Albert Gaines: Design All Comes Down to Documentation


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During SMTA Atlanta, I spoke with Albert Gaines of HiGain Design. We discussed Albert’s belief that everything starts with design and that too many engineers and designers focus solely on the final board at the expense of the documentation, which is a designer’s most important product. Do you consider your documentation to be a critical product?

Andy Shaughnessy: Albert, you are the founder, chief cook, and bottle-washer for HiGain Design. A minute ago, we were talking about how everything in electronics manufacturing really starts with design. You had an interesting point about some things that designers and design engineers sometimes neglect to consider early in the cycle.

Albert Gaines: I’ve been doing board layout since ’81, and I came through the drafting side of it. Documentation was our product. I think most engineers today lose the concept of the fact that the final product is not the prototype. They finally have it working, but they think they’re through. But their product is documentation—the Gerber package, ODB++ package, testability, assembly drawings, and all of the firmware. That documentation and traceability of that documentation is their product—not what’s sitting in the test lab.

Shaughnessy: How did we get to this point? I’m sure that there are people who have been doing this for 30 years and have never looked at the documentation as their final product.

Gaines: A lot has changed over the years because we’ve had a shift to where more EEs are doing more board layout, and we don’t have documentation departments in companies. Everybody is running freelance in their own cubicles. Nobody is enforcing what the documentation has to be. Ultimately, you end up with a board shop or an assembly house with a big void, wondering, “Am I going to get this data, the IPC-356 netlist, or the bare testing of the board? Or am I going to get an ODB++ for pick-and-place? What am I going to get? Do we have to recreate it after the fact?”

Shaughnessy: We always joke about how the designers get blamed for everything, but this sounds like one of the things that designers need to be aware of; it’s more about the documentation than anything else.

Gaines: Yes. It would be very good for each designer to have a checklist beside their desk when they’re getting ready to finish a product, detailing what they need to do—not just generate Gerbers and NC drill files and send it over the fence to a board shop. When I output documentation, I have folders for assembly data, bare board data, and testing data, and everything goes in each particular folder. If something’s for assembly, you grab the whole folder, which has anything that may deal with the assembly world or test world or bare board. It’s good to have that reminder. Another resource is your magazines. You’ve published information on what average documentation looks like, but I wonder how many designers look at that list and say, “What is that?” They don’t even know what it is.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the June 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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