All Systems Go: Can You Design Without Electronic Data Management?

Nitin_Bhagwath_300.jpgFor any sizable design, PCBs are usually designed by a team of multiple design engineers (EEs) creating the schematic and multiple layout designers placing all the parts on the board and routing the traces. These teams often work with an extended team of experts in the supply chain, signal integrity, and mechanical and thermal analysis. Engineering management also has a stake in the design process, as it monitors design progress, resources, and scheduling. For a successful design, this multitude of interactions requires mandatory mechanisms to keep everyone on the same page during the design process.

Design teams worldwide are running into problems with supply chains (see All Systems Go: Supply Chain Woes—Which Comes First, the Design or the BOM?). Consequently, it’s critical that designs not use obsolete parts or parts that cannot be sourced. Therefore, good communication and coordination systems must be in place between the design and the supply chain teams.

Similarly, if someone has made a change in the design and believes, erroneously, that they have communicated this to you, you could be working from bad assumptions. In contrast, if you make a change that isn’t communicated to the greater team, everyone else could be working off a false premise.Cadence_May_Fig1.jpg

Another common situation is for someone to make a perfectly valid change, which is communicated to everyone who needs to know. Still, the reason for the change is lost because it wasn’t documented anywhere (or maybe it was, but no one remembers where this document resides, which amounts to the same thing). These scenarios happen far more often than most people think. At this very minute, design engineers and layout designers around the globe are looking at their computer screens, saying, “Who did this?” Or, “I know I did this, but why did I do it?” Or, “This made sense when we did it, but it’s not working as planned, so why did we choose to do things this way?”

This can become overwhelming, especially if you don’t know whether you have access to the latest information. Teams often develop workarounds (aka Band-aids) to address these problems.

For example, some teams coordinate via email. Individual members keep a special folder associated with each project, a subfolder containing messages from the EEs, and another subfolder containing messages from the layout designers. For version control, some teams adopt a simple file naming convention such as V1.0, V1.1, V1.2, V2.0, etc. More sophisticated teams may use real version control systems such as Apache Subversion. However, these systems are typically created for software developers, and hardware designers think, “Great, just what I need, yet another useless tool to learn!”

Spreadsheets are commonly used to track information. They are easy to create, hard to maintain, and can become monstrous in size, creating something that people workaround. Often, teams that are co-designing something share drives and develop a method (some form of a semaphore) to identify who is working on a specific part of the design at any one time.

These solutions are best described as ad-hoc; as you soon realize that you are responsible for training someone new on all the side-band communications stuff, the team has evolved to survive.

In retrospect, all this boils down to data management or, more specifically, product data management (PDM). In large companies and organizations that already support sophisticated product lifecycle management (PLM) systems, one common question is: “Hey, isn’t PDM the same as the PLM we already have?” (Answer: No, they are not.)

PLM systems support products throughout their manufacturing and post-manufacturing lifecycle (hence, product lifecycle management). Consider defense manufacturers. They need to consolidate all their work in one place so that 20 years from now if they need to understand how a system was made, they know where to find the information to replicate it, even if the original designers are not around.

PLM systems are predominantly employed in the context of finalized products or, at least, finalized versions of those products. The idea is that once a product is manufactured, it is eventually deployed into the field. Sometime later (months, years, or decades), a bug rears its ugly head, and the PLM system is used to access the archived design, fix the bug, and release a new version of the product.

By comparison, in PDM, we’re talking about a work in progress. PDM is not necessarily useful at the end of the design; instead, it’s something that design engineers, layout designers, and others involved in the design decisions are constantly using throughout the design process.

Cadence_May_Fig2.jpg 

The role of PDM is, first and foremost, to facilitate communication between everyone involved in the design. For example, a substitution is made because a particular part is no longer available due to a supply chain problem. Any change made to the schematic by the design engineer should automatically be communicated to all the members of the engineering, layout, and supply chain teams. If a layout designer changes a component as part of the layout process, details of this change should automatically be made available to the engineers in charge of the schematics. The PDM system should also facilitate communication between teams, support requests for changes, and discussions between team members. Furthermore, the PDM system can capture any decisions made at any stage of the design (“We opted to use this connector because…”).

Knowing that PDM and PLM systems serve different needs, one caveat with the PDM system is that it should interface well with the PLM system. The PDM system should help you upload all the design-related data into your company’s PLM system.

One final caveat is that the PDM system should be largely invisible to the user. Any tools used to create a new PCB design, including the schematic capture and layout, should have the appropriate PDM “hooks,” even if the PDM system’s capability has not been enabled. In addition, when the PDM is turned on, it should be as seamless as possible for the users.

The last thing anyone wants is to be forced to learn yet another tool. Everyone wants a tool that works in the background, makes their lives easier, boosts productivity, minimizes miscommunications, and speeds time-to-market. Welcome to the wonderful world of PDM.

Nitin Bhagwath is director of product management, PCB front end at Cadence Design Systems.

Download The System Designer’s Guide to… System Analysisby Brad Griffin along with its companion book The Cadence System Design Solutions Guide.You can also view other titles in our full I-007e book library here. 

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2022

All Systems Go: Can You Design Without Electronic Data Management?

06-07-2022

For any sizable design, PCBs are usually designed by a team of multiple design engineers (EEs) creating the schematic and multiple layout designers placing all the parts on the board and routing the traces. These teams often work with an extended team of experts in the supply chain, signal integrity, and mechanical and thermal analysis. Engineering management also has a stake in the design process, as it monitors design progress, resources, and scheduling. For a successful design, this multitude of interactions requires mandatory mechanisms to keep everyone on the same page during the design process.

View Story

All Systems Go! Supply Chain Woes—Which Comes First, the Design or the BOM?

04-21-2022

In an ideal world, when developing a printed circuit board (PCB) for an electronic product, decisions made during the design process should drive the bill of materials (BOM). We may think of this as an example of “the dog wagging the tail.” In the real world, however, there has always been some small amount of the BOM driving the design, which we may think of as “the tail wagging the dog.” A classic example of this is when an engineer’s calculations indicate the need for a resistor of 123 kΩ—a 40-cent part—while a 120 kΩ resistor—available for only 4 cents—will provide an almost identical response.

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All Systems Go! Find and Fix Thermal PCB Problems Sooner Than Later

03-17-2022

In an earlier column titled "Bridging the Gap Between Design and Analysis with In-Design Analysis," Brad Griffin discussed how the “shift left” that’s happening with electronic design means it is no longer sufficient for signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) analysis to be performed in isolation. Designing, analyzing and verifying the design in its entirety is key. Another facet of this shift left is the need to address thermal integrity (TI) sooner rather than later. In other words, finding and fixing thermal PCB design issues early in the design process is necessary to save costs, reduce design spins, and maintain your own sanity.

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All Systems Go! Ensuring Power Integrity—Explore, Design, and Verify

02-17-2022

When designing an electronic system, ensuring power integrity (PI) is all about making sure that the power you are putting into the system via the voltage regulator module (VRM) reaches the downstream components in an efficient, sufficient and stable manner. In the not-so-distant past, ensuring the PI of an electronic system was a relatively simple and pain-free task. Many products involved a single PCB populated by readily available off-the-shelf ICs, such as the classic 7400-series devices from Texas Instruments. For the purposes of PI, these ICs, which were presented in low pin count, coarse pin pitch packages could be treated as closed boxes represented by simple power models.

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All Systems Go! Bridging the Gap Between Design and Analysis

01-20-2022

Electronic designs are increasing in capacity, complexity, and performance. This is coupled with increasing pressure to get new products to market as quickly as possible while, at the same time, ensuring that these products are robust and will not fail in the field. The only practical way to address all these diverse requirements is to make design and verification tools and methodologies more powerful, intuitive, and easier to use. In-design analysis provides a way forward.

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All Systems Go! Meet Power Delivery Requirements Upfront with Power-First PCB Implementation

01-06-2022

The drive for faster throughput, increased mobility, and maximum efficiency in modern electronic devices has made power delivery a critical piece of design success. However, meeting the power needs of modern designs is anything but simple. To achieve a robust design, each supply must be capable of delivering sufficient current to every dependent device. In addition, those supplies must be both stable (able to maintain narrow voltage tolerances) and responsive (capable of adapting to transient current demands). Identifying and resolving power delivery problems late in the design process is incredibly difficult. If design power requirements aren’t considered upfront, it can lead to schedule delays and a significant amount of debugging time in the lab. Implementing a power-driven, PCB layout methodology ensures the design process addresses critical power and signal integrity (SI) issues collectively at a time they can be easily solved.

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2021

All Systems Go! Simulating Wirebonded CoB on Rigid-Flex

11-18-2021

There are many good reasons to use a chip on board (CoB) implementation. When this is combined with wirebonding and the use of rigid-flex PCB, challenges mount. An application that demands all three—CoB, wirebonding, and rigid-flex PCB—is a camera module that goes into a mobile application, the sample design used to illustrate the design and analysis challenges in this article. If you are not aware of and prepared for the potential pitfalls, it is highly likely that your project could fall short or even fail.

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All Systems Go! Signal Integrity Signoff of 3D-IC Systems

10-14-2021

3D-ICs meet the demand for integration of disaggregated system-on-chip (SoC) architecture built from multiple chiplets and heterogeneous architectures such as analog, digital, optoelectronics, and non-volatile memory.

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All Systems Go! Comprehensive Thermal Analysis of a System Design

09-23-2021

In recent years, driven by the demand for smarter electronics, device designers have witnessed enormous scaling of large and hyperscale integrated circuits (ICs) and embraced development directions toward high density and reliability. These devices have increasingly higher thermal performance requirements—both transient and steady-state—and meeting them is becoming increasingly complex and time consuming.

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All Systems Go! Challenges in Analyzing Today’s Hyperconnected Systems

07-26-2021

Today’s data-thirsty world is looking forward to the next-generation communication systems beyond 5G, the promise of massive connectivity to the internet with extreme capacity, coverage, reliability, and ultra-low latency, enabling a wide range of new services made possible through innovative and resilient technologies. The exponential growth in data speed and networking has introduced numerous design and analysis challenges across a system design. Design teams are challenged to deliver new, differentiated products faster and more efficiently, despite the ever-growing complexity of silicon, package, board, and software for many complex applications in the hyperscale computing, automotive, mobile, aerospace, and defense markets.

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All Systems Go!: Thermal Compliance of 3D-IC

06-24-2021

In the packaging world, we have been designing heterogeneously integrated multi-chip products for decades. As we know, smaller process nodes enable higher frequencies and save on die area. However, for minimizing the system size, we need to use advanced packaging technologies.

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All Systems Go! Ensuring Signal Integrity of DDR5 Interface

05-25-2021

The double data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory (DDR SDRAM) has evolved from a data rate of 0.4 Gbps to the next generation, DDR5, scaling to 6.4 Gbps. With DDR5, we can achieve higher bandwidth using less power per bit transferred, enabling us to do more computing on larger data sets.

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All Systems Go! EM Analysis for Today’s System-Level Designs

04-30-2021

There are two main reasons to do EM analysis: to see if the signals in the design will meet your performance specifications, and to see whether the design has unintended EM interactions in the circuit or system. Since domain-level requirements vary, not all EM solvers are the same.

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