The Value of Education and Communication


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I recently spoke with Lawrence Romine, VP of corporate marketing at Altium, about what he thinks design customers need to know and the importance of education and communication between designers and manufacturers.

Nolan Johnson: Given what Altium is working on and developing and what you're hearing from your customers about the cloud, etc., look at the next 12–24 months. What do your design customers need to learn and know to be successful in the future?

Lawrence Romine: That's an interesting question. I think the responsibility is on us because we deal with so many different customer profiles. Some of our customers create rockets and others design hairdryers. We have one customer story that we’re going to share that’s very cool. Are you a musician at all?

Johnson: Yes, I am.

Romine: You will like this story then. A power amplifier manufacturer that you would probably know designed for a 60th anniversary version of one of their most famous models; they went back to a printed wiring board, hand-wired. They designed that with Altium Designer.

Johnson: Wow! That's a throwback.

Romine: It’s beautiful and a true work of art. But my point is that I don't think we want to anticipate. Do we want to transform the industry? Yes. And we believe that transformation will occur through this collaboration platform and ultimately connecting to the manufacturing floor. But we need to be attentive to what they say they need, and then layer on just enough so as to not make them uncomfortable. Lead them down the path to what is the only solution to this problem. And if it isn't the cloud, what is it? How could it not be the cloud?

Johnson: There isn't another answer to that right now. You need an infrastructure and a conduit to implement digital twin concepts and bring all the pieces together, which is hard. You have to find a way to make that core technology work for you as your conduit.

Romine: And engineering is only getting more complex; it involves more and more stakeholders.

Johnson: It requires the application of more engineering expertise to be about the design process.

Romine: Exactly, and it’s becoming more distributed. I looked at my LinkedIn page, and I’m connected to more people outside of the U.S. than from America. And these are people that I communicate with on a regular basis. How is the design world any different? It's not. So, does it make sense that you're sending an email with a ZIP file? It's a static snapshot of your design, so is that an effective means of collaboration?

Johnson: Not anymore.

Romine: I got a quote from Tara Dunn [president, Omni PCB]. I asked her once about what percentage of PCB designs go on hold when they hit the factory.

Johnson: All of them?

Romine: That was her response! So I asked why that was. Tara responded, “Because they don't talk to us.” They don't understand that what they've made is not manufacturable, so, how can we facilitate that connection? TTM would be a good example. Julie Ellis is a friend of ours and a very sharp woman. I saw her put a designer in his place once publicly in Munich, which is a great story. A gentleman was showing some of his design work as part of an onstage presentation, and he's a sharp guy too. His name was Thomas Wischnack, and he was the chief designer at Porsche.

While Thomas was showing his design work, Julie raised her hand from the back of the room filled with more than 200 people and asked about tight vias or a grounding issue of some sort, saying, "Don't you think you're going to have a problem manufacturing that?" It was a detailed question, and his response was profound. He said, "That's not my problem. The manufacturer needs to figure that out." And I'm not saying that in any pejorative way towards him.

Johnson: No, of course not.

Romine: It was a funny exchange because they ended up going at it for a while, and she got the better of him, in my humble opinion. But what I'm saying is, “If you're a big-name organization doing huge volume with a company like TTM, then Julie Ellis is in your office. But how do you scale that? How do you provide Julie Ellis to Tom, Dick, or Harry at a service bureau?

Johnson: To the innovators and creatives, the people just starting their career or company, or the people who can’t get anybody else to return their call.

Romine: Exactly. These are the trends we're chasing. These innovative people have a huge passion for what they do. If we could enhance the experience such that the full measure of that creative horsepower can be to the ground. Then, what could be accomplished? How do we do that? By tightening designs? That pressure is never going away; it's going to continue to get increasingly tighter. When I joined the semiconductor business, I was told, “There are your desk and phone, and here's the phone book. Good luck! You're not going to make any money for two years if you make any money at all.” I asked why that was, and the answer was, “The design cycle is two years. A few of them make it to production.” And I'll be darned if that person was right. I didn't make a dime for two years. But we surveyed our customers now, and half of the people do more than 10 designs a year.

Johnson: That's not a two-year design cycle.

Romine: And 42% did more than 25 designs a year. So, you're talking about a design cycle that's weeks and days, in some cases. The engineers absorbing this piece of the design responsibility as the complexity increases isn’t going anywhere. How do you provide education to enable those people? As you said, many employers say, "I'm not paying for training.” Well, why should you pay for it?

Johnson: Thank you for your time, Lawrence.

Romine: You’re welcome.

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