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Publisher Barry Matties met with Bob Williams, managing director and co-owner of Pulsonix, and Sales and Marketing Manager Tyrone Stephens to discuss the challenges facing the EDA tool market, and how they’re establishing this UK-based company in the global design tool marketplace.
Barry Matties: Thanks for meeting with me today. Please start by giving us a little background about Pulsonix.
Bob Williams: We are all ex-Zuken and Racal-Redac staff. We worked for these companies in Tewkesbury and Bristol, and left in 1997 to set up Westdev Ltd, the company that writes PCB design software. The first Pulsonix product was released around 2000 and was very well received in the market. As the first post-year 2000 PCB design product, we took advantage of all the new coding and graphics techniques that were available. Based on our experience in the EDA business, we created a PCB design tool with a very modern look and feel. We will release version 9 of the product in Q1 of 2016.
Matties: What was the impetus for launching this tool?
Williams: We had looked at the market for some time and were frustrated with all the current tools which seemed to miss the core principles of what designers really needed in a PCB design tool. The new company gave us the chance to bring a new-generation product to market. The importance of the new product was that it came from a clean slate with no existing legacy issues which plagued existing systems. At the time, it was the first product that had been written from the ground up of any of the PCB design tools. We used lots of new writing techniques and a different approach to how the design process was laid out on-screen. With ground-up thinking, we were able to use our experience and create a product that was properly structured through all the design processes, even to the way the menus were logically constructed.
Matties: We've been talking a little bit about why people change PCB design tools. What's the primary reason for someone to switch?
Williams: It’s a very high-performance tool for the price but also the on-going service charge also makes it attractive. We provide unlimited technical support and service fixes for free for the first year, and after they see the value in the service we provide, this is where the second-year maintenance comes in. We’re a very easy company to work with. This has been a conscious decision right from the start and our customers tell us this. Why would someone switch? Well, that’s straightforward really; the product is easy to learn and use, but it still has the power within it to create complex designs. It’s suited to customers who use the product daily and occasional users who dip in and out between projects. Our import filters are also the most extensive of any EDA supplier but more importantly, they’re very high in quality to preserve the customer’s IP for designs and libraries.
Matties: When you say a lot cheaper, are you talking 50%?
Tyrone Stephens: More like 30%. It’s around 10% of the competition’s maintenance when you compare like-to-like products.
Williams: They still get the full service with us. They still get bug fixes. They get a perpetual license when they initially buy as well, which is important. The licenses aren’t cloud-based; they use local security so they can be transported anywhere in the world, anywhere that they like, which is also important. They get technical service from any one of our offices here or our service centers around the world.
Matties: You touched on import filters. Why are they so important?
Williams: The ability to preserve the customer’s design and library integrity is essential. Not only does it retain their IP (which has been previously used and verified), but it also means not having to re-create the data, thus providing additional confidence in the tool.
Matties: What does your customer base look like in North America?
Williams: We've got significant installation bases at prestigious military, aerospace, consumer and academic customer locations, to name a few. Our worldwide user base includes many prestigious household and blue-chip names as well.
Matties: The tier ones are really buying in.
Williams: Definitely. They're seeing the value. Pulsonix meets their technology requirements and allows them to create their designs quickly and efficiently. With a very short learning curve, the drop in productivity for the engineers in minimized. We find that tier one customers still want a personal service which we are able to provide. Our user base is becoming well established, and it's also very loyal, something we’re very proud of. Our retention is very good, which shows us that we have the right quality product, and the right quality service.
Matties: From a designer’s point of view, what important factors should they be looking at when they're evaluating tools?
Williams: For almost everyone, ease of use is a major factor and the very short learning curve makes it highly attractive. During an evaluation, it’s a question of how productive they can be in a very short period of time to get the full benefit of the trial and the new tool. Technology features will also play an important part in fulfilling the check list requirements. Designers need to be sure they are getting a tool that improves their work flow. For users with legacy data, as I’ve said already, the quality of the import filters is paramount for designs and libraries.
Matties: When a designer reports a bug or needs a fix, how do you handle that?
Williams: Typically, when it’s reported, if it's what we would consider a show-stopper, then we would fix it the same day. In Europe, especially, that's more like a couple of hours maximum so there's no loss of productivity, and there's very little downtime. We minimize the downtime so there's less impact on the user. We run service patches regularly, so the users get the benefit of consolidated user fixes; all tested and rolled out in a controlled way.
Matties: I see you offer a free trial. Is that a 90-day free trial?
Williams: No, it's an unlimited time trial version. The save capability is switched off after 100 component pins, so you can create a small design with it. It's a “lite” version that students can use, and somebody who evaluates it can make a proper evaluation based on a small design, or they can import a full design but not be able to save it once they've seen the import. Then if they need to go further, they can request an evaluation license from us, which we can time-lock, so it's a fully featured license.
Matties: The other feature I saw is the net list. Interestingly, I recently did an interview with a board shop, and they were talking about how providing a net list to your fabricator is like an insurance policy for quality. Yet, they say so many people don't do this. It seems to me it is just a click of a button, and a few moments later you have your reports. Why wouldn't someone utilize this feature?
Williams: I have no idea why they wouldn’t use it. We export the IPC-356 test point format amongst other standard net lists and reports, which a lot of fabricators will use. We also write the IPC-2581 format, which is the new standard, and we're a corporate member of the IPC Standard Foundation Council. These can both be exported at no charge. It's a button click, like you say. If they want it in a specific format, we also have the report maker feature, which can actually write any net list format you like, because it's customizable.
Williams: We’re very positive and excited about the future. We’re making rapid progress in terms of company growth and technological capabilities within the product itself. We're a serious competitor in the market now th
at we’ve established ourselves. The rapid growth means we are expanding as well, and this will help us meet the demands from our user base in terms of product, quality and customer service.
Matties: Where do you see the product headed?
Williams: We see more and more installations where engineers share information at the same time but not necessarily at the same location or in the same country. We envisage becoming even more workgroup-friendly with tools to connect and integrate them together in one environment. We also see more standard usability features for everyday users; we’re continuously looking to reinvent the wheel. We’re talking about engineers who just want to get the design through the system as quick as they can without any errors. We take great pride in speaking to these people and actually implementing their requests.
Matties: Do you see more automation of the tool as well?
Williams: Yes, we see more automation; we've put a lot more intelligence in. For example, we have artificial intelligence in which the system understands what you want to do based on algorithms that we have written. We can do a lot more of that as well. Currently, we're working on new technology features which will excite our users.
Matties: So your strengths are ease of use. It's intuitive.
Williams: It's very intuitive with a very low learning curve, typically a couple of days, not weeks. Up and running within two days, maximum with minimal external help.