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Pace of technology takes toll on designers, PCB panelists say

Posted: 25 Mar 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PCB design? design issue? PCB Design Conference? PCB? board design?

The relentless pace of technology development tops the concerns of PCB designers, according to panelists at the PCB Design Conference's Technology Forum luncheon. Representatives from the PCB design and manufacturing industries also cited the link between board design and manufacture as one of the industry's toughest challenges.

The panel, moderated by Printed Circuit Design Magazine's new owner, Pete Wadell, also featured representatives of the electronic design automation industry as well as Dataquest's PCB-tool market analyst, Daya Nadamuni.

To Wadell's request to describe the biggest challenges facing the electronics industry today, panelists agreed that the greatest is the ever-increasing need for faster designs on ever-denser PC boards.

Craig Davidson, vice president of technology at Multi-layer Technology, said PCB manufacturing companies are currently looking at new materials with better electrical performance in an effort to keep up with "the relentless push to higher densities and speeds."

Michael Freda, interconnect specialist in Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Advanced Component Engineering System Products Group, said PCB design is becoming much more complicated thanks to significantly faster buses and a move away from synchronous designs to high-speed serials.

"One of the biggest challenges for electronic design and manufacturing these days is structuring the organization to be flexible enough to deal with technology that changes incredibly every week, and yet be able to deal with the technological complexity of solutions," said David Blakely, an engineer at IDEO.

Blakely said that nowadays, new technologies become commodities in the blink of an eye. He noted, for example, that MP3 players had an extremely short life as "premium products," and months after their invention, companies were selling them at a fraction of their original price tags.

Dataquest's Nadamuni said that the biggest challenge the industry faces is the cost of design and, specifically, of design tools. Expensive high-speed design suites are moving into the mainstream, she said.

Circuit-board designers need a common database in order to use integrated tool suites that tie analysis closely into design and perhaps into other disciplines such as manufacturing CAD, she added.

Dave De Maria, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Cadence Design Systems Inc., said that keeping up with the ever-accelerating pace of technology is a main concern of EDA vendors. "We need to be keeping up as much as we can with what our customers need and even co-develop technologies," said De Maria. "It's a different relationship than we currently have." De Maria said that Cadence has been working to facilitate communications between design and manufacturing.

Panelists seemed mildly indifferent about the pending marriage between the ODB++ and GenCam camps, which are trying to create the next format for transferring design data to manufacturing.

Sun's Freda and other panelists agreed said that any format would be better than the Gerber files used today. They said that the new format will not be the answer to the design-to-manufacture handoff problem, but is a step in the right direction.

Wadell also asked the panelists why IC designers get all the glory and PCB designers don't.

Panelists said that IC design is perceived as posing the hardest problems and is therefore seen as "the sexiest" area of IC design. But panelists also argued that IC designers have it easy because they work in a controlled environment and start projects at the beginning of a design cycle, whereas PCB designers have many of the same high-speed issues to deal with and must be able to change their designs and adapt as product specifications change.

? Michael Santarini

EE Times

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