Article Highlights
Romania’s PCB Design Students Compete at TIE 2017
06/19/2017 | Gaudentiu Varzaru, Politehnica University of Bucharest
Must Work Well on a Team; CID a Bonus
06/07/2017 | Kelly Dack, CID+
Whose Fault is it When the Board Fails?
06/07/2017 | Andy Shaughnessy, PCBDesign007
PCB Design in the Age of IoT
06/06/2017 | Ted Pawela, Altium
SnapEDA: Recruiting Top Engineering Talent in an Amazon World
05/31/2017 | Andy Shaughnessy, PCBDesign007
Design :: Software

Latest Articles

Better Together: How HDP User Group Showcases the Industry’s Best Side

HDPUG is a non-profit trade organization comprised of members from top companies in the electronics industry, from materials suppliers and manufacturers, to OEMs and end users. Key activities include collaborating on issues facing multiple industries and bringing people together on projects who might not have met otherwise. Barry Matties met HDPUG’s European representative and project facilitator Alun Morgan at the recent EIPC Summer Conference to learn more about the group and current projects.

Romania’s PCB Design Students Compete at TIE 2017

During the last week in April, the 26th Interconnection Techniques in Electronics (TIE) show was held at the Gheorghe Asachi Technical University in Iasi, Romaina, a wonderful hill town not unlike Rome. The event, a convention for the Romanian electronic packaging community, included a series of actions designed to draw smart young students to the electronics industry, which is clearly growing. Participants had only four hours to create this PCB design, which was generated by a team of professionals from Continental Automotive Romania Timisoara.

PCB Design in the Age of IoT

From the early days of printed circuit boards, the electronics industry has made huge strides in board materials, copper printing methods, miniaturization, rigid-flex, ELIC, EDA, and much more. Many of the devices we use in our homes, our vehicles, and in our workplaces would not be possible without this continuous evolution of PCB design and technology. And yet in 2017, we are poised to shift from evolution to revolution, driven by the idea of the Internet of Things.

SnapEDA: Recruiting Top Engineering Talent in an Amazon World

You don’t have to love EDA to work at SnapEDA, but it helps. This startup, founded by Natasha Baker, is on its way to creating the world’s largest parts library for PCB designers. Baker leads a small team of young, fiercely talented engineers—the kind of employees that are attractive to companies like Google and Facebook. I asked Natasha to explain her hiring process, and how she ensures that each employee is the right fit for SnapEDA.

Steve Robinson Discusses APCT’s Tenfold Expansion

Steve Robinson, CEO of APCT, a PCB fabricator in Silicon Valley, has led the company to impressive growth since he acquired it nearly 10 years ago. I ran into Steve at DesignCon 2017, and we sat down to discuss the company’s remarkable transformation and his focus on working with PCB designers and engineers to create advanced, high-speed PCBs.

Altium Focuses on the Designer First

A few months before Judy Warner joined Altium, while she was still with I-Connect007, she sat down with Lawrence Romine to discuss the company’s drive to satisfy the individual PCB designer, and not necessarily the OEMs who employ them. Romine also explains what sets designers and engineers apart from the average person, and why some Altium users have a different primary EDA tool, but use Altium when they need a design done fast.

San Diego IPC Designers Council Meeting Held at Del Mar Show

The Del Mar Electronics and Manufacturing Show is a long-time favorite among PCB professionals. What better place to hold a meeting of the San Diego Chapter of the IPC Designers Council? Each year, the San Diego Chapter of the Designers Council hosts their largest meeting of the year at the Del Mar show. This year, approximately 50 PCB designers and electronics professionals attended the lunch-and-learn meeting.

Bruce Mahler Discusses Ohmega’s Resistive Material Technology

Bruce Mahler, vice president of Ohmega Technologies, sat down for an interview with me at DesignCon 2017. He discussed the company’s latest embedded resistive materials, as well as some of the drivers and challenges in that segment of the materials industry.

'Flexdude' Tom Woznicki Celebrates Company’s 25th Anniversary

Twenty-five years ago, Tom “Flexdude” Woznicki got laid off. A lot of people did, back during the mini-recession that helped bring Bill Clinton into the White House. So, he launched his own flex circuit design bureau and never looked back. Since then, he’s designed flex circuitry for everything under the sun, including the Mars Rover; the flex circuits he designed are visible in many of the Rover photos. I ran into Tom at DesignCon 2017 and we discussed the benefits of flex circuits, the expansion of the flex market, and his company’s first quarter-century in operation.

China High-Speed PCB Market Update with Polar's Simon Chan

During the recent CPCA Show in Shanghai, Editor Stephen Las Marias and Polar Instruments (China) Assistant Manager Simon Chan discussed the opportunities and challenges for Polar's customers in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the current state of the high-speed PCB market in China.


Rigid-flex Design Tips and Best Practices

While the traditional “design-separately-then-assemble” approach minimized potential issues with the flex portions of the product, it also had several inherent disadvantages. These include the cost associated with the physical connectors; the space required for the physical connectors; the need to properly manage interconnects that have to transition between the separate rigid and flex PCBs (through the connectors); and, of course, the time and cost associated with assembly. The move to the current generation of rigid-flex technology mitigates these issues; however, they are replaced with a different set of challenges and concerns.

Perpetual or Subscription EDA Tool Licenses? That is the Question

After I began working at Altium, I started learning all I could about PCB design software licensing. I wondered about the pros and cons of perpetual vs. subscription licenses. I wanted to learn firsthand from PCB designers what kind of benefits they received and challenges they faced as a result of how EDA companies offered design tools. I reached out to a variety of sources to get a broad slice of insight into this evolving issue, and thus began my trip down the EDA licensing software rabbit hole.

Mentor Graphics Takes Best Paper Award at DesignCon

At DesignCon, I met with Dave Kohlmeier, senior product line director for Mentor Graphics. We discussed their Best Paper award and DesignCon sessions such as the Signal Integrity Boot Camp, as well as the new rigid-flex capabilities found in the HypeLynx suite.

A New Power Design Methodology for PCB Designs

Advanced PCB design is an iterative process of analysis-fix-analysis. Historically, this process is very time-consuming, requiring analysis experts and PCB designers to work together to find and fix layout problems. This article describes a new PCB design methodology that allows a PCB designer to perform the power design without having to run expert-level analysis tools. This methodology provides the setup automation for advanced analysis without the need to understand every minute parameter, and can be completed in a few steps.

Tom Hausherr Discusses PCB Libraries’ BOM Builder Service

PCB Libraries CEO Tom Hausherr and Editor Kelly Dack discuss PCB Libraries’ new BOM Builder service during IPC APEX EXPO. Equipped with the new LEAP technology, the BOM Builder can potentially save PCB designers days or weeks of time normally spent turning a BOM into a CAD library.

Catching up with Polar Instruments' Geoffrey Hazelett

Product specialist Geoffrey Hazelett discusses some of the latest developments at Polar Instruments, including a new tool that will allow fabricators to determine how copper roughness will affect the end-product. He also talks about Polar's upcoming eBook on signal integrity, soon to be published by I-Connect007. Talented young technologists like Geoffrey are the future of our industry.

Cadence’s Zhen Mu Discusses Her Power-Aware Analysis Solution White Paper

At DesignCon, I met with Zhen Mu, senior principal product engineer with Cadence Design Systems, and Brad Griffin, product marketing director for Cadence. We discussed Zhen’s new white paper, “Power-Aware Analysis Solution.”

Exciting New Technology: Thermal Risk Management

Two years ago I entered into a collaboration with Dr. Johannes Adam, from Leimen Germany. Johannes has written a software simulation tool called Thermal Risk Management (TRM). We used it to look at the thermal characteristics of PCB traces under a variety of conditions, and it is hard for me to contain my excitement and enthusiasm for what it does and what we learned about traces using it. Our collaboration resulted in the publication of numerous articles and a book. In this article, I’ll talk about some of the capabilities of TRM that really caught my attention.

Kelly Dack and Mike Creeden: Are We in a PCB Design Renaissance?

Technical Editor Kelly Dack and San Diego PCB founder Mike Creeden discuss some of the trends they're seeing in the PCB design community, including greater numbers of young people becoming designers and more EEs doing design work. They also focus on IPC's training and designer certification efforts, and the need for designers to get out of the office and visit a board shop once in a while.

Selling PCB Design Services in a First-World Country

As the business operations manager for Better Boards Inc., I see our company at the focal point for consolidation: a gathering of skilled board designers to create a center of excellence. It is at this point that we have the critical problem facing a PCB design services company: How do we effectively sell these services back to the companies that cast off their own skilled employees? How do we sell PCB design services into small companies that can barely afford the one overworked electrical engineer that they hired last year?


EIPC 2017 Winter Conference Review of Day 2

Almost everyone made it back to the conference room for the start of the second day of the EIPC Winter Conference in Salzburg, even those who had enjoyed the late networking session into the early hours!

In Deep: The Art and Science of DFM with Gary Ferrari

When the topic of DFM techniques came up, I knew I had to talk with Gary Ferrari of FTG Corp. Gary has been involved with designing and manufacturing PCBs for decades, and he’s the past co-founder and executive director of the IPC Designers Council. I caught up with Gary between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we conducted the following interview.

The Evolution of PCB Design and Designers

According to Rainer Asfalg of Altium, VP Sales EMEA, EDA companies owe it to their customers to provide much more than just a standard design tool. Barry Matties met with Rainer at the recent electronica show to discuss the continued evolution of the design process towards automation, and what this might mean for the education and overall requirements of PCB designers going forward.

Help Wanted! Our 2017 Industry Hiring Survey

This month we conducted an industry survey on plans for hiring during the year. Included here is a summary of the results. We started by simply asking, “Do you plan to hire additional people this year?” More than half of the respondents answered yes while about a third said no—which we take as an optimistic sign that our industry plans to expand in 2017.

A Handy Compilation of Our Top 10 DFM Articles

When we started working on this DFM issue, I searched through our files and found that we’ve published some great DFM articles over the past year or so. While topics like signal integrity tend to get most of the limelight, in the end it all comes down to solid DFM practices. So, without further ado, we present this compilation of our Top 10 DFM articles and columns.

Flex and Rigid Sales and Marketing with Al Wasserzug

After decades in the PCB industry, Al Wasserzug of Cirexx International has seen marketing and sales trends come and go. I recently caught up with Al and interviewed him via email about the latest sales and marketing techniques, the value of traditional methods such as trade shows and conferences, and the particular characteristics of marketing flex circuits.

Altium’s Sales Plan: Deal Directly with Designers

Altium has been shaking up the EDA world for quite some time. The Australian company once slashed the cost of Altium Designer by 75% to grow market share, and who could forget their famous (or infamous) “Bunny” ad campaign? In this email interview with Lawrence Romine, Altium’s global head of field marketing, he shares his views on sales and marketing in the EDA world, as well as Altium’s philosophy on selling EDA tools.

Top 10 Most-Read Design Articles of 2016

Every January, I like to go back through the last year and see which articles had the highest number of views. They're usually the articles that bring you PCB design and industry information that's relevant to your job. Check out the most-read PCB design articles from 2016.

Sales and Marketing with DownStream Technologies

From its inception, DownStream Technologies has been a new kind of software tool company. DownStream’s post-processing tools address one of the most unpopular parts of the design process: documentation. DownStream's CEO Rick Almeida discusses some of his firm’s marketing and sales methods, the trends that he sees, and the influence of the Internet on marketing.

Much Ado About Sales and Marketing

We recently surveyed our readers to get a better idea of what company leaders thought about sales and marketing. We sent this survey to several sales leaders; the results were informative, at times surprising, and even a bit disappointing, especially when participants reported that they had no sales and marketing plan at all. Does your company fall into that category?


SiSoft Discusses Signal Integrity Drivers and Challenges

In the last few years, SiSoft has launched a variety of innovative SI tools that help automate tasks that used to take weeks or months to complete. I recently interviewed CEO Barry Katz via email, and he detailed their customers’ challenges, and some of the market drivers in the world of signal integrity.

Sunstone Circuits Makes Shift in Strategy, Offerings

Sunstone Circuits, the Oregon-based online vendor of quickturn circuit boards, has recently made a shift in capabilities that will enable a move into the RF and microwave space. At PCB West, Publisher Barry Matties caught up with Sunstone’s David Warren, and they discussed details of this change and how they plan to approach such a competitive marketplace.

CAT’s David Wolf on Via Reliability Analysis

Conductor Analysis Technologies (CAT) has been analyzing test panels and coupon designs for over 20 years. CAT’s analysis provides valuable, quantitative data on PCB quality and reliability, which can help designers and manufacturers trace the source of defects and non-uniformities. Vice President of Technical Marketing David Wolf discusses some of the trends he’s seeing in via structures, and the common reliability and quality issues related to vias.

What’s the Difference Between a Manager and a True Leader?

The role of the manager is complex; it means balancing business needs with creative opportunity and flexibility, building trust and providing inspiration with a team. With the recruitment of Generation X, and now the millennials, the expectations of employees are changing, accompanied by an unprecedented growth of technology. How can today’s manager maintain an effective and motivated team?

DownStream Technologies: Building the Interface Between Designers and Fabricators

DownStream Technologies founder Rick Almeida speaks with Editor Pete Starkey about building the interface between the PCB designers and fabricators. He gives details on their design software and where most of the design community resides.

TTM SJ Hosts IPC Designers Council Meeting

The Silicon Valley Chapter of the IPC Designers Council was treated to a delicious barbecue lunch on October 13 at TTM’s San Jose facility. About 20 PCB designers and support professionals gathered for the tri-tip lunch-n-learn conference.

Leo Lambert Discusses EPTAC’s Evolving Mission

This month we’ve been dealing with challenges related to being a great manager and a great leader. One of the biggest problems a manager faces is training—getting employees trained, and keeping them current on constantly changing technologies. I asked Leo Lambert, VP and CTO of EPTAC, what his thoughts were on the subject of leadership, and more specifically, what strategies EPTAC embraces with regard to training—both initial and ongoing.

Lightning Speed Laminates: The Blending of High-Speed Digital and High-Frequency RF

When the terms high-speed and high-frequency are mentioned, people think they describe the same issue. But in reality, they can be two very different matters. The term high-speed generally refers to digital technology which transfers data at very high rates. But the term high-frequency is typically related to radio frequency (RF), which involves analog signals moving energy at high frequencies.

Mentor Graphics’ PADS Platform Bridges Design and Manufacturing

At PCB West, Barry Matties spoke with Paul Musto about Mentor’s PADS environment and their introduction of scalable software tools to help design better boards, from the enterprise level down to the entry level and hobbyists. They also discussed the evolution of the design process infrastructure in North America vs. Asia, and what design engineers should focus on to increase their value.

Freedom CAD: Navigating the Unpredictable Design Marketplace

As COO of the design service bureau Freedom CAD, Scott Miller has a front-row seat to the challenges currently plaguing designers and the design community as a whole. He shared his views with me recently, offering insights on the importance of picking the right partners and customer relationships in an unforgiving and sometimes unpredictable design marketplace.


Ventec Europe Celebrates 10 Years as 'Not Just Another Laminate Merchant'

Incorporated in November 2006 as a joint venture known as Global Ventec Laminates, Ventec Europe imported its first container-full of material in May 2007. Now, here we are 10 years on, a bit older and not a lot wiser, in Ventec Europe’s immaculate headquarters facility, still in Leamington Spa, but in smart new premises.

Altium ActiveRoute Debuts at PCB West: Routes Under One Second Per Connection

While at PCB West, Judy Warner had the chance to sit down with Charles Pfeil of Altium and learn more about their exciting new tool, ActiveRoute, that was introduced and demonstrated during PCB West 2016. She also learned a bit of background about Pfeil, who is a living history lesson in PCB design.

SnapEDA: Inspiring Millennials in the PCB Design Community

Natasha Baker, founder of SnapEDA, is part of the new breed of entrepreneurs. She manages a group of millennials who are not much younger than she is. Natasha discusses what it means to be a manager vs. a leader, what motivates millennial engineers, and some of the changes in the world of EDA that managers have to contend with to succeed.

Beyond Design: How to Handle the Dreaded Danglers, Part 2

In Part 1, I deliberated on how dangling via stubs distort signals passing through an interconnect and also decrease the usable bandwidth of the signal. This is due to the via stub acting as a transmission line antenna, which has a resonant frequency determined by the quarter wavelength of the structure. The conventional solution to this problem is to back-drill (or control depth drill) the vias to bore out the via stub barrels, so that the via stubs are reduced in length if not completely removed. This month I will look into all the possible solutions.

Flexdude Abides: PCB Design for Satellites

Tom Woznicki, aka “Flexdude,” has focused primarily on flex circuit design since he founded Flex Circuit Design Co. in the 1990s, and he designed flex circuits for the Mars rover. But recently, Tom designed rigid PCBs for the TESS satellite. I asked Tom to discuss his work with TESS, and what it’s like switching between flexible and rigid PCBs.

The Fundamentals of Improving PCB Thermal Design

Continental's automobile engineers have years of experience building critical parts and systems for automobiles. Making sure that automotive electronics are reliable, safe, and properly designed begins at the component level. Heat must be addressed early in the design process for these goals to be achieved. The most important thermal resistance for heat, outside the IC package, is the PCB.

Quiet Power: Evaluating Evaluation Boards

Evaluation boards are very helpful. Manufacturers of complex circuits such as DC-DC converters provide boards with those circuits ready to try out, saving us time and effort to design the printed circuit board around them. Evaluation boards are supposed to help us to understand the capabilities of the device. But with the many potential user applications, what should a particular user expect and look for in an evaluation board? We need to know how to properly evaluate an evaluation board.

John Cardone on Designing Flex for Spacecraft

If you watched footage of the Mars rover driving all over the red planet, you’re familiar with some of John Cardone’s handiwork. He’s been designing rigid, flex, and rigid-flex circuitry for spacecraft since he joined JPL in the early ‘80s, and he’s worked on some of the more ground-breaking flex circuits along the way. Now John runs his own design service bureau, JMC Design Services, and he continues to design circuitry for things that blast off. I caught up with John recently and asked him to give us the straight scoop on designing boards for spacecraft.

Mike Creeden: Care and Training of Your Designers

The I-Connect007 team recently visited San Diego PCB Inc. and received a warm welcome from CEO Mike Creeden and his youthful-looking (relatively speaking) team of designers. Creeden spoke with Barry Matties and Judy Warner about what it takes to run a successful design service center, how to properly care for the PCB designers of today and tomorrow, and why IPC’s design training is paramount when training a new designer.

Transline Technology is Bullish on Design Engineers

At the International Microwave Symposium, I met with Chris Savalia, vice president and co-owner of Transline Technology. We discussed the California-based fabricator’s philosophy, the challenges of the RF and microwave markets, and the need to engage with young design engineers now.


Beyond Design: How to Handle the Dreaded Danglers, Part 1

Dangling via stubs can distort signals and decrease the usable bandwidth of the signal. A via stub acts as a transmission line antenna, and has a resonant frequency determined by the quarter wavelength of the structure. At this frequency, the transmitted signal is greatly attenuated, by up to 3dB. For low-frequency signals, this is not much of an issue, but for higher-frequency signals, this issue becomes a problem.

The Evolution of Altium: Road to a Record-Breaking Year

Chris Donato, VP of sales for Altium Americas, sat down with Judy Warner recently to discuss what he and Altium have been doing lately, where they came from (Australia) and what the future holds for Altium. This company has evolved from flying well under the radar during the acquisition frenzy of the ‘80s, to achieving a record $100 million in sales for fiscal year 2016.

Happy’s Essential Skills: Computer-Aided-Manufacturing, Part 1—Automation Protocols

I have addressed automation planning previously in this series, so I hope by now you realize the difference between ‘automation’ and ‘mechanization.’ In printed circuit fabrication and assembly, most of what is advertised is mechanization. But when you get to assembly test, then you begin to see true automated solutions.

Increasing Heat Dissipation in FPGAs

In recent years, the miniaturization and modularization of electronic products have led to the increased density of electronic components and the decrease of areas for effective heat dissipation. As a result, the thermal design of high-powered electronic components has become a major focus for electronics engineers. An effective solution for FPGA heat dissipation is critical. Thermal design of the PCB aims to decrease the temperature of both components and the board through suitable measures, so that the system is capable of working at a suitable temperature.

Orange Co. Designers Council Meeting Draws A Packed House

Speaker John Stine, VP of operations at Summit Interconnect’s Anaheim facility, gave a presentation on flex and rigid-flex design and fabrication. At least 75 electronics professionals listened as Stine, an expert in flex and rigid-flex technologies, discussed proper trace geometries, grounding, cover lay, adhesives, signal integrity, impedance control, book-bindings and much more in his 80-minute presentation.

Lightning Speed Laminates: Smaller Circuits--Material Properties and Thermal Issues

Coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) is typically considered for PCB reliability, but it can also have an impact on circuit performance for applications exposed to varying temperatures. Due to CTE, a circuit will change physical dimensions when the temperature changes. If the circuit has small features or tightly coupled features, the physical change of the circuit dimensions can cause a shift in electrical performance.

Beyond Design: The Rise of the Independent Engineer

With the changing demographics, the old-timers in our industry—the master PCB designers—are about to retire and hand over the exacting job of PCB design to the Gen-X and Ys. These generations, shaped by technology, will tackle the most demanding designs without possessing the experience that we veterans benefit from. And to top it off, these up-and-coming designers will be degreed engineers who have to cope with both design and layout tasks as the specialized PCB designer’s positions are phased out.

Signal Integrity Tools and Design Methodology in the Modern Age

The PCB design process has traditionally been done in silos. One group creates the design intent (schematic), another group implements the logic on the PCB, and yet another group does some checking of the design using analysis tools. This traditional approach has run into a number of problems.

New SI Techniques for Large System Performance Tuning

In this DesignCon paper, Donald Telian of SiGuys and Michael Steinberger and Barry Katz of SiSoft describe newly-developed techniques for equalization tuning and discontinuity reduction, offering additional design margin. Cost reductions are also achieved as new signal integrity techniques demonstrate performance parity, removing non-essential re-timers and PCBs layers.

The Gerber Guide, Chapters 15 and 16

Before sending your Gerber files off to your fabricator, you are often advised to check them using a reputable Gerber viewer such as GC-Prevue. This is excellent advice. Note that this involves more than just verifying that the viewer displays your intended image: It is important that you check too that the file is valid.


Software Bytes: Having Fun With Impedance

About a year ago, I was assigned a new project: become an expert in impedance, more or less. I had no idea how much this research would bring out the nerd in me. Even if you don’t typically design controlled-impedance circuit boards, you probably will eventually. Read on!

Mentor Video: Impact of Power Integrity on Temperature

One of the most common outputs from a DC Drop simulation is a current density plot. But how much is too much current density? The answer depends on temperature rise, and requires a PI-thermal co-simulation to properly characterize.

Getting Signal Integrity Right by Design

As clock frequencies increase and active devices and interconnect traces shrink and are placed ever closer together, signal integrity becomes an increasing challenge. Today, SI is typically addressed late in the design process after the PCB layout has been completed by performing complex and time-consuming 3D extractions and simulations for high-speed lines. But with little attention being paid to SI during the layout process, simulation frequently identifies numerous SI problems.

Beyond Design: Mastering “Black Magic” with Howard Johnson’s Seminars

Dr. Howard Johnson, the world’s foremost authority on signal integrity, has recently released his High-Speed Digital Design (HSDD) Collection. I recently reviewed all three of the seminars in this collection, a total of 36 hours of viewing time. If you want to gain some of Dr. Johnson's enthusiasm and master the art of high-speed design, then the collection is a must-have.

Making Digital and Analog “Play Nice” at Peavey

Most guitarists have owned a Peavey Electronics amplifier or instrument at some point in their lives. Peavey originally drew accolades for their line-up of high-quality, budget-friendly products. Now the company also develops high-end instruments, amps, and live sound equipment. Peavey was also the last major American musical equipment maker to have product manufactured overseas. I met with Tom Stuckman, an electrical engineer at Peavey, during NAMM and asked him about the technical challenges he faces and what it’s like working at Peavey.

Lightning Speed Laminates: The Dilemma--Soldermask for High-Frequency PCBs

Typically, PCBs with RF traces on the outer layers have minimal or no soldermask in the RF circuitry areas. Many times the soldermask is applied in areas where components are soldered to the PCB but the soldermask is developed away in the areas where conductors have critical RF performance. There are many reasons to avoid soldermask coverage on RF conductors, due to inherent soldermask properties.

The State of the Electronic Design Automation Nation

We are the automation nation. We are the high-speed demons, the low-frequency artists, the mixed-signal designers that make up the electronic design automation industry. We spend most of our working lives behind software, delivered to our fingertips with the promise of making things easier, faster, better, and getting us to our deadlines ever faster.

Designers Notebook: Specifying Lead-Free Compatible Surface Finish and Coating for Solderability and Surface Protection

A majority of the components furnished for electronic assembly are designed for solder attachment to metalized land patterns specifically designed for each device type. Providing a solder process-compatible surface finish on these land patterns is vital; however, selection of the surface finish on the circuit structure, whether plated or coated, can be greatly influenced by the components’ terminal metalization and the specific alloy composition used for the assembly process.

Changing the World of PCB Rapid Prototyping

Tony Tung is a recent graduate from Taiwan who has come up with a new way for PCB designers and makers to create breadboards using printed paper circuits. I caught up with Tony at the recent San Mateo Maker Faire and sat down with him to learn more about this project.

Rogers’ John Coonrod on Insertion Loss

John Coonrod of Rogers Corporation gave a keynote presentation at the recent Geek-A-Palooza trade show, concentrating on printed circuit board fabrication’s influences on insertion loss. I sat down with John to learn more about his presentation and what OEMs and designers need to be aware of to avoid insertion loss.


EIPC Summer Conference 2016, Day 1: Strategies to Maintain Profitability in the European PCB Industry

Resplendent in the kilt, EIPC chairman Alun Morgan welcomed a large and enthusiastic gathering of printed circuit professionals from all over Europe and as far afield as the USA, Canada and Russia, to the EIPC Summer Conference 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland's cosmopolitan capital city.

Institute of Circuit Technology Annual Symposium

On June 1, Technical Director Bill Wilkie introduced the 42nd Annual Symposium of the Institute of Circuit Technology, at the Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham, UK, commenting upon the success of the recent Foundation Course and acknowledging the sterling efforts of his course tutors, although recognising that some of his longest-standing experts were now retiring.

EDA Tools: Automation vs. Control

Stephen V. Chavez, CID+, is currently the lead PCB designer for the Electronic Systems Center division of UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS). He's also a frequent speaker at the IPC APEX EXPO Design Forum. I caught up with Stephen and asked for his thoughts on the EDA tools of today, and whether he’d prefer to have more control vs. more automation.

DownStream: What a Long EDA Trip it’s Been

No doubt about it: DownStream Technologies co-founder Joe Clark is an EDA veteran, with a history that dates back to the very beginning of EDA tools through the merger madness of the late ‘90s and beyond. I sat down with Joe during IPC APEX EXPO, and asked him about some of the changes he’s seen, and the direction of DownStream as it enters its 15th year.

The Shaughnessy Report: The Designer Roundtable Roundup

Every year, I attend SMTA Atlanta, just across town. You have to love a local trade show. No airlines, no jet lag, and no hotels. It’s a small show; it would fit in a school gymnasium. But for me, the highpoint of SMTA Atlanta is the Designers Roundtable. This year the roundtable had 15 attendees, up from 12 last year. Two of the new attendees were under 35, which surprised all of us "graybeards."

Design Automation Tools, Today and in the Future

Kelly Dack has been designing PCBs for over three decades, at OEMs of all kinds. Now a PCB designer with a Washington state contract manufacturer, Kelly enjoys waxing philosophic about PCB design and design automation in general. I asked Kelly about the direction EDA tools are headed, and whether he’d like to see more control, or more automation in his PCB design tools.

Designers and Design Engineers: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Andy and Sue Critcher have been the lead designers at Total Board Solutions Limited, a UK-based design bureau, since its founding in 1998. I asked Andy to share his opinion about the friction between some PCB designers and their engineers, and what can be done to improve communications between these groups.

The Roles of the Designer and the Design Engineer

Steve Hageman has been designing electronics since elementary school. An engineer by trade, he has decades of experience performing PCB design and layout. I asked Steve to give us his opinion about the divide between some PCB designers and their engineers, and what can be done to solve this problem.

The Partnership: Design Engineers and PCB Designers

Randy Faucette is founder, president and director of engineering at Better Boards Inc. in Cary, North Carolina. I asked Randy to talk about some of the occasional tension between PCB designers and design engineers, and what he thinks can be done to help open the lines of communication.

SiSoft: Optimizing the State of the Art

In the 20 years since its founding, SiSoft has been at the forefront of signal integrity analysis tool development. Now, the company is leading the way with a new technology called OptimEye and tools for creating accurate IBIS-AMI models. Todd Westerhoff, VP of semiconductor relations, gives us an update on the company’s newest technologies.


Behind the Scenes: Adcom’s TLA Award-Winning Design

Adcom’s design team placed first in this year’s TLA program, taking the top spot for the category of “Computers, Blade & Servers, Memory Systems.” This board, like most PCBs today, is a complex system designed by a multi-disciplinary team of designers, striving to bring an operational product to the market on schedule.

Working With Circuit Design Engineers

Until the late 1980s, many PC board designers were converted technicians, mechanical designers, and artists who learned to read a schematic and mastered artwork taping. The EEs would often share their opinions, but you could listen to them or ignore them and the circuit would likely function either way. This era created some tension between designers and their EE counterparts, because they completely ignored each other’s ideas.

EMA is Bullish on Data Management

EMA Design Automation has evolved over the years, from a typical Cadence Design Systems VAR to a distributor that functions more like a part of Cadence. During DesignCon, I met with Greg Roberts, director of marketing for EMA, and asked him to discuss the company’s focus on data management tools, and why he’s giving away certain OrCAD tools.

Quiet Power: Dynamic Models for Passive Components

A year ago, my Quiet Power column described the possible large loss of capacitance in multilayer ceramic capacitors when DC bias voltage is applied. However, DC bias effect is not the only way we can lose capacitance. Temperature, aging, and the magnitude of the AC voltage across the ceramic capacitor also can change its capacitance. This column will provide all of the details.

Brooks' Bits: How Many Vias Does It Take To…?

During 2015, I enjoyed a very productive collaboration with Dr. Johannes Adam, from Leimen, Germany. This resulted in several papers, but one in particular is relevant for this column, “Via Currents and Temperatures.” In that paper, we used a simulation tool, thermal risk management, developed by Dr. Adam, to simulate current flowing through a via and then determine the temperature of the via. Read on to find out how our results contradicted conventional wisdom.

Beyond FR-4: High-Performance Materials for Advanced Designs, Part 1

In the past 40-plus years of PCB manufacturing, the primary material of choice has overwhelmingly been e-glass supported FR-4 resin laminates. This is due to the excellent dimensional stability and reasonably acceptable thermal performance (based on glass transition temperature [Tg] and decomposition temperature [Td]). In general, these materials exhibit impressive performance and excellent cost for a wide range of applications.

Beyond Design: The Need for Speed—Strategies for Design Efficiency

Years of experience with one EDA tool obviously develops efficiency, whether the tool be high-end feature-packed or basic entry-level. And one becomes accustomed to the intricacies of all the good and bad features of their PCB design tool. However, there comes a time when one should really consider a change for the better to incorporate the latest methodologies. This month, I will look at productivity issues that impede the PCB design process.

Weiner’s World

3D printing, China’s SMT equipment and robotics markets, IPC’s mandate, counterfeiters, and Taiwan PCB makers’ shift to automotive electronics—Gene Weiner talks about these things and more in this new article.

Tim's Takeaways: The Principles of Hybrid Design, Part 1

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.

The Bare (Board) Truth: The Top 10 Ways Designers Can Increase Profits

So, can you truly increase profitability through PCB design practices? Prototron's Mark Thompson believes you can. And it starts with a philosophy that embraces DFM techniques. Then you must be ready for the initial release to a fabricator by ensuring that you are communicating all of your specifications and needs clearly to the fabrication house so that you get an accurate quote. Let’s dive in, starting with Number 10 and working our way to the most important way a designer can increase company profits.


Wild River: Simplifying SI so Engineers Can Focus on Design

Al Neves is founder and chief technologist of Wild River Technology, and he’s a signal integrity engineer who likes to tell it like it is. So when I bumped into Al during DesignCon, I asked him to sit down for an interview. We discussed the paper he co-wrote for DesignCon and the challenges SI engineers are facing, as well as Wild River’s efforts to take the black magic out of signal integrity.

Steinberger Talks PAM4, the Next Generation of Modulation

I recently interviewed our old friend Michael Steinberger, SiSoft’s lead architect for serial channel products. Steinberger is always a great interview; he breaks down complex signal integrity simulation technology in ways that are simple and often humorous. Steinberger sat down and discussed a paper he presented at DesignCon, and some of the challenges his customers are facing.

What’s New at Cadence?

Cadence Design Systems has released a variety of PCB design tools lately, and we wanted to find out a little more about what’s new at Cadence. I tracked down Product Marketing Director Brad Griffin and asked him to discuss some of the newest technology coming out of Cadence.

What’s New at Zuken?

Zuken has developed some innovative PCB design tools in the past few years, and I wanted to find out more about the company’s new and upcoming technologies. I caught up with Bob Potock, vice president of marketing for the Americas for Zuken USA, and asked him what was new at Zuken.

The PDN Bandini Mountain and Other Things I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

Originally, Bandini Mountain referred to a mound of fertilizer built by the Bandini Fertilizer Company in California prior to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. When the company went bankrupt, this mound of fertilizer was left behind. Steve Weir coined this term to describe the large resonant frequency peak formed by the parallel combination of the on-die capacitance and the package lead inductance, as seen from the die looking into the PDN.

Designers Notebook: Flexible and Rigid-Flex Circuit Design Principles, Part 4

All of the design rules for the glass reinforced-portion of the board (land pattern geometry for mounting surface mount devices, solder mask and the like) are now well-established. One unique facet of fabricating the rigid-flex product is how the flexible portion of the circuit is incorporated with the rigid portion of the circuit. As a general rule for multilayer PCB design, furnish a balanced structure by building up the circuit layers in pairs (4, 6, 8 and so on).

IPC APEX EXPO: Clyde Coombs Discusses the New Printed Circuits Handbook

In this interview that was shot during the IPC APEX EXPO 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Clyde Coombs discusses the latest edition of the Printed Circuits Handbook, which was published this week. The seventh edition, co-edited with Happy Holden, includes new sections on supply chain management and PCB design, with a chapter on EDA tools by Design007 Editor Andy Shaughnessy.

IPC APEX EXPO: Glenn Oliver on His IPC 'Best Paper' on High-Frequency Materials

Glenn Oliver of DuPont discusses his award-winning paper, “Round Robin of High-Frequency Test Methods by IPC-D24C Task Group." Co-authors include Jonathan Weldon of DuPont, John Andresakis of Park Electrochemical, Chudy Nwachukwu of Isola, John Coonrod of Rogers Corporation, David L. Wynants of Taconic Advanced Dielectric Division, and Don DeGroot of Connected Community Networks. The paper looks at high-frequency offerings from a variety of materials providers.

Mark Thompson: It’s All About Communication

In engineering support at Prototron Circuits, Mark Thompson has seen it all. He ensures that each design is manufactured the way the designer intended, even if the CAD data is not crystal clear. During DesignCon, Barry Matties and Andy Shaughnessy talked with Thompson about why communication is paramount when designing and prototyping boards. Thompson also explained how designers can avoid making common mistakes that can set back an entire project.

Mentor Graphics’ Oren Manor Explains Exactly What Industry 4.0 Brings to Manufacturing

Oren Manor of Mentor Graphics talks about what Industry 4.0 is really about, and how it benefits electronics manufacturers. He also discusses their design to manufacture solution, and how it helps OEMs large and small make the transition to Industry 4.0 without a complete factory overhaul.


Technology Outlook with Mentor Graphics

Mentor Graphics recently announced the winners of its PCB Technology Leadership Awards. Now in its 26th year, this program provides a great barometer for measuring the newest trends in cutting-edge PCB designs. I caught up with Product Marketing Manager David Wiens and asked him to give us an idea of the trends he’s seeing in PCB design and manufacturing, and what the industry has in store for us in the next few years.

DuPont, Taconic and PFC Team Up For High-Speed Flex

At DesignCon, I sat down with three flex circuit specialists: Glenn Oliver of DuPont, Tom McCarthy of Taconic, and Steve Kelly of PFC Flexible Circuits. Our discussion covered a lot of territory, most notably the findings they described in the paper they were about to present later that day at DesignCon, and the future of flex, as they see it.

Enhancing Thermal Performance of CSP Integrated Circuits

In order to meet size and weight requirements, constraints of portable electronic designs often force PCB designers to reduce the size of components and PCB real estate area. To meet these demands, the use of CSP packages to shrink the PCB area needed is a common change in designs. As a result of the reduction of total PCB area, the available options to move heat and route high-power PCB traces is also reduced. Furthermore, the thermal performance cannot be matched when a QFN is compared to an equivalent CSP package.

The Shaughnessy Report: Doing My Part for Medical Electronics

One interesting aspect of having hernia surgery recently was the number of PCBs in the operating room. I’ve never seen so many electronic devices together in my life. I saw one Agilent monitor, and a bunch of others with names I couldn’t make out. It reminded me of the IT room in most companies. I guess they had to be set up to handle routine surgery like mine, and the not-so-routine operations as well. Medical electronics is doing fine, no doubt.

Designers Notebook: Flex and Rigid-Flex Circuit Design Principles, Part 2

In this installment of "Designers Notebook," Vern Solberg discusses supplier assessment, planning of the flexible circuit outline, and various circuit routing principles. Communication between designer and fabricator is paramount, as well as an understanding of IPC-2223, which sets the specific requirements for the design of flex circuits.

American Standard Circuits: Leading the Way in Medical Electronics

When it comes to innovative fabricators, American Standard Circuits is always at the front of the pack. Naturally, when Editor Andy Shaughnessy asked me to interview a fabricator about PCBs for the medical market, ASC was the one company that immediately came to mind. I spoke with CEO Anaya Vardya about fabricating medical PCBs, the medical electronics market, and the future of this fast-growing segment.

Beyond Design: Plane Crazy, Part 2

In my recent four-part series on stackup planning, I described the best configurations for various stackup requirements. But I did not have the opportunity to delve into the use of planar capacitance to reduce AC impedance at frequencies above 1GHz, which is the region wherein bypass and decoupling capacitors dramatically lose their impact. In this column, I will flesh out this topic, and consider the effects of plane resonance on the power distribution network (PDN).

Designers Notebook: Flex and Rigid-Flex Circuit Design Principles, Part 1

In his new Designers Notebook column, Verb Solberg discusses primary flex circuit structures, proper design for operating environment, and base material selection. The design guidelines for flexible circuits, although similar to those for rigid circuits, have distinctive differences that are influenced by specific applications and the intended operating use environments. Communication with your fabricator is paramount when designing flex and rigid-flex circuits.

IPC Designers Council Viewpoint: Gary Ferrari

As co-founder and longtime executive director of the Designers Council, Gary Ferrari has dedicated a big part of his career to PCB design. After decades of service, he was inducted into the IPC Hall of Fame at IPC APEX EXPO this year. I caught up with Gary and asked him to fill us in on the creation of the Designers Council, and some of the changes he’s seen in the last 24 years.

Lightning Speed Laminates: Why Do Different Test Methods Yield Different Electrical Values?

A variety of different test methods may be used for any one electrical concern. This article will discuss the issues related to determining the dielectric constant (Dk) and dissipation factor (Df or Tan-Delta). On a data sheet, a designer may see a Dk value for a material to be 3.5, as an example. Once the designer buys the material and performs necessary evaluations, it may be found that the Dk of the material is 3.8. In some applications this difference in Dk is probably not meaningful; however, for many RF and high-speed digital applications, this difference could be very significant.


McCurdy: How to Build a Successful IPC Designers Council Chapter

When Scott McCurdy made his transition from PCB fabrication to a PCB layout focus about 13 years ago, he accepted an invitation to attend our local IPC Designer’s Council. Shortly after, he was recruited to serve on the group’s steering committee. At that time, 20–25 people were regularly attending the meetings. When the chapter president moved, he asked Scott to take his place. Now, Orange County chapter meetings often draw close to 100 attendees.

Beyond Design: Plane Crazy, Part 1

A high-speed digital power distribution network (PDN) must provide a low inductance, low impedance path between all ICs on the PCB that need to communicate. In order to reduce the inductance, we must also minimize the loop area enclosed by the current flow. Obviously, the most practical way to achieve this is to use power and ground planes in a multilayer stackup. In this two-part column, I will look at the alternatives to planes, why planes are used for high-speed design, and the best combination for your application.

Industry 4.0: Creating a Standard

Mentor Graphics Valor Division's Dan Hoz, general manager, and Ofer Lavi Ben David, product line director, discuss where Industry 4.0 is taking the industry, and the changes it will bring to both large and small companies, customers, and the supply chain, including how Mentor connects different machines on the shop floor to provide universal Industry 4.0 visibility.

The Shaughnessy Report: Are You Drowning in Data?

Data management was so much simpler during the days of Mylar and Bishop Graphics tape. Data was handwritten. All you had to do was keep track of your paperwork and you were golden. Now, you’re all much more productive, but you have data coming out of your ears; slowly but surely, incrementally, data has become much more complicated. How do designers and engineers wind up managing all of this data? With kluged-together processes and software tools, and the occasional handwritten notes.

DownStream Takes on Data Documentation Management

Most designers will tell you that, as much as they enjoy laying out boards, they dislike the final data documentation step, which often involves various formats, including handwritten notes. Enter DownStream Technologies, a company founded 14 years ago to address the challenges related to post-processing the design. Senior Product Marketing Manager Mark Gallant recently discussed the company’s efforts to take the pain out of data documentation, even as data becomes more complex.

Why Autorouters Don’t Work: The Mindset!

Ask any group of PCB designers what they think of autorouters and the majority will say that they do not use them because they do not work. I have been battling this mindset for over 20 years now and it still persists today, even with the dramatic advances in routing technology. This way of thinking generally comes from those designers who use the entry-level tools. But even the most primitive autorouter may have some useful features. It’s all about changing that mindset of the designer and having a crack at it.

EMA: Helping Technologists Manage Disparate Data

Today’s EDA tools are better than ever, but managing design data, from schematics through Gerbers, can be an unwieldly task. I recently interviewed Manny Marcano, president and CEO of EMA Design Automation. He discusses EMA’s approach to managing a variety of types of complex data, the need for seamless data processes, and the future of compliance-aware design.

Pulsonix Poised to Take More EDA Market Share

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 company in the global design tool marketplace.

SnapEDA: The Female-Owned Startup Revolutionizing CAD Data

SnapEDA founder Natasha Baker may mark the beginning of a new trend in EDA: young female entrepreneurs. (When was the last time we heard about an EDA startup?) As her company prepared for a major launch, Natasha took time to explain the philosophy behind SnapEDA, and how the company is helping designers and engineers manage an ever-increasing volume of CAD data.

Orange County IPC Designers Council Meeting Draws Record Crowd

On November 18, the Orange County Chapter of the IPC Designers Council held a “Lunch ‘n’ Learn” event at the Harvard Park Community Center in Irvine, California. Eighty-nine PCB designers and electronics industry professionals gathered to listen to a talk by Chris Heard, a signal integrity engineering consultant at CSH Consulting LLC.


Navigating the Global Materials Supply Chain: A Roundtable Discussion

At SMTAI recently, I-Connect007's Andy Shaughnessy sat down for a roundtable discussion with some key players from the materials side of the supply chain. Participants included two executives from Ventec: Mark Goodwin, COO USA and Europe for Ventec International Group; and Jack Pattie, president of Ventec USA. Also participating in the roundtable were Schoeller Electronics CEO Michael Keuthen and Bob Willis, from the National Physics Laboratory (NPL).

Mentor’s Michael Ford on Lean for Surface Mount Processes

Michael Ford, senior marketing development manager with Mentor Graphics, Valor Division, discusses with I-Connect007's Andy Shaughnessy his paper presentation on lean systems in surface mount processes. He also talks about how the industry is now starting to look at Industry 4.0, and why the industry should stop focusing on the endless optimization processes, which are still important, but consider the optimization from the point of view of the product.

productronica 2015: Ucamco's Integr8tor Incorporates Polar Stack-up Functionality

Big extensions to the capabilities of the Integr8tor client-server work-flow system, way beyond the established CAM functions, now include full product definition covering all production stages of PCB manufacture, including flex and flex-rigid technologies. Integr8tor now incorporates all of the functionality of Polar Instruments’ stack-up design package, instantly accessible.

Beyond Design: Stackup Planning, Part 4

In this final part of the Stackup Planning series, I will look at 10-plus layer counts. The methodology I have set out in previous columns can be used to construct higher layer-count boards. In general, these boards contain more planes and therefore the issues associated with split power planes can usually be avoided. Also, 10-plus layers require very thin dielectrics in order to reduce the total board thickness. This naturally provides tight coupling between adjacent signal and plane layers reducing crosstalk and electromagnetic emissions.

Polar Instruments Fine-Tunes Layer Stackup Management

Polar Instruments CEO Martyn Gaudion and Technical Editor Pete Starkey discuss Polar’s efforts to simplify specification issues related to the supply chain. Designing PCBs with mixed materials makes layer stackup management more difficult than ever, but Gaudion explains how Polar works closely with materials providers and CAD tool vendors in order to provide users with constantly updated information.

Lightning Speed Laminates: Impact of Final Plated Finish on PCB Loss

A variety of plated finishes are used in the PCB industry. Depending on the circuit construction and other variables, the plated finish can cause an increase in PCB insertion loss. The plated finish used on the outer ground planes of a stripline circuit have minimal or no impact on insertion loss. However, microstrip or grounded coplanar waveguide circuits, which are common on the outer layers of multilayer high-frequency PCBs, can be impacted by the plated finish for increasing the insertion loss.

Accelerating the PCB Design Cycle

An area of communications that is often underappreciated, but has become vitally important to design efficiency, is the dialogue with the PCB fabricator. It’s critical to engage the fabricator very early in the design process to nail down the proper materials and stack-up. With so many options for via structures, it is critical to select the most appropriate structure for the design. Adding blind and/or buried vias as an afterthought can limit their utilization and drive up the printed circuit board cost.

The Material Witness: Nonwoven Aramid Reinforcement is Back

In the 1st century AD, there was significant debate among Jewish theologians as to whether resurrection was possible. PCB designers in the early 21st century have had a similar concern about future availability of 85NT nonwoven aramid laminate and prepreg. The stakes may be somewhat less critical, but the future of a wide variety of programs designed around the properties of Thermount have been hanging in the balance.

The Shaughnessy Report: Squeezing Seconds Out of the Design Cycle

When you’re designing a board, time is always your enemy. That’s what we learned when we surveyed our readers recently. PCB designers said that time pressure was one of their least favorite parts of the job, and in some cases, they were ready to retire just to avoid design cycle challenges. I imagine that many of you near retirement, and that’s quite a few of you, feel the same way.

Top Gear: PADS Professional Road Test

In this column, Barry Olney test drives the newest version of the Mentor Graphics PADS Professional EDA tool. "Based on Xpedition technology, PADS Professional is a major improvement over the previous PADS suite of tools. utilizes xDX Designer as the front-end design entry tool. The latest routing technology is fast, smooth to drive, and hugs the corners well, with all the horsepower you need for the most demanding design."


The Gerber Guide, Chapter 2

Never mirror or flip layers! All layers must be viewed from the top of the PCB, which means that the text must be readable on the top layer and mirrored on the bottom layer. Alas, sometimes, in a mistaken attempt to be helpful, designers flip layers because they must anyway be mirrored on the photoplotter. This could be helpful in a world where the designer's files are used directly in fabrication, but these data layers are actually input for the CAM system.

Mentor Graphics Helps Bridge Gap Between PCB and RF

Recently, Publisher Barry Matties met with Per Viklund, the director of IC packaging and RF product lines at Mentor Graphics, and Alex Caravajal, business development manager with Mentor. They discussed the challenges facing PCB designers working with RF and microwave technology, and Mentor’s efforts to help reduce the RF design cycle time.

Failure May not be an Option, but Sometimes it's a Reality

I’ve had mechanical engineers question why we are bothering with circuit boards instead of designing the circuitry into the plastic housing of the device. I’ve had manufacturing engineers demand that I shelve the electrical considerations in order to meet manufacturing requirements, and electrical engineers who could care less if the product could actually be built. I’ve had engineers hover over my shoulder watching each and every stroke of the mouse that I make, and others who are never available for important questions which ultimately brought the whole project to a grinding halt.

Beyond Design: Stackup Planning, Part 3

Following on from the first Stackup Planning columns, this month’s Part 3 will look at higher layer-count stackups. The four- and six-layer configurations are not the best choice for high-speed design. In particular, each signal layer should be adjacent to, and closely coupled to, an uninterrupted reference plane, which creates a clear return path and eliminates broadside crosstalk. As the layer count increases, these rules become easier to implement but decisions regarding return current paths become more challenging.

Nick Barbin: From Designer to EMS Company Owner

Many PCB designers would rather do just about anything than pore over a P&L spreadsheet. But Nick Barbin isn’t a typical designer. He co-founded the design bureau Optimum Design Associates over two decades ago, and the company later expanded into contract manufacturing and Lean processes. In this interview, Nick discussed how he wound up leading an EMS company on the Inc. 5000 list.

Fighting the War on Failure

No one in this industry sets out to fail, except failure analysis test engineers. But failure is a part of life for designers and manufacturers of electronics. Our reader surveys show that failure affects nearly everyone in the PCB industry: designers, fabricators, assembly providers, OEMs, and suppliers.

Ten Considerations for Outsourcing PCB Designs

Outsourcing your design work is a big deal. How do you know that the end-result will be as you envisaged? Will you have full control of your design? Will it be done to the quality you expect and within the time frame required? Outsourcing can pose some fairly scary questions, so what are the key things to consider and what are the pitfalls to avoid? Steve Dobson of Quadra Solutions explains.

Material Witness: The Use of Fillers in Composites

The use of finely divided ceramic fillers in composites intended for use in printed wiring boards has a long history, but most people still associate the idea with reducing the cost of the product by loading it with an inexpensive inert filler. Nothing could be further from the truth...

Fast Interconnect: Engineering Services for the Masses

Gary Griffin and Ana Rosique are co-founders of Fast Interconnect, an Arizona-based product engineering company designed to serve an underserved market: the small product developers, inventors, and anyone with an idea for a “cool gadget.” I caught up with Griffin recently to discuss the new company, its innovative business model, and the challenges facing smaller OEMs and product developers.

Max Maxfield Looks at the Future of Electronics

Clive “Max” Maxfield has worked for decades in this industry, and in a variety of capacities: Engineer, author, editor, columnist, blogger, and keynote speaker, just to name a few. I caught up with my former columnist recently and asked him what he’d been doing to stay out of trouble, and what sort of technology and futuristic electronic gadgets were piquing his interest right now.


Avoid Overbuilding your RF Printed Circuit Board

Today, many companies are overbuilding and “overmaterializing” their RF printed circuit boards. In this interview, James Hofer of Accurate Circuit Engineering (ACE) shares some strategies to avoid doing both, which will help lower the total cost of your PCB and improve the overall product quality. Hofer also discusses some of the challenges in the laminate supply chain.

EIPC Summer Conference: Day 2

Refreshed after an excellent conference dinner, and for most, a good night’s sleep, delegates returned for the second day of the EIPC Summer Conference in Berlin, continuing the theme of improving profitability through technical leadership and innovation to meet future market requirements, with sessions on materials and processes for high performance PCBs and advanced material testing strategies to meet OEM and ODM needs.

EIPC Summer Conference, Berlin: Day 1

Berlin, capital of Germany and a world city of culture, politics, media and science, was the venue for the 2015 EIPC Summer Conference, which attracted delegates from sixteen countries, including Russia, Hong Kong, Japan, Israel, USA and Canada, as well as the European Union, to experience a programme of 21 technical presentations over two days. Also included was a visit to the Berlin laboratories of Fraunhofer Institute, Europe’s largest application-oriented research organisation.

Cannonball Stack for Conductor Roughness Modeling

In the GB/s regime, accurate modeling of conductor losses is a precursor to successful high-speed serial link designs. Failure to model roughness effects can ruin your day. The cannonball stack is an example of a cubic close-packing of equal spheres, and is the basis of modeling the surface roughness of a conductor in this article. So, what do cannonballs have to do with modeling copper roughness anyway? Bert Simonovich explains.

Broadcom PCB Design: Miniaturization on the Cutting Edge

Editor Andy Shaughnessy recently attended the Orange County Designer's Council “Lunch and Learn” meeting, held at the Broadcom offices on the campus of the University of California, Irvine. Afterward, he sat down with Scott Davis, CID, the senior manager of PC board design at Broadcom, to discuss the company’s savvy PCB design department and their approach to PCB design.

Polar Talks Impedance Control and Insertion Loss Testing

During IPC APEX EXPO, Guest Editor Dan Feinberg sat down with Polar Instruments product specialists Michael Bode and Geoffrey Hazlett to talk about the company and its products and solutions. They also discussed some of the signal integrity technologies being enabled by the company, including controlled impedance and insertion loss testing.

HDPUG Demonstrates Benefits of Cooperative R&D

The High Density Packaging User Group (HDPUG) is a member-driven, non-profit, project-oriented industry consortium that addresses the integration of new electronics component packaging and interconnection technologies into the supply chains of its member companies.

The Future of Nickel in Nickel/Palladium/Gold Final Finishes

Final finishes can be subdivided into metallic and organic finishes. For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on the metallic finishes using the combinations of nickel (Ni) and/or palladium (Pd) and/or gold (Au). Variations on this theme are used extensively in the electronics market of today. The Ni/Pd/Au mutations are the inevitable result of technical requirement changes coupled with true and perceived acceptance within the industry.

Material Witness: How About that Technical Roadmap!

You may remember the movie "What About Bob?" If you do, you may recall the scene in which Bob (Bill Murray) confronts his psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfuss) and emotes, “I need! I need! I need! Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” As I thought recently about some of the drivers that IPC and others have incorporated into their technical roadmaps, I feel a bit like that befuddled psychiatrist.

EchoStar’s Les Beller Shares the PCB Design-to-Fab Process

Recently, I-Connect007 Publisher Barry Matties had the opportunity to interview Les Beller of EchoStar Technologies. Beller’s career began in the early 1980s as a circuit board designer, eventually leading him to EchoStar, where he has managed the PWB design group and spent time as a PCB quality engineer. He is now a manufacturing process engineer specializing in DFx. In this interview, Beller focuses on the many challenges circuit board designers face, strategies for bridging the gap between circuit design and fabrication, and the future of circuit designers.


Shax Engineering: The Biggest Little Board Shop in the Bay Area

In a recent visit to Shax Engineering, Barry Matties had the opportunity to interview Isam Shakour, founder and president of Shax Engineering. This little San Jose, California company is a complete turnkey operation, providing PCB layout, fabrication, and assembly services. We discussed the company’s growth since its 1998 founding, and Shakour’s plans for Shax going into the future.

Understanding DFM and its Role in PCB Layout

DFM is short for “design for manufacturability.” It is the process of arranging a PCB layout topology to mitigate problems that could be encountered during the PCB fabrication and assembly processes required to manufacture an electronic system. Addressing fabrication issues is what’s known as design for fabrication (DFF), and addressing assembly issues during design is known as design for assembly (DFA).

Material Witness: Low-Flow Prepregs – Taming the Process

In this installment of Material Witness, Chet Guiles continues his discussion around Low-Flow Prepregs giving good advice about how to actually use these materials.

UTC Aerospace Systems’ Lead PCB Designer Presents at Designer Day

I-Connect007 Guest Editor Kelly Dack sat down with Stephen V. Chavez, lead electrical designer for UTC Aerospace Systems, at IPC APEX EXPO Designer Day, to discuss Chavez’s presentation at the event. Chavez, who provides leadership to a global team of PCB designers, spoke on the importance of workplace communication with international teams.

EMA Design Automation Connecting the Data with Arena PLM Software

During IPC APEX EXPO 2015, Guest Editor Kelly Dack sat down with Chris Banton, marketing manager for EMA Design Automation to discuss EMA’s recent partnership with PLM software provider Arena Solutions. Banton explains how the alliance benefits companies that use both platforms, and why more and more CAD tool users are also taking advantage of PLM.

Hunter Technology on Design Operations and Business Strategies

Immediately following IPC APEX EXPO 2015, Guest Editor Kelly Dack paid a visit to Hunter Technology’s facility in Milpitas, California, where he interviewed Ian Grover, vice president of design engineering, and Chris Alessio, vice president of sales and programs. Discussed are Hunter’s design operations as well as the company’s overall business strategy.

Trending at Freedom CAD: New Crop of Next‐Gen Designers

Scott McCurdy, director of sales and marketing at Freedom CAD Services, expresses his vision for what North America is bringing to the table in the world of circuit design. I‐Connect007 Publisher Barry Matties and McCurdy also discuss China, trends in product design, tools, and more.

Material Witness: Low-Flow Prepregs–Defining the Process

Let’s try to define “low flow” in terms that will make sense to both suppliers and users of the products. A low-flow prepreg is a prepreg that flows sufficiently to wet out and adhere to bonding surfaces and to fill inner layer copper details, but does not flow so much as to fill in cut-out areas in a heat sink or run unevenly out of the interface between rigid and flexible elements of a rigid-flex PWB.

Reliability and Harmonization of Global Standards at Forefront of EIPC Efforts

At IPC APEX EXPO 2015, I-Connect007 Technical Editor Pete Starkey caught up with EIPC's Michael Weinhold and Alun Morgan, who were happy to discuss both recent and ongoing focuses for EIPC, namely, reliability. Also touched on was the importance of the alignment of global standardization processes, especially for Asia.​

Mentor Paper: 10 Tips for Streamlining PCB Thermal Design

Timing issues are affected by temperature differences between components. Thermal issues with the PCB design are largely locked in during component selection and layout. This handy “how to” guide provides an overview of the key considerations in PCB thermal design and how to optimize the thermal layout.


Altium Talks 3D Flex Packaging Design

Altium Product Manager Ben Jordan and Editor Kelly Dack sat down at IPC APEX EXPO to discuss Altium’s new tools for designing flex and rigid-flex circuits. The new software allows users to model the design in 3D, eliminating the need for rigid-flex designers to create “paper dolls” for each design.

Clyde Coombs Publishing 7th Edition of Printed Circuits Handbook

Clyde Coombs is ready to publish the latest edition of his "Bible of the Industry," the Printed Circuits Handbook. Andy Shaughnessy and Coombs discuss the upcoming 7th edition of this book, which now includes PCB design and supply chain content. Shaughnessy also plugs his own contribution to the book in the section dealing with EDA software tools.

Cadence’s Brad Griffin Digs Deep Into DDR

During DesignCon 2015, our roving reporter, Kelly Dack, stopped by to visit with Brad Griffen in the Cadence booth. What follows is their very interesting conversation that revolves around the evolution of DDR.

Sunstone Unveils Updates for PCB123

Guest Editor Kelly Dack sat down with Nolan Johnson, EDA product marketing manager for Sunstone Circuits, to discuss some big changes to the PCB123 design tool. One new feature: PCB123 will now allow user to download a Gerber file. But Johnson explains why Sunstone isn’t too worried about PCB designers taking their Gerbers to rival fabricators.

Polar Takes on China's Test Equipment Counterfeiters

Recently, while in China, Barry Matties spoke with Jonson Jiang, country manager of Polar Instruments. They discussed the company's latest impedance test equipment offerings and the challenges Polar faces in China, including companies that create counterfeits of their testing equipment. Can legitimate companies rely on China's government to fight counterfeiting?

What is DFM, Really?

Mark Thompson relates, "The term "design for manufacturability" has been used for many years now, but does everyone really understand this concept? For instance, do you design for 10%? Do you design for a specific manufacturer's capabilities, therefore making you less likely to seek alternative fabricators? How are your drawings worded?"

Design for Profitability: Avoiding Fabrication Issues and Minimizing Costly Revisions

At last, PCB designers are finally realizing the power they wield: They have the power to design profit into the board, or, conversely, increase costs and remove profit from the PCB. Mark Thompson reviews the challenges fabricators routinely face and presents typical DFP solutions affecting the bottom line.
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