Paying it Forward: DFM Education for Engineering Grads

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A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work for a prototype PCB supplier in Seattle. My role at this manufacturer was to represent the company’s capabilities to the many PCB designers and engineers in the area and to reach out to help them understand important DFM considerations in their designs.

Earlier, I’d had a life-changing realization regarding the important requirements of our low-volume, in-house PCB assembly stakeholders. Could it be that I was being given an opportunity to see more—this time from the perspective of the PCB fabricator? They too face challenges every day from designers who should know more about DFM for PCB fabrication. You might say that over the past six years I have become “woke” to the daily challenges our PCB manufacturing stakeholders face when designers and engineers show disregard for solid DFM practices.

You may remember three years ago that this magazine was asking, “Who will fill your shoes?” While working in Seattle, it did not take me long to answer that question. Every day for my job, I had the opportunity to drive to several Seattle-based design companies and meet with their engineering staffs, usually full of young, recently graduated electrical engineers. Almost every company I visited had employed several recent EE graduates (all named Zach, Ian, or Ashley, it seemed) who were tasked with laying out PCBs.

I could tell in a heartbeat that these kids were smart. Some of them were involved in the Maker subculture and had already been exposed to etching printed circuits and finding creative ways to manually solder their own PCB assemblies. This exploding population of creative brilliance was dangerous, though. It seemed they could learn new layout and signal integrity software in a matter of days. Educated in the universities, with a two-week survey course on PCB design if they were lucky, these electronics engineering graduates were turned loose into the industry.

Their ability to learn the layout tools quickly without being educated in DFM enabled them to pump out unmanufacturable designs just as quickly. We saw PCBs with odd numbers of layers, unbalanced copper, quarter-inch-thick PCBs with tiny vias which would not plate through—you name it. Suddenly, with little time to react, our fabricators were being deluged with overly creative designs which could not be manufactured.

These smart young engineers were sorely in need of an education on DFM. I’d found my calling. I teamed up with CAM expert and manufacturing industry icon Mark Thompson, and we were off to the races. I’d known Mark for years and he was always a helpful DFM mentor while I had worked at the gaming company years earlier. It was an honor to work side-by-side with him and help educate these new PCB designers.

We invited these young engineering customers to tour our fabrication facilities and provided “lunch and learn” sessions. Together we recorded a variety of video interviews and wrote articles to help fight the war on DFM failure.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the August 2021 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.


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