

You might also assume that the little guys come across with data out of CAD tools like Eagle and KiCad where a consistent database is a thing of dreams, and it’s a bunch of disconnected data that may or may not have any sanity to it. But you would be sadly mistaken. Across the board, manufacturers rarely receive a data package where manufacturing rules have been considered, adhered to, or worked around, and where the data has been presented in a way that shows that. The instructions are almost never clear and the board can’t always be built.

Now, I won’t put all of the blame on the designer or engineer. If you look at companies like Apple or Samsung, they expect most of the products they design to go into volume production very quickly. Regardless of their size, companies that expect a product to go in volume production clearly consider design rules and manufacturing issues during the design process. They "design for manufacturing," as opposed to "design with manufacturing."

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the May 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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