AltiumLive 2022: MacroFab Unites Design and Manufacturing in One Domain

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I recently spoke with Joey Rodriguez, director of product management for MacroFab, which just announced a major partnership with Altium that brings supply chain information to Altium users much earlier in the design cycle. Joey and I discussed his AltiumLive presentation, now available online, which provides details about MacroFab’s efforts to “left-shift” supply chain information, and the need for designers to think holistically about the supply chain as early as possible in the design cycle.   

Andy Shaughnessy: How are you doing, Joey?

Joey Rodriguez: I’m doing well, Andy. Thanks for having me.

Shaughnessy: Tell us a little bit about MacroFab.

Rodriguez: MacroFab is an electronics manufacturing platform, and there are several aspects to the business. It starts as a way for companies designing hardware products to upload their designs from EDA tools, like Altium, in a digital domain while they get quotes, prices, and lead times to manufacture product in the real world, whether it’s prototype or production volumes. We do that through software, virtualizing the whole physical and manufacturing aspect, tapping into the supply chain and the factories, and understanding what it takes to build the product.

Shaughnessy: Tell us about your AltiumLive presentation.

Rodriguez: The presentation is about the different types of real-time manufacturing feedback that the MacroFab platform can give to engineers, at whatever stage of the hardware product development life cycle they’re at. It’s not necessarily focused on the core engineering technical design decisions, but on the things to keep in mind in the world that we’re living in, with supply chains out of whack and the different decisions you can make as you’re designing that will help you navigate the uncertainty.

Shaughnessy: What are some of the key points that you’re hoping to get across?

Rodriguez: Start early, even in the prototype phase. Whether you realize it, there are decisions that you make at the initial, early idea phase that have a cascading effect as your product matures. One of the biggest elements is the design decisions you make will have an impact and can be quantified in time. The more time that it takes to build a product physically, the more cost inefficient it can become as you go through to production.

Shaughnessy: Right. There’s a lot of focus on left-shifting, as they call it, doing more planning and catching your mistakes earlier in the process.

Rodriguez: Absolutely.

Shaughnessy: So, why was this important to the attendees? 

Rodriguez: Products are constantly changing and often the companies are measured only on how fast they can get to market. Can you meet the price targets you want and can you achieve the quality that you want?

Companies on the cutting edge of hardware product development are going back to the drawing board and looking at new ways to design products and bring them to market. Companies that want to be successful in this new economy are going to be much more distributed and will need tools like the MacroFab platform that give them real-time supply chain insights, and to understand what it takes to manufacture in the real world. That’s going to be a competitive differentiator for the companies that figure out how to incorporate that into their development process.

Shaughnessy: Well, and it is also nice that you’re getting the engineers, the designers, and fabricators on the same page early because often those lines of communication aren’t necessarily open.

Rodriguez: That’s right. We have EDA software which has come a long way in terms of being able to design and understand things that could affect the quality. But what’s been missing is a linkage between design intent and manufacturing. It’s a different world to physically to make a product. Here with Altium we’re launching this new automated service where we’ll be embedded in the Altium designer tool.

The new capability within Altium has the MacroFab platform quoting engine built into the platform; that’s an automated service. Engineers will be able to understand what it takes, how much it costs to build product, and how long it takes, right from the design tool they’re already using.

The engineers will physically lay out their board. And, what’s different is they can go to manufacturing without having to export files. No chance of sending the wrong files to a facility and getting the wrong thing made or just any sort of mishap that can happen in that sort of ad hoc communication.

Shaughnessy: That’s good that you are taking steps out of the process. We’ve seen that each step in the process is a chance for data to be entered incorrectly or a mistake to be made.

I believe they’re basically expanding on Altium’s earlier ecosystem approach, which is good. So, they finish their design in Altium and then what happens? 

Rodriguez: This Altium product removes the need to even upload files, because it all just happens natively. We leverage our supply chain insights to understand questions, like how long is this product going to take? We’ll give you a few different price points. Do I want this in 10 days, or is this more of a production-level product where I can forecast delivery and a one-to-two-month delivery is okay?

We’ll go through the DFX and DFM checks on our side to make sure that we can manufacture this board successfully. And we have all these algorithms that work in the background to understand. We examine your design down to the component level, because we have a network of over 75 factories that we work with. We match your particular design to the right factory and make sure that you get the outcomes that you’re looking for and using intelligence and software to drive some of that decision making.

Shaughnessy: What are some of the takeaways for attendees? 

Rodriguez: Mainly, that it’s important to think holistically about design. For better or worse, engineers must consider more than just the technical performance parameters of the product. Now they also must design with the supply chain in mind.

For instance, we are recommending that engineers, when they’re developing their bill of materials for their product, should have a robust list of alternates—five, possibly even more—so that inevitably when things go out of stock, we have choices. The beauty of platforms like MacroFab is that we have a huge list of alternates, plus we have your design intent. We can take strategic actions to make sure that we mitigate the risk for you as we’re making that product. 

Shaughnessy: Thanks for talking with us.

Rodriguez: My pleasure, Andy.

View Joey Rodriguez's presentation Real-Time Manufacturing Feedback in the MacroFab Platform below.


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