Why DfM?

Design for manufacture is the practice of designing board products that can be produced in a cost-effective manner using existing manufacturing processes and equipment. — Ray Prasad

I’ve mentioned before that one of my early design gurus gave me a piece of advice that stayed with me throughout my design career. He said that after I finished a drawing or design, I should stand back and ask myself if I could build the product from the information I was providing. Well, to do that I had to know how the product would be built and the processes involved in manufacturing the product. Fortunately I was raised in a fabrication environment and had a fair knowledge of metal fabrication.

But when I started designing PCBs, I didn’t have the luxury of being around a PCB fab shop, where I could spend time with people who built the boards. I had to depend on other designers who had a wealth of knowledge about PCB fabrication.

Several years later, I worked for a couple companies that not only did design work but also had a board shop. Any time I had a question about something, I could walk over to the board shop and get some on-the-job schooling. The folks there would not only tell me what I needed to do to make the job more manufacturable, they’d walk me down the line and show me the whats and whys. I can’t help but think that this made me a better designer. I know that it gave me a better understanding of how the things that I was doing in a design affected every step and downstream process.

Over the years since I became involved in the magazine and conference side of PCBs, I’ve stressed the importance of DfM and the manufacturing process. We made it a significant part of the message and information in everything we produced, including the magazine, conferences and in later years, our websites. But DfM is still one of the major issues in the PCB design world. With the compartmentalization and outsourcing common today, it may be more difficult to get out to the board shop that builds our boards.

However, it is doable. Even when – for whatever reason – it isn’t feasible, designers and engineers need to know everything possible about board fabrication and assembly. So we keep running articles in the magazine and doing sessions at PCB West on DfM. We’re also working on some in-depth DFM courses for Printed Circuit University (PCU). In fact, we just loaded a video on PCU called Why DFM? that is available to all PCU members. (Membership is free.) In the video, Darren Hitchcock of Multek talks about some basic issues about which every designer should know. It is just a part of our effort to get every designer educated on DfM and other subjects relating to PCBs. Visit PCU today to see for yourself.


Time Keeps on Ticking, Ticking …

Twenty years? PCB West is 20 years old? I feel like Rip Van Winkle all of a sudden. I close my eyes, take a walk around the block and poof, those years have flown by. And at the risk of dating myself, I was barely in my forties when we started PCB West. (You do the math.)

It only seems like a long time when I think about some of the shows and things that happened back in the heady days of the 1990s. Then there are some photos floating around of those early PCB West shows. Looking at those pics, I can see I’m not the only one who has aged a bit. And speaking of age, in some ways the PCB design world has also aged. I’m sure some of you remember the PCB Benchmark that we used to do at PCB West. Back in those days, it was not unusual to have more than a dozen different EDA vendors participating in the benchmark. Today most of those companies have been gobbled up by three or four companies. During the days of the first PCB Design Conferences, personal computers were just coming into wide use. The DOS OS was still limited by hardware and software, and most design systems were still operating on UNIX-based machines from Sun or HP. By comparison, I expect any day to hear of some EDA company releasing a product optimized for the iPAD.

In the early days as editor of Printed Circuit Design magazine, I used to talk about the Buck Rogers syndrome: When I was a kid, everyone expected us to be walking on Mars and riding around in flying cars by the year 2000. It’s what we saw on TV and what a country and society that knew few boundaries could imagine. While we may be a bit more realistic about expectations these days, the pace of change has accelerated. Think about this: When we started the PCB Design Conference, there were no cell phones or laptops (at least not for the masses), and we didn’t even imagine email or the Internet.

The technology has changed over the years: finer features, many more pins on the components, and signal integrity issues are the norm. But, basically, it is the same process. In some ways PCB design has changed a lot in 20 years, but in some ways it is still the same. In my mind it’s a lot like the people involved. You’ve changed in some ways to keep up with the technology, but in the end, PCB designers are still the ones who turn that idea, that concept, into a tangible product. To me that means you are still the indispensable link in the chain.

Thanks for all you do, and thanks for the first 20 fantastic years of PCB Design Conference. We couldn’t have done it without you.

From the Office of the Dean

You know how a song gets stuck in your mind and goes ‘round and ‘round, and you find yourself humming the melody or even singing the song out loud? Well lately Leon Russell has been stuck somewhere between my parietal lobe and medulla oblongata. (Dang it, now I’m stuck on “obla lon, oblagata, yeah, la, la la, la life goes on”). Anyway, the lyric “I’ve been so many places in my lifetime…” has been stuck up there because I’ve been thinking about the path I took to get here. In short, I was a draftsman, PCB designer, editor, publisher, business owner and now a university dean.

That’s right, when we launched Printed Circuit University last February, it was decided I would be Dean Pete, replacing my former job title, Grand Poobah. All of this leads to an update (long promised) on what is going on with Printed Circuit University. For those of you who visited PCU from the days of bethesignal.com, you’ve probably noticed some incremental changes in the layout and navigation of the site, as well as new member content. In addition, we’ve planned a new redesign of the site that you’ll see in the near future. The current layout helped us get PCU launched, and now the goal of the redesign is to make it even easier to locate specific content, and hopefully, more pleasing to the eye.

We’ve also been working with some industry experts – in keeping with the university theme, we’ll call them professors – on new curricula that will come online through this summer and fall. Some of the curricula we have in the works include DFM, HDI, RF and Microwave, Flex/rigid flex and a few others that are still in various stages of planning.

In the meantime, this might be a good time to go over a few basics of the site. With your free membership – it only requires a short registration – you are able to view more than 500 papers, lectures and videos on various topics. Using the search function (search is your friend) will help you drill down to some pretty specific topics, or you can review content by using either the dropdown menus in the nav bar or in the three areas at the bottom of the home page. As a member, you can also review the tuition-based content as a member, but you will be required to subscribe (either by course or as an “all-you-can-eat” annual subscriber) to take the tuition-based courses.

It is a good idea to check the site often, because we are constantly adding content. For instance, just this week we’ve added four new tuition-free presentations on considerations for high-speed design, thermal management for LED applications, wrap plating for blind and buried vias and counterfeit components. All of these are under the tuition-free dropdown. High-speed is under tuition-free>SI>articles, and the rest are under tuition-free>other.
And, of course, I should probably give a shout out to our current sponsors: Mentor Graphics and EMA. We appreciate their support and urge you to visit their offerings by clicking on the appropriate banners and tiles.

Last but not least, this site was born with the goal that it will be THE go-to place for designers, engineers and everyone else who are involved in or have questions about printed circuits. We will be depending on feedback from you regarding the current content and content you want to see on printedcircuituniversity.com. That includes member content, as well as tuition-based content. nd by the way, if you think you have what it takes to be a PCU professor, drop me a note and let’s talk about it.

Until then, stay in touch,

Dean Pete

Loooooooow Power

ESC Microchip clock 001 (Large) It’s not quite grape power, but over in the Microchip booth, the EverReady folks were handing out little digital clock demos. Nothing sounds the least bit interesting about that, except what they’re really showcasing is a little Microchip step-up DC-DC converter, the MCP1640. They’re using that little chip and an Energizer 1.5V AAAA cell to power the chip at 3.3 volts. ESC Microchip clock 003 (Large)

Looking a little closer, it’s a PIC16LF1933. On the other side of the battery, there’s a set of six unpopulated pads labeled J1. I’m guessing that’s the ICSP port. I do have MPLAB on my laptop here and I have my hand, dandy PicKit 3 with me as well. What I don’t have with me is a soldering iron and a spare header … Actually, now that I think about it, I do have some six-pin headers down here with me. I might be able to put in into the PicKit and then just hold it tight to the solder pads. I’ll probably sleep tonight though instead of staying up and writing something fun for this to do. I’d probably spend most of the night just trying to get the fuse bits figured out. A project for another day.

Duane Benson
It’s a little big to strap on my wrist

March Madness and Printed Circuits

March is traditionally known for the promise of spring and for the madness that accompanies college basketball. But in the world of printed circuit boards March means the Virtual PCB event. Yes, it’s already that time again. Virtual PCB is live next week, March 8 and 9 on a computer near you.

If you have not visited the show in the past, this year you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s easy, you can look at things at your own pace, and you never even have to get on a plane or worry about parking. All the travel is through the wonders of the internet.

I’m not going to get into all of the things that will be going on at Virtual PCB, Mike Buetow’s post on here does a good job of that. But I want to make everyone aware that Virtual PCB is live March 9 and 9 and that we all hope to “see” you there.

Stay in touch,

Thoughts on DesignCon

Back from DesignCon, and thankful I was able to avoid the horrific weather that delayed many traveling to and from this event.

It was the first time in years I attended DesignCon, held at the Santa Clara Convention Center and under the new management of United Business Media (UBM). (As an aside, UBM was our parent company for a few years — small world!)

Our primary focus at the event was to launch printedcircuituniversity.com (PCU), a new online, e-learning and training site for the industry – and a longtime dream of UPMG President (and now Chancellor) Pete Waddell. In a nutshell, the reaction to the site was outstanding. Mere mention of our having built it on the bethesignal e-learning platform was enough to capture attendees’ attention. Add in sharing a booth with Bogatin Enterprises and the presence of the well-known Signal Integrity Evangelist (aka Eric Bogatin) — and we had plenty of enthusiastic eyeballs. (Fortunately, Eric was not seen lobbing candy from the booth at attendees as he has often been known to do during some of his seminars!!)

Mentor Graphics is our first PCU Design Excellence Curriculum sponsor and held a drawing at DesignCon for an annual scholarship to printedcircuituniversity. The winner to be announced shortly.

Show floor traffic was solid, steady, and quite often heavy during both days of the event as attendees wandered in and out of technical sessions. Comments I heard included being pleased with the traffic, but unhappy with disorganization of some technical sessions, and some negative comments on exhibit set up. I’d also say – a very “sparse” evening reception — unlike the usual PCB West style!! So, we’ll see what direction the event takes next year under this new management.

One show down … on to IPC Expo/Apex in April.

–Frances Stewart

PCU Goes Live!

As “Dean Pete” (I think Professor Pete sounds better) intimated earlier today, we have just gone live with Printed Circuit University, the industry’s first online e-learning and training resource for professionals involved in the engineering and design of printed circuit boards and related technologies.

Printed Circuit University is built on the robust, established and time-proven beTheSignal e-learning platform, and features instruction by SI guru Dr. Eric Bogatin.

Pete and VP of Sales and Marketing Frances Stewart are demonstrating Printed Circuit University this week at DesignCon in the Santa Clara. Be sure to stop by and take a look at what promises to be the future of printed circuit board design education and training.

Design School

I mentioned some time ago that UP Media Group had an idea or two for a new mode of online PCB design instruction up our sleeves.

This week at DesignCon, I am pleased to say, we will unveil Printed Circuit University, our online training platform. We also will announce the first sponsor for the site.

I’m not going to spill all the beans yet, but please tune in to this site Monday afternoon for more details. Or stop by booth 218 at DesignCon and pick up a flyer or see a demo.

–Dean Pete

Getting Ready for September

I thought summer was supposed to be a time when things slowed down, a time when people take vacations and some time to relax. No such thing is happening here at UPMG.

For the last few months, we’ve been busy putting the program together for PCB West. This year we’ve pared the conference down to three days. One of the reasons is we’re moving the Design Excellence Certificate program to an online learning site that we call Printed Circuit University. PCU will launch right around the time of PCB West. As I’ve mentioned before, it will be a resource site for everyone involved in PCB design and will include a certificate program similar to the DEC we’ve held at the PCB Design Conferences for years. Stay tuned for more information on PCU.

During the three-day conference this year, we’ve scheduled almost 40 classes and presentations on subjects from the basics series by Susy Webb to Tom Hausser’s universal routing grid. In between we’re covering EMI, transmission lines, RF design, flex, embedded passives and many other subjects important to designers and engineers. We’ve even added a Tuesday track that covers subjects like counterfeit components and LED boards.

This year exhibit sales are slightly ahead of last year, including every major EDA company in the PCB market, as well as manufacturing and materials suppliers closely involved in the world of PCBs. Yes, these are companies that want your business, but they are also great resources for your design questions.
Registration is now open online, and you can get a look at the exhibitor list and complete program, including the “free” classes on Wednesday, by going to www.pcbwest.com.

Bottom line, PCB West may be only three days this year, but it is chock full of opportunities for everyone. Hope to see you there, and stay in touch.


Take a long hard look in the mirror

Several news outlets have reported today on the latest suicide at Taiwanese-owned EMS company Foxconn. The latest suicide brings this year’s total to 11 at the southern China factory. Foxconn manufactures products for Apple, Dell, HP, Motorola and other companies. They have something like 800,000 workers. I won’t call them employees because there is a difference. For years I’ve heard people talk about what a sweatshop Foxconn is, and now this. Foxconn’s solution? Have all the workers sign a pledge not to commit suicide!

Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn’s parent company Hon Hai Precision, flew to Shenzhen aboard his private jet for a hastily arranged media tour after the latest suicide and said, “I give my apologies for the impact this has had on society. I will do all I can to save lives.” Does anyone believe it? I sure don’t.

Remember the uproar a few years back about Nike and the Malaysian sweatshops? From what I’m hearing, this makes that situation look small. How can Steve Jobs and Michael Dell look themselves in the mirror every morning knowing they are supporting this crap, all in the interest of saving a few bucks or providing a better return to their stockholders? Yes, we as consumers should share a portion of the blame. We want the most profitable companies in our 401K or stock portfolio. It’s the WalMart syndrome again: Give me the gizmos at the rock bottom price. Is there really no moral responsibility?

And for those of you who want to call me – and anyone else who is outraged about this – liberal or naive, you can kiss my posterior. I am as much a fan of capitalist economics as the next guy, but I don’t believe it should be an excuse for this type of treatment. The people who work in the plants for Foxconn are really no different from indentured servants. They live in barracks with guards on the outside – not to keep people out, but to keep them in.

Is this really the way to bring Chinese society into the 21st century? This sort of treatment was common in industrialized England and America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But just because we were guilty doesn’t mean China has to repeat our mistakes.

I encourage all of you to learn more about this. You can start by reading Mike Buetow’s blog on our web site. There are many sources out there; just Google Foxconn for yourself. Of course, if you live in China, that won’t work for you.