The Shaughnessy Report: Tribal Knowledge—Friend or Foe?

The ongoing retirement of many of our colleagues has cast a spotlight on this month’s topic: tribal knowledge. As designers and engineers with 30 or 40 years of experience start pricing condos in Boca Raton, the entire industry is wondering: How will we hand down the knowledge acquired by these “silverbacks” to the next generation of designers? How do we know we’re not handing down tribal knowledge to the new crop of designers?

If we’re going to discuss tribal knowledge, perhaps a definition is in order. iSixSigma has spent a lot of time studying tribal knowledge, and the company defines the term this way:

Tribal knowledge is any information pertaining to a product or service process that resides only in the minds of the employees. The information many reside with one or many employees, and it may vary between employees, but it is undocumented in nature.

“Undocumented” means the method may or may not be the most efficient way of performing the work. It may not even be an effective or correct way to perform the work. It also means multiple employees are likely to perform the work in different ways, based on their own version of tribal knowledge.

I’ll buy that; once it’s documented, it ceases to be tribal knowledge. I especially like the part about employees all performing tasks in different ways based on their own tribal knowledge.

The term “tribal” conjures up images of island dwellers passing down myths and legends over millennia. Let’s face it: Designers are basically a tribe, like the headhunters of Borneo. Your numbers are dwindling, you speak your own language, and no one really understands what you do all day.

A CAD manager shared this illustrative tribal knowledge story with me: One of his senior designers started designing boards in the ’80s, and his mentor had told him that every board needed at least 100 decoupling capacitors. The designer diligently sprinkled decaps like pixie dust on every board for 30 years. When the manager asked why he put so many decaps on every design, the designer said, “That’s how I was taught.” He kept decap distributors in business for years.

Tribal knowledge is present in every organization, no matter the size. Tribal knowledge isn’t necessarily bad; all the processes that Bell Labs pioneered in the ’60s and ’70s started out as tribal knowledge. But there’s a lot of bad tribal knowledge floating around out there. How do we distinguish tribal knowledge from documented facts?

design007_0323_cover250.jpgIn the March 2023 issue of Design007 Magazine, our expert contributors will provide readers with the tools and methodologies needed to identify tribal knowledge, as well as when to question such information, and how to document and transform tribal knowledge into a process.

We begin by interviewing Tamara Jovanovic, a designer who recently completed her master’s degree in electrical engineering. She discusses how she identifies tribal knowledge, and when it’s time to dig deeper when presented with suspect information. Next, IPC instructor Kris Moyer explains the road signs that lead him to questionable data, and why you should ask experts to cite their sources. Alun Morgan lays out the need for better documentation for PCB materials.

Our columnists had quite a bit to say about tribal knowledge and their opinions varied. Michael Ford says it’s almost always negative. Tim Haag believes tribal knowledge can be good, bad, accurate, or inaccurate. Martyn Gaudion discusses how to create an “informal information culture,” and John Watson explains why every designer needs to be ready to step up and help counter bad information. Kelly Dack relates the tale of the “Five CAD Monkeys,” and Joe Fjelstad shares a personal view of his experience with undocumented data.

On other topics, we have columns from Barry Olney, Matt Stevenson, and Vern Solberg. Anaya Vardya wraps up his series on final finishes.

Don’t miss our IPC APEX EXPO special section, including interviews with IPC Design Competition contestants, as well as Kris Moyer, who explains the reasoning behind this year’s more complex design and how he’ll approach the competition next year.

See you next month.

This column originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of Design007 Magazine.



The Shaughnessy Report: Tribal Knowledge—Friend or Foe?


The ongoing retirement of many of our colleagues has cast a spotlight on this month’s topic: tribal knowledge. As designers and engineers with 30 or 40 years of experience start pricing condos in Boca Raton, the entire industry is wondering: How will we hand down the knowledge acquired by these “silverbacks” to the next generation of designers? How do we know we’re not handing down tribal knowledge to the new crop of designers?

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The Shaughnessy Report: After The Show, Now What?


You’ve spent a good part of your month either planning for, attending, or traveling home from a trade show, most likely. Now you have a pocketful of new business cards, and your company has a whole slew of leads for potential customers. You’ve learned a few things at conference classes and met a few dozen experts that you plan to chat with ASAP. How do you carry the momentum you felt during the trade show, when you had that “a-ha” moment and knew you were onto something really new and innovative?

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The Shaughnessy Report: Shrinking Silicon—A Warp Speed Facilitator


As we all learned by watching Star Trek, a lot of crazy things can happen at warp speed. Sure, it was great to get to Alpha Centauri in a hurry, but the Enterprise almost destroyed itself a few times when they put the pedal to the metal. There’s just no room for error at warp speed. Now, many PCB designers are dealing with increasing signal speeds and rise times, and a parliament of other effects—some positive, some negative—thanks to shrinking silicon. Not quite warp speed, but a lot of unpredictable things can happen when the die get tiny.

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The Shaughnessy Report: PCB Design and Advanced Packaging


It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that 2022 might be remembered as the Year of Advanced Packaging. The Department of Defense got the ball rolling last summer with the CHIPS Act, which pointed out how far the United States has fallen behind the rest of the world in microelectronics. A few months later, the weeklong IPC Advanced Packaging Symposium took place in Washington, D.C., and I-Connect007 covered this event from start to finish. One thing we learned from the symposium: There’s a great deal of innovation taking place in advanced packaging right now, and it all starts with PCB designers and design engineers making the correct decisions early in the design cycle.

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The Shaughnessy Report: On With the Show


It’s been a pretty good year all around. From conversations that I've had at conferences recently, I know that some of your companies have had great years, in spite of supply chain pressures, an old-fashioned shooting war near some of our manufacturing base, and some unfilled positions in your office. You are taking care of business, and it's a great time to be in this industry. To that end, we’re looking forward to meeting up at IPC APEX EXPO 2023, which takes place Jan. 21–26 at the San Diego Convention Center. In some ways, this will be the first true post-pandemic expo.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Design at IPC APEX EXPO—A Show Within a Show


If you ask anyone in this industry to describe IPC APEX EXPO, they’ll probably call it a PCB manufacturing show. They’re not wrong, by any means; the show was created to serve the PCB fabrication and assembly markets. But this year’s event has quite a bit to offer PCB designers and design engineers. Is this event becoming a PCB design show as well—a show within a show?

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The Shaughnessy Report: It’s All About the Physics—or Is It?


Lately, we’ve heard quite a few design experts say, “PCB design is all about the physics. Designers should focus more on understanding the laws of physics and less on circuit theory.” While putting this issue together, we investigated potential cover ideas. “What if we had James Maxwell and Gordon Moore boxing on the cover, in a Faraday cage match? Let’s get ready to rumble!” That led us to the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots that now grace our November 2022 Design007 Magazine cover.

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The Shaughnessy Report: A Clearer Image


Out of all the process steps in a fabrication cycle, imaging may be the most critical. This is where the design begins to take a physical shape, where the theoretical world meets the physical world. Much like photography, PCB imaging is a nearly magical process. I’ll bet the first technologists to use a Gerber Science photoplotter to create a PCB felt a lot like Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre, trying to coax a Daguerreotype photograph into life in the 1830s.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Let’s Get Small


Comedian Steve Martin could have been talking about the latest issue of Design007 Magazine when he released his album “Let’s Get Small” in 1977. Or maybe not. Well, as Steve would say, excuuuuse me! (You may have to explain that reference to any young people in your company.) But it is tough to get much smaller than ultra HDI. This is a whole new level of miniaturization for most PCB designers and fabricators. UHDI folks speak in terms of microns, not mils. And everything changes when you start working with 15-micron lines and spaces.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Working Through the Design Pain


In a recent issue of SMT007 Magazine, we discussed “supply pain management.” This reminded us of the question that doctors often ask: “What’s your pain level on a scale of 1–10?” PCB Designers really deserve a lot of credit. For years, they’ve been working through supply chain pain, like Rip Wheeler after he got shot on “Yellowstone.” It hurts, but we’re short on cowboys, so get back to work. Designers and design engineers have learned to navigate this supply chain craziness, snatching up components that are in short supply or making do with lower-tech parts that are available.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Tune Up Your Pricing Strategies


If you’re a fabricator, these are challenging days. But there are also plenty of opportunities available—if you know when to embrace them. Sure, margins are still non-existent. Sometimes you feel like you’re just trying to keep the lights on. But your suppliers have sent you an email explaining why their prices are going up—it’s because everything is going up—and now you feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Designing for Material Conservation


The supply chain issues plaguing our industry don’t seem to be going away any time soon. Like an annoying mother-in-law, they’ve moved into our guest room, rearranged the furniture, and generally overstayed their welcome. Why don’t they take a hint? We’re seeing all sorts of interesting tactics for dealing with 50-week lead times. One of the most basic concepts I’ve heard lately is material conservation—when it’s hard to get the parts you need, why not just design PCBs with fewer parts? Materials typically make up 20% of the cost of the board, so we’re not talking nickels and dimes. Sometimes less is more!

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The Shaughnessy Report: With Field Solvers, GIGO Hurts


The “left shift” concept has been under way for at least five years, as EDA tool providers offer more powerful functionality earlier in the stages of PCB design and layout. This month, we focus on one tool that’s been shifting leftward for some time now: the field solver.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Proper Plating


Joe Fjelstad once joked that if someone working in a board shop 50 years ago were placed in suspended animation and woke up today, they would recognize almost everything in today’s board shop. They could theoretically go right back to work because so little of their work environment changed in those five decades. (After five decades, I’d probably want to take a week off and catch up on reruns of MASH and The Bob Newhart Show.)

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Art of PCB Design—I Know It When I See It


When we first started planning this issue, we looked back over topics that we’ve covered for the past few years. We noticed that our contributors spend most of their time discussing the technical side of PCB design. That’s to be expected. When we discuss “best practices” for PCB design, we’re typically looking at it from a technical viewpoint. After all, Design007 Magazine is a technical publication. And in PCB design, what is “design,” exactly? Perhaps we could quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who said in a 1964 case about obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

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The Shaughnessy Report: Data Management—It’s A Lot Like Herding Cats


“It’s all about managing your data.” That’s a refrain that we’ve been hearing from designers over the past few years—in surveys and conversations with designers and design engineers. When we started planning this issue, our most recent reader surveys pointed to data management as a perpetual problem for PCB designers. It’s no wonder: schematics, footprints, BOMs, netlists, fab notes, assembly notes—millions of petabits of data are used to design and engineer PCBs, and readers cite mismanaged data as a constant source of heartburn.

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Design Education: Not a Roll of the Dice


If you’re a new PCB designer today, you may feel like a first-level fighter in “Dungeons and Dragons.” You thrive on the variability and complexity of this career but moving up to the next level is often the result of a series of choices that you have to make—often without knowing what’s going on. But there is one thing that you can control: your education. And the more you know, the more control you have over your career.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Economics of Design


Most colleges teach an economics curriculum. We’re not exactly professors, but this month, we’re going to whip out our calculators and look into the economics of PCB design.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Design for Profitability Now Part of the Process


It’s easy to define profit, but it’s much more difficult to define exactly what “design for profitability” (DFP) means to today’s PCB designers and design engineers. How can technologists create profit in every design when the board’s stakeholders are often spread out across several time zones and continents? It’s a tough concept to get your arms around. Some of you work in giant OEMs; do you have any idea how much your last design cost—man-hours, components, laminates, etc.?

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The Shaughnessy Report: New Year’s Resolution—Get Involved


It’s 2020, and it’s time to hit the ground running as we approach DesignCon and IPC APEX EXPO. If you’re not already networking with other designers or volunteering in our industry organizations, there’s no better time to start. In the January issue of Design007 Magazine, we give a special shout-out to the volunteers who donate their spare time to improving the PCB design community.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Landscape of the Design Community


“Faster” and “smaller” are still the watchwords for even the simplest PCBs. In one of our features, Lee Ritchey explains how he has watched speeds increase 40,000X in just the last 24 years. On top of that, designers have been told that they should have a decent working knowledge of 5G and IoT as well as Industry 4.0 and smart factories, just to be sure; that’s a lot to take in. Of course, designers like this kind of thing. They enjoy putting together pieces of a complex puzzle, and these are just a few more pieces of the puzzle. Tell them what the board needs to do, and they’ll design it for you.

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AltiumLive 2019 Frankfurt – A Perfect Mix of Education and Fun


The AltiumLive PCB Design Summit in Frankfurt, Germany has come to a close, with Happy Holden's keynote signaling the end of this three-day event. Here’s a quick wrap-up of this year’s event.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Reliability Is a Team Sport


My 2003 Mazda Tribute doesn’t look very cool; it’s classified as a “cute ute.” But it can haul four guitars and a pair of PA speakers with room to spare. It’s been paid off for so long that I’ve been able to put more money away for my rapidly approaching golden years. As the saying goes, “Reliability isn’t just an added feature.”

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The Shaughnessy Report: Everything Starts with the Designer


We may think that the days of throwing the design “over the wall” are over. But communication is still a big problem; many designers never speak to their fabricator until they get that Friday evening phone call. But many designers say that they have no earthly idea where their boards are going to be manufactured. They just design each board so that it can, hopefully, be fabricated anywhere.

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Design Rules: For Your Own Good


Like most rules, design rules came about for your own good. And no single designer could possibly remember all of the constraints required to design one of today’s PCBs. But with a set of well-defined design rules, a designer can execute the most complex PCBs on the first try.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Get Smart!


It sounds so perfect—“smart” manufacturing. That must be what we’ve needed all along! We’ve had enough of this “average intelligence” manufacturing. Yes, we’ve heard quite a bit of chatter about smart manufacturing over the past few years. Whatever “smart” means to you, everyone involved in designing, fabricating, and assembling PCBs wants to get on board. But many U.S. PCB designers are curious about what this smart new world means to them and their “old-school” CAD data.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Youth of the Industry


When was the last time your company hired someone straight out of school, or even under 40? Until recently, I would have guessed 1985. But there’s something happening, and I hope it’s the beginning of a trend. Young people are once again entering the PCB design community workforce, and the overall PCB manufacturing industry as well.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Future on Display at DesignCon


Every DesignCon has an unofficial theme; a few years ago, it was the “Jitter Show.” This year may have been the year for PAM4, four-level pulse amplitude modulation, which was the topic of a variety of presentations and one panel discussion. Another big topic at DesignCon was 5G—one of the main components of IoT. Some engineers I spoke with said they were still searching for the perfect laminate for 5G, which is up to 1,000 times faster than 4G and features super-high bandwidth and low latency.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Beating Supply Chain Blues


Some of you won’t remember this, but gas lines were an everyday occurrence for a year or so in the 1970s. I was reminded of the energy crunch of the ‘70s while researching this month’s issue on the component shortage. Some PCB designers are finding their favorite capacitors on 50- and 80-week lead times. How do you design a board today when the components you need won’t be available for a year or more? Waiting isn’t an option if your product needs to be on store shelves in time for next Christmas. What options do designers have?

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Designers Council Is Not Resting on Its Laurels


There was a time when PCB designers were the odd man out. They’re still a little odd, actually, but that’s another story. In the 1970s and ‘80s, unless you worked in a hotbed of high-tech like Silicon Valley, you may not have known too many other PCB designers. But the IPC Designers Council has done quite a bit to erase that feeling of being out of touch.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Medical Electronics—Vital Signs Are Good


When Marcus Welby, M.D. premiered in 1969, the good doctor usually had everything he needed in his trusty doctor bag. And if Dr. Welby couldn’t fix you with his stethoscope and sphygmomanometer, the local hospital was up to the task with its EKG, EEG, and heart rate monitors beepin’ away, and ready cure you before the end of the episode. Now, the Apple Watch features a titanium electrode that allows the wearer to give himself an EKG. Devices like the Fitbit let the user track pulse rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Marketing these devices under the “fitness” umbrella was a stroke of genius that capitalizes on the current fitness trend.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Despite Progress, Design Data Issues Continue


You’ve heard the stories. Most CAM departments tell us (are they telling you?) that anywhere from 80–100% of designs from new customers are inaccurate or incomplete, often necessitating a Friday call to the designer, or the job will be put on hold. This has been an ongoing problem for decades, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better—at least from the viewpoint of CAM personnel. The problem is so prevalent that columnist Mark Thompson has built quite an audience by writing about design data packages and sharing his treasure trove of horror stories about data gone wrong.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Whole Package


When we started planning this issue, I found an interesting tidbit of information: Electronics packaging predates the printed circuit board. Most electronics history buffs seem to agree that the Braun Tube of 1897, the forerunner of the cathode ray tube, was the first true electronics package. Over the past 60 years, packages have continued to shrink. The transistor outline “metal cans” of the 1950s would look out of place today. Some packages are no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence, complete with their own “inhalation warning.”

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The Shaughnessy Report: Who Are the Next-Gen Designers?


When was the last time you met a young PCB designer? I meet two or three young designers each year, but then again, I’m actively looking for them, like Sherlock Holmes on the trail of an elusive suspect. And young designers are hot property. Find a young designer at a trade show or conference today and you’ll usually find a crowd of designers peppering him (or her, in one recent case) with questions. “Where do you work? What tools do you use? What courses are you taking here?"

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The Shaughnessy Report—Multi-board Design: Multiple Challenges?


Multi-board devices are here to stay. But multi-board PCB design brings with it even more challenges for the designer and design engineer. It’s all about management. It reminds me of a juggler trying to keep half a dozen balls in the air. Designers are constantly making trade-off decisions throughout the multi-board design cycle, especially regarding reliability, thermal management, signal integrity and power integrity. The final product’s form factor weighs heavily on the design process, and a good 3D EDA tool is a requirement for laying out multiple PCBs today.

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5G: It’s Kind of a Big Deal


The main thing to remember is that the switch from 4G to 5G is exponentially different than the move from 3G to 4G. The transition from 3G to 4G meant a 10x increase in speed; 5G will be at least 1,000 times faster than 4G. Some carriers are claiming that we’ll be able to download an HD movie in less than 10 seconds. (For reference, the 3G–4G upgrade cost billions of dollars worldwide. No word on what the 4G–5G switch will cost.) What does this mean for PCB designers?

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The Shaughnessy Report: Got Flex?


Welcome to the first issue of Flex007 Magazine. This new quarterly magazine is dedicated to flex system designers, electrical engineers, flex PCB designers, and anyone responsible for integrating flex into their products at the OEM/ CEM level.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Mistakes Were Made


We started planning the August issue with a survey sarcastically titled, “Whose fault is that bad board?” We asked a variety of questions regarding how the cause or causes of failure were determined, and what companies do to keep from making the same mistake again. We asked the question “If a board fails in the field, whose fault is it, typically?” Check out some of the answers.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The “Help Wanted” Issue


SMTA Atlanta is always a treat. This tabletop show in Duluth, Georgia, draws most of the PCB community in Atlanta, and exhibitors from all over the country. These shows are cheap for exhibitors; one good lead more than pays for your exhibit space, and you get to enjoy my neighbors’ Southern hospitality along the way. But the highlight of SMTA Atlanta is always the Industry Roundtable. Norcross design bureau owner Albert Gaines once likened the roundtable to a “psychiatrist’s couch for PCB designers.”

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The State of High-Speed Materials


The May issue of The PCB Design Magazine focuses on high-speed materials. As always, we started out with a reader survey. We asked, “If you are a PCB fabricator or designer, what are the greatest challenges for you working with high-speed materials?” and some of the answers were quite interesting. Many of the problems cited by PCB designers centered on the lack of good data for advanced materials.

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We Have to be Marketers for Our Industry


IPC has been working for decades to get the PCB curriculum into colleges. But wait. Isn’t this our responsibility? It’s our industry; shouldn’t we see to it that our industry gets the respect it deserves, and that the next generation can’t resist joining us and working on some of the coolest technology around? What if everyone who attended IPC APEX EXPO went home and visited the schools in their neighborhood, spreading the word about our industry? What if everyone who attended DesignCon, DAC, IMS and PCB West did the same? I bet the locals who attend CPCA are already doing this.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Are You a Luddite?


I recently discovered that I’d become a Luddite. Sure, it was only in one very specific case, but as technical magazine editor, not to mention the IT guy for our home, I like to think I’m on top of technology. But setting up podcasts on my iPhone proved to be a bridge too far. Don't be a Luddite!

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The Shaughnessy Report: Sales and Marketing in PCB Design


Sales in the electronics industry used to be so simple: You started cold-calling and you called until you made a sale. Ditto for marketing: Your company attended and exhibited at trade shows, presented papers at conferences, and (hopefully) you advertised in the trade publications of your choice. And if you were selling EDA tools, you flew around the globe doing presentations. But now there are a multitude of social media tools that can help sales and marketing folks, if they know how to use them.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Hole Truth


For such a simple structure, the PCB via certainly stirs up more than its share of intrigue. The via is another one of those topics that pop up in our reader surveys when we ask about your ongoing challenges. And it’s not just the blind and buried vias that draw readers’ attention. Something as basic as a hole drilled through a circuit board can generate a whole lot of controversy.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Let’s Get Small


I sometimes wonder what people were thinking during great moments in history. For instance, did you ever wonder what was going through the minds of the technologists who created the earliest PCBs? I imagine that when the first PCBs were developed, rather than just being satisfied that they’d created this great new piece of interconnect, the lead engineers were already thinking, “What if we could put more components on this thing? What if we shrank the traces? Could we use the ENIAC computer to design PCBs? That would be swell!”

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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

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The Shaughnessy Report: The PCB Design Supply Chain


We asked readers of The PCB Design Magazine if their supply chain was a problem for them. Almost two thirds of respondents said no, but a solid 37% said yes. And surprisingly, for many it was an emphatic “yes.” Navigating the supply chain is a huge challenge for some of our leading companies. Comments such as “We’re dealing with idiots” were typical.

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The Shaughnessy Report: 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.

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The Shaughnessy Report: All About That Via?


In June, I went on a little road trip. I attended Zuken Innovation World in San Diego, and later headed up the coast to the Orange County Designers Council's "Lunch and Learn" event, set up by Chapter President Scott McCurdy. Who says there aren't enough educational opportunities in PCB design?

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The Readers Speak


Recently, we sent out a survey with a handful of questions; we’ve found that surveys with too many questions don’t get answered. One question was, “Does supply chain management affect your job?” The answers were surprising. Almost 2/3 of you said no, the supply chain doesn’t affect your job in any meaningful way. But a third of you said the exact opposite: The supply chain impacts your job directly, and for some of you, it’s a big problem. A very vocal minority left us a variety of great comments regarding their supply chain challenges.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Moore's Law Turns 50


Fifty years ago, Dr. Gordon E. Moore was director of R&D at Fairchild Semiconductor, and "Electronics Magazine" asked him to make some predictions about the future of the semiconductor industry. On April 19, 1965, the magazine published his earthshaking article outlining what became known as Moore’s Law. But as Moore's Law turns 50, the vultures are circling overhead.

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Happy New Year; Now Back to Work


During the week of February 22–26, it’s off to San Diego for IPC APEX EXPO and the Design Forum. (And three cheers for IPC moving APEX back to “America’s Finest City.” (It’s hard to have a bad day in San Diego.) Appropriately, the Design Forum kicks off the week, with a keynote by Carl Schattke, a PCB design engineer with Tesla Motors.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Who is Your EDA Company's Customer?


"At first glance, it sounds like a simple question, with a simple answer. Some of you may be thinking, 'I'm the EDA tool company's customer. My tool provider serves me, the designer.' But I've heard from a growing number of PCB designers who disagree. Not all designers are in this group; it's definitely not a majority," writes Editor Andy Shaughnessy.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Help Wanted - PCB Design Needs an Icon


Editor Andy Shaughnessy writes, "Designers are retiring, and they just aren't being replaced. When was the last time you met a designer who was under 30?...What's our hook, our 10-second elevator spiel? PCB design suffers from an image problem. It has no image, and that's the problem."

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The Shaughnessy Report: Couch Time at SMTA Atlanta


"The exhibitors at SMTA Atlanta just about filled up the room. Everyone I spoke with was in good spirits. Some companies were in hiring mode, and a few had just experienced great quarters, but no one was predicting wild revenue growth this year. Like the electronics industry in general, they were planning for steady, incremental growth. That's better than no growth at all," writes Editor Andy Shaughnessy.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Out With the Old, In With the New?


Editor Andy Shaughnessy writes, "I spoke with President John W. Mitchell and discovered that he lives near me in metro Atlanta, and he designed PCBs in the past. For years, PCB designers felt, often accurately, that IPC was giving the design community short shrift. But Mitchell sounded determined to change that. How many of you ever thought IPC would be led by a man who had PCB design experience?"

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The Shaughnessy Report: DesignCon - A PCB Design Show


Every DesignCon, we get a chance to check out the current state of PCB (and IC) design, as well as the latest from the EDA tool industry. This year's conference boasted a variety of papers on signal integrity, EMC, test and measurement, and high-speed PCB design in general. There was plenty of focus on 10 Gb Ethernet, and a slew of skew coverage too.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Old Guard Moves On


The year ahead is ripe with promise. The jobless rate dropped to 7%, the lowest in five years, and more jobs were added to the economy in December than analysts expected. And, surprisingly, the U.S. government hasn't shut down in nearly three months! Did the Democrats and Republicans secretly agree to quit calling each other names and actually work together?

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The Shaughnessy Report: Bringing Sexy Back to EDA


Amid all of the hullabaloo in this industry, we sometimes forget one absolute truth: We're all geeks. Admit it. If you're reading this, there's no way around it: You are a geek.

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The Shaughnessy Report: A Time for New Ideas


Editor Andy Shaughnessy says, "At this rate, there won't be anyone left in this industry in 30 years. We have to attract more young people to the world of PCB design, fabrication, and assembly. I may be 50, but odds are I'm still younger than just about anyone reading this. That's nice for me, but it's bad for the future."

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The Shaughnessy Report: An Inside Look at PCB West 2013


"It's been a few years since I last attended PCB West, but I'm glad I went this year. The show has been growing steadily over the past few years, and this year it was busier than it's been in quite a while. Let's take this as a good omen for 2014!" said Editor Andy Shaughnessy.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Tech Support - Are You Happy With Yours?


Tech support seems simple enough. EDA tool users on maintenance are entitled to technical support services; just call or e-mail your software company and a helpful tech support person will right all of your wrongs and have you designing again in no time. So why do so many PCB designers despise their vendors' tech support?

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Year in Design


As we enter 2013, it's a great time to look back over the PCB design news of 2012. The American electronics industry seemed to find more solid ground in 2012, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Since our leaders in Washington averted a fiscal cliff crisis, we just might see real growth this year. What's ahead for 2013?

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Introducing: The PCB Design Magazine


The PCB design is the foundation of electronic products. So, why isn't there a magazine dedicated solely to PCB design? We couldn't think of a reason either, so we're taking action. In November, we're launching The PCB Design Magazine, a publication that covers PCB design and related issues. Our inaugural issue will feature articles by Lee Ritchey, Happy Holden, Tom Hausherr, and Iain Wilson, and the best stable of columnists anywhere.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Packed DesignCon a Good Sign


The show floor at DesignCon 2012 was packed, the conference sessions well attended. And for its second year managing DesignCon, United Business Media seems to have worked out most of the kinks in its customer service. That's a very good thing for DesignCon going forward.

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2011: The Year in Design


This has been one crazy year, and 2012 is likely to be even more volatile. But when we look back over the past 12 months, we realize that things actually could have been much, much worse. And so, in the spirit of the New Year, enjoy this brief snapshot of 2011, as recorded in the pages of PCBDesign007 and the Inside Design Newsletter.

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Talking Translation With Elgris Technologies' Igor Luvishis


Once again, EDA data standards are in the news again. But an entire industry is devoted to translating data from one EDA vendor's format to another. We tracked down Elgris Technologies President Igor Luvishis and got the straight scoop on his company's direct (vendor-to-vendor), EDIF, and XML translators.

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Behind the Scenes: Intercept Overhauls Pantheon's GUI


Intercept Technology's Pantheon PCB layout suite has served its users well. But the tool, developed in the early 1990s, now felt "clunky" to use, as some Intercept staff members put it. It was time for a complete redesign of the interface. I spoke with Project Lead Brian Jones about the new Pantheon interface, which the company believes will make users feel like they're driving a Ferrari instead of a Gremlin.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Evolution of the PCB Designer


Many of you started out hand-taping PCB designs, and you've seen a lot of changes since then. But now it's starting to get really interesting. In the future, the North American PCB designer may have to be much more of a project manager than "just" a layout guy or gal.

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PCB Summit Preview with John Andresakis


Each year, DesignCon expands its PCB content in the classrooms while attracting more PCB exhibitors on the show floor. For 2011, the PCB Summit will be chaired by John Andresakis, VP of Strategic Technology for Oak-Mitsui. He offers a preview of DesignCon 2011, as well as what attendees can expect at the PCB Summit.

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Top 25 Design007 Stories of 2010


In online publishing, especially in the business-to-business arena, views are what it's all about. When a columnist or contributor crafts an article that pulls in a few thousand views, we know that he--or she--is onto something. And if a news story blows up the view-o-meter, the topic of that story might be worth a follow-up. Here are the Top 25 stories from Design007 in 2010.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Year in Review


It was the supposed to be the year of the recovery, and signs of revival were everywhere. But 2010 proved to be a tough year for many companies in the PCB industry. Still, there were plenty of great stories to be told in the world of PCB design. Here is a look back at 2010 as seen in PCB Design007.

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The Shaughnessy Report: HDI Class Q&A with Dan Smith


Is North America falling behind the rest of the world in HDI technology development? Not if Dan Smith can help it. "The New Mr. HDI" is putting together the first IPC HDI certification course and exam. We caught up with him and discussed the HDI course, what it takes to be an instructor and Happy Holden's 400-gig "data dump."

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Great Education Online, If You Know Where to Look


Many Internet sources provide education and training in our respective fields. You just have to know where to look. It's not quite like attending a live training event, but you can improve your skill set through the Internet, and you can often do so free of charge.

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A DFA Match: PCBDesign007 Plus SMT Magazine


You've likely heard that I-Connect007 has acquired SMT Magazine. As a result, we have inherited quite a stable of columnists, including Vern Solberg of Solberg Technical Consulting, who will continue writing his column "PCB Designers Notebook" for PCBDesign007. Exciting times lie ahead.

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Milestones: Paul Eisler's PCB Patent Turns 60


Paul Eisler developed the first PCB while living in a London boarding house, on the run from the Nazis, shortly before he was locked up as an illegal alien by the British. Eisler's life story is proof that you should never underestimate a determined engineer.

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PCB Design: The Best Beat a Reporter Could Have


As a reporter, I've covered car shows, air shows, real estate, city politics and crime. I've counted bullet holes, worked police checkpoints and sat through DNA evidence at trials. But PCB design is by far the best beat I've ever covered as a reporter.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Good Season For Trade Shows


It's spring and that means show season is in full swing. We've covered a half-dozen PCB trade shows since January, and all of them have shown increased attendance over last year. Despite a tumultuous 2009 and virtual challengers on the Web, the venerable trade show will probably be around for some time.

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Designers Day Preview: Rick Hartley on Fighting EMI


This week we'll hear from Rick Hartley, the high-speed design instructor who will be teaching his "EMI: High Frequency/High-Speed Design" workshop at IPC APEX Expo during Designers Day. Rick explains some of the issues he'll cover in his class, and discusses why the board design, not circuit design, is usually behind EMI problems.

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Tool Talk With New Polar CEO Martyn Gaudion


Martyn Gaudion came up through the ranks at Polar Instruments over the past two decades, and he recently took the reins as CEO. Find out what Martyn has planned for the company's design, fabrication and documentation tools, and what the rest of 2010 may bring for our industry.

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Madhavan Swaminathan: The Power of Power Integrity


Dr. Madhavan Swaminathan, Joseph M. Pettit Professor in Electronics at Georgia Tech and a co-author of "Power Integrity Modeling and Design for Semiconductors and Systems," and Guest Editor Eric Bogatin discuss the issues surrounding power integrity and the need for accurate measurement tools, as well as his work as CTO for E-System Design.

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Zuken's Z-DAC Conference Well Attended


The annual Zuken users event held just outside Dallas drew a good crowd of attendees. Travel budgets may still be tight, but users came from all over the U.S. - a few even came from Canada - to attend classes and share feedback with Zuken's tool developers.

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Stilwell Baker Focuses on Engineering


While the industry contracted over the past year, Stilwell Baker added a design center and expanded its engineering services. COO Peter Hoogerhuis explains how Stilwell Baker differentiates itself in the design engineering arena, and how customer demand drove the company's recent growth.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Talking Design With Scott McCurdy


FreedomCAD's Scott McCurdy has spent 40 years in the PCB industry. After running a board shop, Scott transitioned from the world of fabrication to PCB design. Hear what this self-described "designer wannabee" has to say about the future of PCB design and the need for design education.

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The Shaughnessy Report: DesignCon Prepares for PCB Summit


DesignCon 2010 will be here before you know it. Program Director Barry Sullivan is getting ready for DesignCon 2010, which will feature a first-ever PCB conference track. Barry discusses what engineers and designers can expect at the February show in Santa Clara.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Wikipedia Revolution


"The Wikipedia Revolution" is a great book by Andrew Lih. This book has it all--a solid American Dream plot line, colorful characters and plenty of cool technology. With fewer than a dozen employees and a $1 million budget, how does Wikipedia stay in the Top 20 of Internet sites?

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The Shaughnessy Report: Happy on PCB Design Advances


Happy Holden recently announced that he was retiring from Mentor Graphics and moving to Taiwan. Ray Rasmussen, Steve Gold and I interviewed Happy shortly after his announcement. In this clip, Happy comments on the major advancements in PCB design he's seen in the last 40 years.

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Armistead Technologies: Military Work Not Just for "Big Guys"


Many smaller PCB companies shy away from military work for a plethora of reasons, with cost of certification and the often long wait to get paid ranking near the top of the list. But John Armistead of Armistead Technologies believes that even the "little guys" can compete for--and win--military contracts.

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The Shaughnessy Report: NI Week Wrapup


National Instruments recently held its annual NI Week in Austin, Texas and, despite the unsteady economy, attendance increased from last year. NI's Bhavesh Mistry explains how this event drew so many engineers to the hundred-degree Texas heat, and why NI's hardware and software are a perfect match.

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The Shaughnessy Report: ADI Bridges the Data Gap


PCB designers would love to be able to create a library part and take it into all EDA design tool vendors' formats, without spending too much time and money. ADI's Frank Frank and Mike Wilson explain how ADI stepped in to fill that need with Ultra Librarian.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Great Time to Donate Old PCs


According to a recent report, the used PC market is slowing in spite of increasing demand. So, in the spirit of the holidays, why not donate your old computer to a charity or non-profit organization?

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The Shaughnessy Report: Altium's "Better Way" Campaign


Altium drew the attention - and chuckles - of the design community with an online ad featuring the overworked design engineer Dave and his restless girlfriend Bunny. President Emma Lo Russo and Product Manager Rob Irwin discuss Altium's "better way" of developing EDA tools.

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The Shaughnessy Report: A Conversation With Max Maxfield


Over the years, Max Maxfield has designed and written about CPUs, PCBs, ASICs--you name it. Today, while some segments of the industry seem to be reaching maturity, Max believes FPGAs and other programmables are just starting to hit their technological stride.

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The Shaughnessy Report: CAD, Cars and California


I always enjoy visiting the Golden State. Last week I was in Orange County, attending the Z-DAC Zuken users group meeting and visiting PCB design service bureaus. I managed to dodge the wild fires, and I had a glimpse into the future of transportation: The electric car.

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The Shaughnessy Report: LogicSwap Loses Nothing in the Translation


LogicSwap President Dilip Pitil built his data conversion company around the idea that PCB designs, schematics and libraries should be able to move in and out of any CAD vendor's PCB design tool. Dilip and Marketing Manager Mike Wilson sat down with Andy at the Z-DAC Zuken users group meeting in Long Beach.

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The Shaughnessy Report : PCB Matrix Finds Value in Offering Free Tools


PCB Matrix recently announced plans to offer its new V2009 IPC Land Pattern Calculator free to all users of the IPC 7351 Viewer. President Tom Hausherr explains how PCB Matrix finds plenty of value in by giving tools away.

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Nick Barbin on Optimum's Acquisition of RockSolid


What slowing economy? Optimum Design Associates recently acquired RockSolid Design, combining a top Allegro design bureau with a top Expedition shop. Optimum President Nick Barbin explains why this move made strategic sense.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Time For Investment, Innovation


After all the recent negative financial news, some players in the electronics industry will opt to operate in survival mode well into next year. But companies that invest in innovative technologies and processes now will be the winners when the storm clears.

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The Shaughnessy Report: "Survival" a Lean Book for Everyone


PCB designers may ignore all the news about lean processes, because lean is often associated with manufacturing. But as Steve Williams of Plexus explains in his book "Survival in Not Mandatory," lean can help cut waste from any process.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Deac Descoteaux of PalPilot on Scheduling and Quoting Strategies


Scheduling and quoting PCB designs is an inexact science. Deac Descoteaux of PalPilot discusses strategies for figuring out when that design will really be finished. Plus, a non-scientific look at whether a designer's gender has any impact on scheduling accuracy.

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