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I recently spoke with Chris Banton, Director of Marketing for EMA Design Automation, during DesignCon 2021 in San Jose, California. He explained how EMA helps Cadence Design Systems push more DFM and signal integrity information into designers’ hands earlier in the design cycle, as well as how they are blurring the lines between PCB and RF design functions. He also discussed the company’s increased efforts creating design education modules for customers who hire inexperienced PCB designers.
Andy Shaughnessy: Chris, good to see you. How are things going?
Chris Banton: Andy, thanks for talking with me. It’s good to be back out again. It’s been a while, so it’s nice to be at a trade show.
Shaughnessy: I think it’s been months since I’ve traveled too. Why don’t you just give us a quick rundown on what’s been going on at EMA?
Banton: Sure, I appreciate it. I think many of our themes focus on how we can help design engineers gain insight and receive feedback within their designs by leveraging Cadence technologies. We are really embracing the concept of real-time design and how to empower engineers with data so they can make the right decisions. For example, look at the supply chain right now; it can be a bit challenging for customers. Customers are looking at lead times of 52 weeks for some of the parts they’re trying to procure. Our partnership with SiliconExpert enables an engineer to get a real-time view of their bill of materials as they’re designing. This makes it easy for them to see what the risks are before they get too instantiated with design. It allows them to make informed design decisions and pick swaps and crosses before it becomes difficult to make a change.
Our main goal is to give information to designers as quickly and effectively as possible, across all facets of design. We look at anything from component selection to analysis, as well as signal quality issues like coupling impedance, and even take that to manufacturing. How do you make what you do with your manufacturers a sign-off and not like the it’s first time you’re really figuring out if that design is going to be buildable?
The great thing is we can embed this design intelligence right into the tool. For example, Cadence has put together a wizard that will take the IPC specifications and run through that as a first order DFM check. So, you can get some early DFM based on the IPC specs, and make sure you’re meeting those requirements. Again, this all happens as you’re working, so everything is flagged, checked, and tested as they’re designed.
Shaughnessy: You were talking earlier about some of the things you’ve been doing as far as making these tools work better together, such as RF and PCB.
Banton: Yes, that’s the other side of it, which is unique. Since we have the analysis and implementation tools, we can focus on how to make them smarter and work better. Cadence acquired AWR for RF microwave design a year and a half ago. In the latest release, they’ve done a lot of work to tie those tools together, either with other analysis tools, like Clarity, for fast, accurate EM extraction, or into the Allegro piece of the design flows. This way, you can have a common library across RF and PCB tools, which is unheard of. Before this, it was very much like two different worlds—throw it over the wall and see what happens.
And what we’re hearing from customers is the RF circuits are very highly tuned—the RF engineer has spent a lot of time on that. Once you put that on the board, you have all these other potential antennas and other things that can really mess that up.
Shaughnessy: That’s quite a task. PCB and RF engineers barely even speak the same language.
Banton: Exactly. We’re not trying to make everyone an RF expert, but we are trying to help PCB design engineers understand the impact they might be having on RF circuits. And vice versa: How do you help the RF engineer understand the impact the board has as it evolves? Everyone’s getting what they want, which is a design that works, right? I think Cadence is really the first one that’s taken a run at it. And like I said, this release is probably the first step of many in finding ways to make that connected without making it overly complicated.
Another thing we’ve been working on is related to education. When talking with customers, we’re hearing more and more about how they’re having trouble finding engineers. It’s always a constant struggle, especially finding engineers who know PCB design. We’ve been working with some of our customers to build internal training programs for new hires. We’re also reaching out to some local universities to see if we can help with programs around this career.
Shaughnessy: That would be great because there’s not only a need just for training on how to design, but also on how to use each tool, because the tools are so different. You’re helping to set up a Cadence curriculum, so to speak.
Banton: Maybe that’s what it evolves to, but our focus right now is how to get someone new in the door and get them productive as fast as possible, especially if they’ve never produced a board. We’re just trying to figure out what role we play as the tool vendor to help facilitate that process.
Shaughnessy: Well, it’s been good seeing you after a year and a half. Thanks for your time, Chris.
Banton: Thank you.