PCB West Recap: Still Great After 20 Years

I’m thrilled to be reporting on PCB West 2011 because for the past few years I haven’t been able to attend. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be among that rare breed of “off-grid” individualism, the Circuit Board Designer.Lately I’ve become more involved in IPC standards development committees and therefore feel obligated to attend those conferences, but since few designers participate in IPC activities, PCB West felt like coming home again. If you are one of the designers working alone out there for your company, or are a lone designer supporting multiple companies, this conference is a great opportunity to meet your peers, get away from the daily grind for a few days and see what the rest of the world is doing …  

20 and counting? This was the 20th anniversery of PCB West? Seriously? How could we have gotten so old already? Now I’m feeling nostalgic … UP Media gave out “20 Years and Still Off-Grid” t-shirts to literally everyone that registered. I thought that was a really nice thing to do. Thanks, Uncle Pete! (and while I’m thinking about it, thanks to K&F for supplying free Starbucks coffee for everyone!)

Continuing education. The conference started off with a bang as I attended a presentation by Kevin Coates where he introduced a new series of devices by Texas Instruments (well, new to me anyway) where fine pitch BGAs are being developed using a pin-out method that leaves room for fan-out vias and decoupling devices. Using these “via channel” devices may enable designers to use conventional board fabrication technology, where an HDI solution was required before. It was nice to hear additional comments by Wayne Pulliam, who works on similar efforts for AMD.

Darren Hitchcock’s “Design for Manufacturing” presentation was very informative, mostly focusing on various board materials and their characteristics.
Gary Ferrari gave a great introduction to HDI technology, the various types of HDI constructions (and the materials required for them) and the use of microvias. He gave some good real-world advice and warned about some common pitfalls, and if you are moving in the direction of HDI I would strongly recommend this course. Gary has done so much work with this type of fabrication at his company (FTG), and with so much related experience in his involvement with IPC, you can pretty much take whatever he says to the bank.
Susy Webb seems like the hardest working gal in the game, and has nearly accomplished a complete curriculum for new board designers.
Starting with the basics in her introductory “Symbols and Schematics” class, and moving from “Parts and Placement” through “Routing and Finishing” and even “PCB Layer Stackups,” finishing with “EMI” and “Signal Integrity” presentations. She is getting close to offering the new designer a start-to-finish introduction to the whole electronics development process.
And the good news? All of her presentations are available on the Proceedings CD.
Finally, many of you may wonder what exactly happens to your Gerber data once it leaves your CAD system, and whether that ubiquitous fabrication note “Data May Not Be Modified” really means anything at all. Well, Mike Tucker’s presentation about CAM departments is a welcome addition to any PCB design program, and thanks go to Colonial Circuits (his new employer) for letting him continue to present it.
This is definitely something any board designer worth his salt should know about.
Feeling left out? I apologize to all of the presenters that I wasn’t able to mention in this review. With multiple events happening in every time slot, I simply wasn’t able to make it to everything this year. Fortunately, the proceedings disk contains most of the information from the conference and is available from UP Media at http://pcbwest.com/2011/proceedings/.
Exhibitionism. Although the exhibit spaces have seemed to be shrinking in size over the last decade or so, UP Media does a great job of bringing folks onto the floor. The time frame was shorter, and I suspect the exhibitors are happy enough with not having the show drag on and on for days, so that now the entire event happens in a single session! I love it.
Everyone is there for one entire day and it seemed downright festive.
The event included free lunch for everyone, bringing a lot of traffic into the space virtually the moment it opened, and ended in the evening with open bar for everyone, so even those who need a little of that old-fashioned “social lubricant” could get into the scene. The vendors I talked to seemed to be getting a lot of worthwhile leads this year, and I sensed a real note of optimism that I haven’t felt lately. Hope it was a worthwhile experience for everyone who participated.
Gossip column: Happy for Happy. Many of you know Happy Holden from his long career at Hewlett Packard, many of you know him from his educational conference presentations while working with NanYa, many of you know him for his most excellent introduction to HDI, The HDI Handbook, many of you know him for his work divining the future for Mentor Graphics, and many of you know him for his “retirement” to become the CTO of Foxconn’s Advanced Technology Division in Taiwan. I might have predicted that we had seen the last of Happy; that he had moved so high up the ivory tower that we would never hear from him again. Not so! Happy is moving back to the states! (hope he doesn’t resent me for this announcement). Maybe we will all benefit from his presence again.
Stay tuned … (Michigan?)

Howdy PODners! OK, how many years ago did we start talking about a Universal Library? How long ago was it that Tom Hausherr started collecting PADS library components, analyzing them, collating them, creating a consensus that eventually turned into the PCBLibrary Viewer and Calculator and Wizard?

And when these tools got linked together with the IPC-7351 Land Pattern Standard, it seemed like we were close to crossing the goal line, from then on into the future the world could have a consistent approach to creating reliable footprints for every major CAD system. So, what happened? Well, the short story is that Valor bought PCBLibraries, which seemed like a good idea since Valor was already supporting every major CAD system, but then Mentor Graphics bought Valor. Uh Oh! would Mentor support the dream? Not exactly … they soon started stripping off the interfaces to the competitor’s products, and the most recent news that is that in July they kicked Tom and his team to the curb. sad, Sad, SAD. But, looking at it another way, it could be the best thing that ever happened to propel us toward the dream of a Universal Library, because Tom and his Partners are back together and working on a monster plan for a new web-based library (which will eventually be at http://PCBpod.com). Right now they are putting together the parameters for a set of new and improved land pattern conventions that address many of the common issues. For example, why should we be screening so much silkscreen underneath components for high-volume products that can’t even be seen after assembly? We are wasting a lot of ink for no reason, folks.
Anyway, that might be a minor issue for many of you and it is just an example, but the good news is that these issues are actively being discussed, hopefully to be resolved with the IPC during some meetings in October, and then these parameters will be public-domain for all to use.
And what will happen to Mentor’s calculator? Who cares…!

PCU for me and you. Also, you’ve probably already heard, but UPMedia is putting together various educational materials which will hopefully evolve into a full curriculum under the banner “Printed Circuit University.

Registration is free, and once your account is set up you will have access to many free resources, and for a fee you can access the in-depth tutorials such as Eric Bogatin’s Signal Integrity series. Check it out! You might even find some videos there from this year’s conference by Kelly Dack.

The missing piece. Finally, the conference just wasn’t the same without Rick Hartley, one of the educational icons of our industry. Hope you’re feeling better, Rick!

Surfin’ the learnin’ curve,
Jack Olson
http://HowToPCB.net
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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

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