Spotify Us

We are pleased to share that PCB Chat, our popular podcast, is now available via Spotify.

So now you have four channels for accessing the weekly podcasts: iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and, of course, pcbchat.com. Happy listening!

PCB Chat: Bill Hargin

Our latest episode of PCB Chat is with Z-Zero founder and “director of everything” Bill Hargin. Z-Zero is the newest entrant in the EDA field. The company this year rolled out its first products: software tools for PCB stackup planning and material selection. He speaks with Mike Buetow about the company and new tools.

What is Your Supply Chain Telling You about Packages?

Have you purchased any electronics components lately? Have you tried and failed to do so lately? Allocation is the word of the day and substitutions are your friend.

Many, many parts are in short supply, or unavailable with extraordinarily long lead times. Sure, that happens every now and then in this industry. It’s a periodic nuisance, but what should you do for the long term? We’re are getting some interesting stories from component suppliers that might help. 

What we’re hearing is that many passive manufacturers will be trying to move their customers to smaller sizes. They want to consolidate on as few packages as is possible. That means we may be seeing the end of 1206, 0805, and maybe even 0603 form factors for many passive values.

It kind of makes sense. Right now, there might be several dozen different varieties of 0.1uF, 16V capacitor. Does the industry need that? And if there isn’t enough fab capacity to make all of the variations, why not consolidate and run more of fewer variations? It won’t surprise me if we start seeing fewer voltage ranges as well. In most cases, a 16V part will be just fine if you’re calling for a 6V or 10V part.

The chip industry has been doing this for a while. Many of the newer components just come in BGA or QFN packages. Fewer and few leading edge parts come in large through-hole or SOIC packages.

Consider using smaller components, like standardizing on 0402 parts. I know it can be a pain to use smaller parts, but any potential for future proofing your design now can prevent delays or otherwise unnecessary redesign cycles. You might just be able shrink your board size and save some money on the board fab too.

Keep approved substitutions close by, and look for newer chips that are more likely to stay in production. For microcontrollers, pick parts that have multiple memory capacity or speed range variants all in the same package.

This looks to be a pretty extreme allocation cycle, and I have a feeling that the industry will be different when we come out of it.

Duane Benson
Which is worse
Being the missing link or the weakest link?

 

PCB Chat: Are Designers Lazy, and is Automation All-Important?

“Content is the most important aspect of the design world right now,” says Manny Marcano, president of EMA Design Automation. Over the past nearly three decades, he has grown EMA into the leading Cadence Channel Partner as the exclusive distributor of OrCAD in North America. EMA has also developed a series of its own software products for library management, component supply chain data, and conducts training.

Manny talks about the role of automation and whether designers are keeping up with their profession this week as my guest on PCB Chat.

Talking Government Relations with IPC

In my latest podcast, I speak with John Mitchell, president and CEO of IPC, and Chris Mitchell, IPC vice president of global government relations. They discuss the trade organization’s key government programs and initiatives, its annual member lobbying event coming up in May, and the importance of lobbying by member companies. Listen in at upmg.podbean.com.

Taking the ‘Pulse’ of Productivity

On PCB Chat this week we talk with Mark Hepburn, the new director of product management at Cadence. Some industry veterans may remember Mark from a few years back — he was with Viewlogic, Innoveda and Mentor in the late 1990s and mid 2000s. He spent the past eight years with Perception Software, a developer of collaboration software.

Fittingly, he joined Cadence just in time for its launch of Allegro Pulse, a new web-based platform for collaboration and productivity measurement and analysis.

Take a listen here.

EDA, All the Way

The market for electronics design software continues to outpace gains in overall electronics demand, with sales up 8% year-over-year in the September quarter. PCB/MCM tools rose even faster — up 13.4% for the period.

Wally Rhines, president and CEO of Mentor and spokesman for the ESD Alliance of EDA companies, spoke with me about the results for the latest PCB Chat podcast.

 

Laminate Companies: On the Move

It took until the second business day of the new year for the chips to start falling in the US printed circuit laminate industry.  On the same day, Isola changed hands and Park Electrochemical announced it was putting its PCB unit up for sale.

As the East Coast braced for a winter blizzard of epic proportions, Park Electrochemical sent a cold shiver down the spines of more than a few industry observers with its announcement of a “strategic evaluation” of its core printed circuit materials business, one that could result in a sale.

Park has been paring its PCB operations over the past few years amid falling revenues and tighter margins. Said revenues have been falling despite a rebound in the overall PCB market: Even as aerospace revenues have grown, overall Park sales have fallen year-over-year in 10 of the past 11 quarters, more than half the time by double digits.

Although it generates most of its revenue from the PCB materials unit, sources indicate the firm sees more upside in its aerospace materials division, which isn’t as susceptible to the commodity pricing pressures of board-level laminate. The sale or closure of the division could further disrupt the North America supply chain, however.

Park’s long history is heavily intertwined with that of the North American PCB industry, and one of the last remaining “family” firms. Cofounded in 1954 by Jerry Shore, his son Brian is now CEO and grandson Ben a senior vice president. Its sale, whenever that day comes, will truly mark the end of an era.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Isola completed the transfer of its equity ownership to an investment group led by Cerberus Capital Management. This deal was not a surprise: Isola had reportedly been trying to restructure a debt load of more than half-a-billion dollars since last summer.

Isola was primarily owned by the investment firms TPG Capital and Oaktree Capital Group. It’s unclear at present how the stakes in the company are now divided. No doubt Isola won’t be one of the bidders for Park, however.

Couple this with the changes at Arlon over the past two years, and the US laminate industry continues to be in flux. Many of the other major players appear stable: Kingboard, Shengyi Technology, Nanya, Panasonic, Ventec (which merged with TMT in 2016). Among US-based vendors, Rogers’ position at the high-end has enabled it to remain financially sound. It may be the only one.

Demand for lower-tech materials isn’t enough to sustain footprints in higher-cost markets. M&A can result in stronger, more viable companies. Let’s hope that the future for Park (or whomever buys it) and Isola are brighter than the present, as the North American supply chain depends in large part on their success.

Jan. 5 update: Investment bank Needham & Co. says the Electronics unit could bring $50 million to $80 million in a sale.

The Ideal Bill of Materials

A good portion of a quality build is simply the result of clear information. One of the more important pieces of information we deal with is the bill of materials, called “the BoM.”

The BoM is a list of all the components to be placed on the PCB. The file typically includes an index number, the number of times a specific component will be used on the board, the reference designator from the schematic, the component manufacturer, and the manufacturer’s part number.

If a specific component is used more than once – a common bypass capacitor, for example – it will still only take up one line in the BoM. One field in the BoM will list the number of times the component is used, and another field will list all the reference designators for that part number.

For example, line 5 in my BOM on this slide, is a 0.1 microfarad, 10V capacitor.

The first field in the table has a line item index, 5, because this is the fifth unique part number in my BoM. The next field has a quantity of this component used on the board, which is 5. Field three holds reference designators C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5. The next field has the manufacturer, and the final field has the manufacturer’s part number.

You will likely have additional fields, such as a distributor part number, a description, the package type and other tidbits, as I have here.

But the first five columns in this example show what is generally considered to be the minimum data set for a good bill of materials.

Note the three lines at the bottom highlighted in red with the label “DNS” in the Type column.

DNS means “do not stuff.” That’s an instruction to the manufacturer to not install that component during the assembly phase. Some people use DNP, for do not place, or DNI, for do not insert. It’s always best to consult with your manufacturer to get their preferred labeling.

You may also want to include alternate parts for components likely to go out of stock. Passives, such as capacitors and resistors, are notorious for going out of stock without notice. Invariably, though, a half dozen nearly identical parts will fit the bill just as well.

Create an alternates list so the purchasing folks or manufacturer won’t get stuck not knowing if a substitute is valid or not.

Duane Benson
In the 90’s, when people said good things were “the bom”, this is what they were talking about

 

The Return of PCB Chat

After a hiatus, we have relaunched PCB Chat as a podcast.

Our first guest is Mike Konrad of Aqueous Technologies, who shares his experience with what happens when a contract manufacturer follows its customer’s instructions to the detriment of the product. The outcome: Product failures, blame, drama, and a really big lawsuit.

We apologize in advance for the imperfect audio; we are still getting up to speed on the editing tools. But we think you’ll enjoy this, the first in what will be a regular series of interviews and conversations.