Tim's Takeaways: Design Tools of Tomorrow--A Real 'Marvel'

You’ve probably noticed that I sometimes discuss movies in this column to make a larger point about PCB design. Yes, I confess that I enjoy a bucket of popcorn and a couple of hours wasted in the local cinema just as much as the next guy. One of the movies that I have enjoyed the most over the past several years is the first “Iron Man” from 2008. Lately, the whole Marvel cinematic universe has gotten wild, with gods, monsters and space aliens.

This isn’t a bad thing but they have gotten away from the purity of engineering that made the first Iron Man movie so good. Let’s face it; the lead character, Tony Stark, is the engineer’s engineer. In that first movie, he designed the Iron Man suits right in front of us on the big screen, and he used some awesome-looking design tools in his lab. That got me to wondering: What would our world of design be like if we had some of that magic?

I think everyone would agree that advances in system resources, improvements in data specifications, and more automation would be welcome enhancements. But I’m trying to get past the obvious incremental advances that we normally see in the next feature release of our favorite CAD tool du jour. Instead, I’m looking for those improvements that we can only imagine or dream about today. So, if we’re going to dream, then let’s dream big. Just how would you spec out the design system of tomorrow?

It would seem to me that the most obvious improvements would be in the user interface. A common complaint that I hear from designers is being constrained by having to use a mouse. One user even suggested that instead of a mouse that they would like to see the application follow their eye movements instead. Would that be helpful to you, being able to use your eyes to control the place and route of your design instead of mousing around? I’m not so sure. But if eye-controlled movements were implemented, then there would have to be other enhancements as well to complement it.

Voice recognized commands would be a very helpful enhancement to have. In that first “Iron Man” movie, Tony Stark gave commands with his voice, and his design system could understand and respond to that input. Imagine if you were designing your board and the routing followed your eye movements, and you could tell the system through voice commands when to drill a via, what size via to use, and what layer to end up on. Or if that is too much, imagine if you could at least use your voice to input strings of text for a drawing or a schematic. Since our smartphones can already do this, why shouldn’t our layout tools be able to do it as well?

Of course, you would probably always want the ability to input information directly with your hands somehow, and in that movie you see a virtual keyboard in use quite often. Since the need for direct system-level communication with our CAD tools will likely never go away, a keyboard seems like a logical way to do this. But what if we had a virtual keyboard instead of the mechanical keyboard that most of us are accustomed to now? That could be very helpful; the keyboard could change its input buttons depending on the needs of the design (language, symbols, tool commands), and change the contour of the physical keyboard to provide the best ergonomic interface for the user.

Beyond that, just imagine if you could interact with your design as a hologram floating in front of you the way Tony Stark did in the movie. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could pick a section on your holographic design with your hands and expand it to the point where you could peer into it, spin it around, and manipulate it as you desired? Want to push a trace down to a different layer? Just give it a nudge in the right direction and the holographic display changes it to the next layer. Don’t like the way a certain area fill looks? Then just grab it with your fingers and pull it out and throw it into the virtual garbage can. Want to split off a portion of circuitry to put into a reuse block for use in another design? Then grab it and pull it over to the side and tell your system to save that portion under a new file name.

To read this entire column, which appeared in the February 2017 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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2017

Tim's Takeaways: Design Tools of Tomorrow--A Real 'Marvel'

04-05-2017

Imagine if you could interact with your design as a hologram floating in front of you the way Tony Stark did in the movie "Iron Man." Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could pick a section on your holographic design with your hands and expand it to the point where you could peer into it, spin it around, and manipulate it as you desired? Want to push a trace down to a different layer? Just give it a nudge in the right direction and the holographic display changes it to the next layer. Don’t like the way a certain area fill looks? Then just grab it with your fingers and pull it out and throw it into the virtual garbage can.

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Tim's Takeaways: 'Sparks' to the Rescue in RF Design

01-03-2017

Just like the early days of radio where Sparks the radio specialist was in demand to get the job done, we now need RF specialists to work together with electrical engineers to create the intricate designs required for RF circuits. You are now Sparks, the go-to specialist who will take care of RF design business.

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2016

The Basics of Hybrid Design, Part 3

06-16-2016

The world of hybrid design is growing, and we have lots of hybrid-specific functionality built into our software that helps designers meet and conquer the unique hybrid design requirements that they are faced with. And yet many designers out there (and I used to be one of them) have no idea what is meant when people start talking about hybrid design.

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The Basics of Hybrid Design, Part 2

05-16-2016

In the first part of this series, we discussed the basics of hybrid design from the PCB designer’s perspective, and here we will continue that discussion.

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The Principles of Hybrid Design, Part 1

04-25-2016

What exactly is a hybrid design? We are seeing more and more of our customers exploring the world of hybrid design, and we are getting new customers for whom hybrid design is their sole focus. The world of hybrid design is growing and we have lots of hybrid-specific functionality built into our software that helps designers conquer the unique hybrid design requirements.

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2015

Tim's Takeaways: The Utility Belt

05-12-2015

The utility belt is a great thing to have. Batman would be long dead without his, and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor would be useless without his. But for a circuit board designer, a utility belt is equally important. All of us at one time or another will have questions about the CAD system we use, and one essential tool to have in your utility belt is a list of people you can go to for help. At the top of this list should be your CAD system’s friendly customer support staff (like me).

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DFM: The PCB Designer as Arbitrator

04-08-2015

Design engineering is usually a combination of electrical and mechanical engineers. Although these two groups can have their own dramatic conflicts between each other, they will usually end up working together because they ultimately serve each other’s needs. But the manufacturing engineering requirements usually come from a completely different department or from an outside manufacturing vendor.

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2014

Like it or Not, You're a Role Model

12-24-2014

"During the years that I built my skills as a circuit board designer, many people helped shape my character. Some were impulsively brilliant at laying out a board, while others were steady and consistent in their approach to work, dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't.' But they were all patient with me, answering my questions, showing me the ropes, and setting good examples for me to follow," says Columnist Tim Haag.

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Blink and You Will Miss It

11-05-2014

Tim Haag writes, "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Well, that adage certainly proved to be true in my situation. If I hadn't been ripped from my secure position and forced to contract for a short season, who knows how my future would have eventually unfolded. And if it hadn't been for that brief season of hardship, would I have had the strength and flexibility to succeed later on?"

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Tim's Takeaways: Blink and You Will Miss It

11-05-2014

Tim Haag writes, "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Well, that adage certainly proved to be true in my situation. If I hadn't been ripped from my secure position and forced to contract for a short season, who knows how my future would have eventually unfolded. And if it hadn't been for that brief season of hardship, would I have had the strength and flexibility to succeed later on?"

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There Are No Stupid Questions

09-10-2014

Many of us who have been designing boards for years have had to deal with annoying questions from "the kids." You know who I mean: The rookies, newbies, greenhorns, or puppies just starting out in their design careers. We've all had to answer questions like, "Why is library development so important?" or "Why is solder mask green?"

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Tim's Takeaways: There Are No Stupid Questions

09-10-2014

Many of us who have been designing boards for years have had to deal with annoying questions from "the kids." You know who I mean: The rookies, newbies, greenhorns, or puppies just starting out in their design careers. We've all had to answer questions like, "Why is library development so important?" or "Why is solder mask green?"

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Design Rule Checks - For Your Protection

07-09-2014

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "I have designed multitudes of PCBs over the years, but I have a confession to make: It can be hard for me to run that final design rule check. I know that it is important, but at the end of a long design cycle, I just want to be done. I don't want to redo anything, and I sure don't want to look at my own errors. Do any of you feel that way?"

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Tim's Takeaways: Design Rule Checks - For Your Protection

07-09-2014

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "I have designed multitudes of PCBs over the years, but I have a confession to make: It can be hard for me to run that final design rule check. I know that it is important, but at the end of a long design cycle, I just want to be done. I don't want to redo anything, and I sure don't want to look at my own errors. Do any of you feel that way?"

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Customer Support: Not Just for Customers Anymore

06-04-2014

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "In my role as the customer support manager, I have seen plenty of examples of customer support. But my point here is not to focus on customer support as a function of a support technician. Instead, I want to explore the concept of how we should all strive to provide the best level of customer support in our jobs, no matter what we do."

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