2581 Hits a Milestone

For years one of the hangups for any data transfer format hoping to supplant Gerber has been the lack of independent validations that the output from a given CAD tool could be accurately read in CAM.

That’s why the IPC-2581 Consortium is right to herald today’s announcement of not one four independent validations as a “significant milestone.”

Today the Consortium published a validation matrix showing data output in Cadence Allegro and Zuken CR5000 has been correlated and validated against typical proprietary and multi-file manufacturing formats by Adiva, Wise, EasyLogix and DownStream. Those CAM vendors also are launching viewers — free, in most cases — to help users compare the data themselves.

The Consortium will take its show on the road next week, presenting a paper at Apex and also at the Cadence users group meeting in March. Both events represent an opportune time to question the members on their progress. If you can’t make the conferences, tune in to PCB Chat on Feb. 22, where the members will answer questions in our new online moderated chat forum.

Talking Data Transfer at ZDAC

I had the great pleasure of attending Zuken’s ZDAC users group meeting earlier this month in San Antonio at the invitation of Steve Chidester, head of product marketing, and Amy Clements, marketing/sales manager.

Steve and Amy had asked me to present on electronics data transfer, a subject many readers know has long held my interest.

There were about 100 people who attended the event this year, slightly up over last year. All the usual Zuken folks were there: Gerhard Lipski, GM of Zuken Europe; Dave Gullickson, GM of Zuken USA; apps engineer Griff Derryberry; Humair Mandavia; Sandy Jones; and so on. I also was fortunate to meet with Zuken COO Jinya Katsube and CTO Kazuhiro Kariya.

As we’ve reported over at PCDanfF.com, just before ZDAC, Zuken rolled out two new tools: DesignForce, which accelerates prototyping by enabling chip-package-interconnect substrate optimization in a single, native 3D format. The CAD company also released CR-8000, its primary CAD flow. (DesignForce is embedded in CR-8000.) They spent a considerable amount of time discussing those two new tools and their ongoing product roadmap, including CR-5000 Lighting v. 14 next March, which will include a netless router. Zuken says it sees a need to move more information to upstream design, such as system and architecture. The main takeaway was that design makes up 4% of the cost of the process, but it determines 60% of the product cost.

I had about 45 people in my session. There was great interest in the topic, in part because some of the people there have been pushing their companies (RIM, Rockwell Collins, Northrop Grumman, to name but a few) to standardize on IPC-2581. All in all, it was well worth the time.

Also, Zuken is doing a lot in wiring harness design. This is a big market for many EMS companies (especially for military and aerospace work), and there are probably 12 to 15 companies that supply design software for wiring harness. (Some big ones are Mentor, Zuken, Eplan, Autodesk, and IGE-XAO). I didn’t attend the wiring harness design sessions, but it seems the audience was fairly split between the two.

Next year’s event will be held in Newport, CA, around the same time frame (early November).

QFN Custom Stencil Layer in Eagle

It’s been said over and over that you don’t want to leave the solder paste opening wide open for a QFN center pad. A 50 to 75% paste coverage will get the best results. With full coverage, your QFN can end up floating too high and not connecting with all of the pads due to their significantly smaller aperture.
But how do you create a custom paste layer? In Eagle, it’s not terribly obvious, but it is easy. Open the part that you want to customize in the Eagle Library editor. Open up the package for that component. Now, select “i” on the left side and click on the center pad. You might need to turn off the “tcream” layer in order to select the pad.

In the Properties dialog box, uncheck the check box for cream. That will get rid of the standard stencil layer. Now you can use the rectangle tool to add in stencil cut-outs as you want the. Make sure you set the layer for the rectangle to be “tcream” and remember that you are drawing the cut-outs of the stencil, not the blocked part.

Obviously it will be different for every CAD package, but the concept is the same. As is the need to do so.

Duane Benson
The Internet is weird.
There’s actually a website for paste eaters.


Short Cuts Don’t Always Make Long Delays

The saga continues. I have my parts kit. The PCBs should be here from Sunstone tomorrow. When I placed the order on our website, I estimated that I’d have the parts and PCBs today. I knew it would be tomorrow, but I wanted to see how our communications goes when something is late. Obviously, an assembler can’t start building until the parts have arrived, so the Industry standard is to start the turn-time once everything is in the shop.

If a box is late and the sender doesn’t know it, unintended delays can be added into the process. Knowing this, we recently did a lot of work to improve our communications, on such issues as late parts, to help reduce delays. Sure enough, I dropped on over to the website and right on the top of the home page is a note that I have an issue (late parts) with my job. Tonight at midnight, I should receive an email telling me the same thing too.

On the subject of the PCBs, I sent Gerbers to Sunstone. That works just fine, but I’m always a bit nervous about the accuracy of my layer mapping. They double check, so I’ve never had problems, but I still get nervous.

If I’d waited a few days, like until today, I could have taken a short cut by just sending in my CAD board file — they just started accepting native CAD files. You can still use Gerbers, but if you use Altium, Eagle, OrCAD, National Instruments’ Circuit Design Suite, Ivex Winboard or PCB123, you can just send in the board file and save some time and hassle.

When I get the boards tomorrow, I’ll pack everything up and deliver it to the receiving folks. Then I’ll see how the rest of the build process goes from the other side of the fence, and I’ll see how we deal with extra parts. I did that on purpose also. With a couple of parts, I’m delivering several hundred more than I need. With a few other, just the requisite 5% over. It will be interesting to see just how I get the extras back.

Yes. I know. I work here, so I shouldn’t have any doubt about how all of this stuff works. I do know how it goes, but it’s always a good thing to, every now and then, check and see how well practice matches up with theory.

Duane Benson
Grip, Fang, Wolf! Guard the mushrooms!


Sunstone’s ‘Fab’ Design Tool

Sunstone is again acting as much like a software company as it is a quickturn PCB fabricator.

The board shop, which over the past few years has developed and honed its free CAD/DfM tool known as PCB123, today rolled out a conversion tool that features native file upload functionality.

In short, customers no longer need to export data in Gerber; instead, they can use one of a series of native data formats, including Altium, Eagle, OrCad, NI, and others (including, of course, PCB123).

It’s the second big development by the PCB maker in the past year, having already rolled out a parts library addition to PCB123 that supports some 500,000 components.

PCB123 won’t replace the big ticket CAD suites, of course, but for the types of prototype boards most designers need, it keeps getting better and better. And with its CAD conversion capability, Sunstone further extends its “ease” factor to those who don’t use the company’s own software.

The Non-Mentor Post

Taking a break from the ongoing tennis match between one major CAD company and its, shall we say, less-than-pleased biggest shareholder, there’s been some interesting developments elsewhere this week.

As noted yesterday, Altium is packing up its HQ, R&D and marketing teams and moving them lock, stock and barrel to Shanghai. After hearing some of the usual chortling and catcalls, then finally speaking with Altium (late) last night, the rationale behind the move seems sound, if a bit abrupt. I’ll have more on that later today when I post the interview.

Also on the far West side of the Pacific (it doesn’t pay to sleep in this job) Fujitsu will integrate its signal integrity tool into  Zuken’s CAD suite. (Not certain yet what this means for Zuken’s own SI tools, which at the moment actually have a larger market share than Fujitsu’s.) The move would put the combined suite closer to No. 2 Ansoft in the SI arena. Mentor is still well ahead of the pack, but it’s a start.

Idle Speculation

What is noted corporate raider Carl Icahn up to?
With just under 15% of Mentor in his portfolio, Icahn now has turned his attention to an ERP software company called Lawson, of which he has accumulated nearly 11% of its outstanding shares. Does he plan to put the two together somehow?

This Barron’s report suggests at least one market watcher believes the moves aren’t isolated. “He bought at the same time, they’re both software companies and they’re somewhat laggards,” Lon Juricic of StreetInsider.com is quoted as saying. “He’s always known for his activist positions with companies … .”

Well, that seals it, doesn’t it!
Everyone and their dog has an ERP company, of course, and while Oracle, SAP, Infor and Microsoft are the domain of the largest enterprises, the door remains open for smaller, niche companies with tools designed for particular markets. But I don’t see that happening here. Manufacturing is just a piece of Lawson’s business; it’s not the whole focus. And almost every company in electronics manufacturing already has some sort of ERP system in place. It’s an expensive proposition to switch. 

And yet, there are some enticing facets to consider.

Lawson, through an acquisition last year, does have cloud computing capability that the industry is trending toward. There is benefit to that capability — see Altium’s recent purchase of Morfik, for example. Also, more EDA vendors are building in purchasing and inventory availability tools to their traditional place and route capabilities. Mentor’s acquisition of Valor aided its ability to track parts from design to placement. Intertwined with a solid ERP system, Mentor could leverage its traditional CAD tools even further.

But there’s the rub, right? At this point, most decent EDA tools talk in some shape or form to the ERP systems. Why reinvent the wheel — and at great risk given this is a (pricey) solution in search of a problem?

I see these moves as singular in nature and unrelated. But it’s still fun to speculate on.