Hats Off to Gary

Congratulations to Gary Ferrari, who last month became the 33d person to gain induction to the IPC Hall of Fame. For printed circuit board designers, this is something of a symbolic victory, as Ferrari is just the third designer (after Dieter Bergman and Vern Solberg) to make it in the IPC Hall.

Ferrari, who has been an occasional contributor to PCD&F over the years, needs little in the way of introduction to the current generation of designers, in the US and abroad. He has his name on all the major industry design and fabrication standards, having led the development of IPC-D-275 and IPC-RB-276 (now IPC-2221/2222 and IPC-6011/6012, respectively). He, along with Bergman, helped found the IPC Designers Council and drove the certification program. Along the way, he has trained or taught several thousand engineers and designers on a variety of topics from layout to heat management to standards to fabrication and assembly. While not the person whose name you will see on a book, Ferrari is still one of the first phone calls anyone with an engineering problem is likely to make.

The timing is bittersweet in that it occurred just months after the death of Bergman, Ferrari’s longtime friend and colleague. Still, it is a long time coming for one of the true iron men of the industry. I am thrilled for my friend.

Looking Forward

The Taiwan Printed Circuit Association (TPCA) announced at a press conference attended by nearly 100 members of the government, industry, research institutes, academia and the media that it will publish a white paper in September to address the future Taiwan PCB industry challenges – both in Taiwan as well as China. It will take on production constraints, labor shortages (including skilled and semi-skilled), and end-of-market changes.

TPCA is calling for its government to lead the country’s PCB industry to develop next-generation products and to promote (sponsor?) industry upgrades. Taiwan’s PCB makers have lost its momentum and are likely to generate a CAGR of only 1.2% in the 2010-2014 period. The targeted goal for 2014-2020 was said to be 6% to 7%. Sales of Taiwan owned production at home and abroad (including China) is forecast to be $18.3 billion this year.

Dateline July 23, 2014 5:40PM EST: It is with great sadness and deep regret that I must inform you of the passing this morning of Dieter Bergman, Global Industry Icon of the printed circuit industry, colleague, and friend of the past half century. He worked selflessly and tirelessly with great charm and wit his entire life in behalf of the industry, enabling the impossible to become the possible. The accolades that are sure to follow will be dwarfed by his actual accomplishments.

Do Not Penalize! – Motivate! Incentivize! Negotiate!  License!
Renewable energy is the way of the future. Make no mistake about it. Achieving a cost-effective path is the challenge. Slamming China and Taiwan with enormous duties on assembled solar PV panels shipped to the US is the wrong approach. We should be grateful for the support of China’s  and Taiwan’s governments to their industry that allows us to buy them cheaply. The whole industry is based on government subsidies. The net effect of this new DOC action is to increase prices to the American consumer. The  US government has thrown away hundreds of millions of dollars by investing in unproven, doomed-to-fail companies during the past few years. It should have been providing job creating tax incentives for the manufacture of such panels in America.

Let’s see if the USA will be the first to commercialize (in high volume) the very efficient multi-juncture PV solar panel technology shown at the recent SemiCon West in San Francisco.

Wake up America! It has been 5 years since we have been the world’s leading innovator!

Report: The United States not even close to being top global innovator. By Pam Tobey July 23 at 5:39 AM – Source: The Washington Post

Switzerland is a four-time champ when it comes to global innovation. The United States? Not so much lately — the country last achieved that spot in 2009. The United Kingdom jumped ahead of Sweden to claim the No. 2 spot behind Switzerland in the recently released Global Innovation Index 2014, put out jointly by the business school INSEAD, the World Intellectual Property Organization and Cornell University. The index covers many variables that contribute to innovation, including institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market and business sophistication, knowledge and technology and creativity. It gathers data for 81 different indicators in 143 economies to come up with rankings. In 2007, the United States was at the top of the list. In 2010, it plummeted to 11th place, partially due to the battering of the economy by the financial crisis. Among the regions in the report, Europe holds the top spot, followed by North America.


A ‘Hall’ of a Man

We are thrilled to announce the launch (opening?) of the PCD&F Hall of Fame for PCB Design.

Actually, that’s a misstatement: It’s not called the PCD&F Hall of Fame. It’s the Dieter Bergman Hall of Fame. We are naming it for the longtime technical director of the IPC, and perhaps the leading advocate over the 40 years for the printed circuit board designer. Dieter has led the efforts for a number of design standards, including those for bare board layout, land patterns, data transfer and other critical aspects. More important, he was a vital cog in getting designers the recognition they deserve within their companies, helping to launch and promote the Designer Certification program, and teaching hundreds of workshops around the world.

I recall — it was around 1995 — working the IPC booth at the PCB Design West trade show. I came to man the booth one morning, and noticed some of the standards we left in it the night before were missing. I groused about the sticky fingers that apparently were attending the show. Dieter shook his head. “These designers,” he said, “they are just so thirsty for knowledge.” It didn’t matter if they walked off with some materials without paying; they did so because they wanted to be better at their jobs, and that made it OK.

Dieter’s unwavering loyalty and respect for the profession really opened my eyes. He was right then, and he’s still right now.

CAD tools make design easier and faster, but good design is not button-pushing. Rather, it’s understanding the tradeoffs of materials properties and electrical continuity and speed and manufacturability, and getting the right mix in the most expeditious timeframe possible. A former designer himself, Dieter understood this and has always been willing to speak up to help. It’s an honor to name the Hall after him.

Intelligent Design

In my monthly column for PCD&F last month, I was ostensibly discussing standards and how they come to be. The first standard I worked on was IPC-D-350, one of the first of the would-be slayers of Gerber, the so-called unintelligent data format. Indeed, I’ve spent a good part of my life watching electronic data transfer formats come and go, and at the end of the day, Gerber, warts and all, has remained the one to beat. So I’m not prepared to rise up and shout to the heavens that IPC-2581, the latest iteration in 40 years’ worth of attempts at an “industry” standard, is at long last the answer.

But as we noted in “Around the World
,” there are enough notable differences in the process this time around to make it newsworthy. First and foremost, there are real live CAD tool vendors not just showing up at the meetings, but actively participating (!).

To understand why this is significant, we must go back to my IPC-D-350 days. Digital Equipment and the late, great Harry Parkinson were instrumental in trying to revive interest, and we at IPC also had support from several smaller software folks like Dino Ditta at Router Solutions and Steve Klare at Intercept Technology. But we never managed to break through, and a big part of the problem was the major CAD vendors’ collective refusal to offer IPC-D-350 as an output (or input). The response always was, “We’ll do it if our customers ask us.” But what they were really saying was, “We don’t want to make it easy for our customers to migrate their designs to a competitor’s tools.”

In the meantime, AT&T offered up RS-274X (aka extended Gerber), which UCamco continues to support, and Valor developed ODB++, and (like Gerber) while it was originally conceived as much a machine language as a format for electronic design data, it was accepted by fabricators desperate for something, anything, more intelligent than Gerber.

Under the leadership of Dieter Bergman, IPC also continued the fight, enlisting the help of the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) through not one but two (GenCAM, Offspring) successors to IPC-D-350. (For a short history of the standards, click here.) Yet even now, after decades of trying, no group has been able to dismount Gerber from its perch, and it’s long past time we did. Data transfer formats are not something anyone ever will make money from, but every day we go without a better one, everyone will lose some.

Curiously, just a few weeks ago, I was contacted by David Gerber, son of H. Joseph Gerber, who invented the photoplotter and the eponymously named de facto standard that ran it. Gerber’s genius cut across many industries, from electronics to apparel, and he was awarded the 1994 National Medal of Technology for his life’s work.

For such an esteemed inventor, Gerber’s backstory is even more interesting than his career. As a teenager in 1940, he fled Nazi Germany for America. As an aeronautical engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he discovered a way to reduce the time-consuming nature of graphing calculus problems using (seriously) an “expandable ruler” created from the elastic waistband of his pajamas. And of course, he formed The Gerber Scientific Instrument Co. in 1948, which is still going strong today.

The younger Gerber is writing a book about his father’s exploits. I look forward to learning more about the life of one of our industry’s true unsung heroes. But at the same time, I’m going to do everything I can to help retire one of his legacies.

In our cover story this month, Hemant Shah and Keith Felton of Cadence explain a new consortium taking root. The consortium is backed by a Who’s Who of OEMs and EDA vendors, including Harris, Ericsson, Fujitsu, nVidia, Sanmina-SCI, Cadence, Zuken, Adiva and Downstream Technologies. Its goal is to accelerate the adoption of IPC-2581 as an open, neutrally maintained global standard to encourage innovation, improve efficiency and reduce costs. The members are committed to adopting IPC-2581, which as I noted gives this latest effort a big leg up on all previous attempts.

Where does UP Media Group stand on this? For 20 years, we have supported the development of an intelligent, robust format for electronics data transfer. As such, we fully support the consortium’s effort to ensure a viable, supported and independent data transfer format that is driven by user needs.

That new task group attempting to update IPC-2581 recognizes that design needs will at some point “break” Gerber. Many of the players are new to the game, and a lot of the old rivalries appear to have died off due to retirements and, well, death. That’s good, because the industry needs a better standard than Gerber. Thanks in part to his son, Joseph Gerber’s name and many contributions will hopefully never be forgotten. But it’s time his namesake data format is.

2 for the Show

Congratulations to old friend Don Dupriest, the latest inductee to the IPC Hall of Fame. Don has been an steady hand on the tiller of many, many IPC bare board and materials specifications for three decades. He truly deserves the honor.

And a big shout out to old friend Dieter Bergman, who celebrated his 80th birthday Sunday in a unique way — he got married. I couldn’t be happier for my friend.

Outlining the Future

I will never forget so many weekends of my youth spent holding my eyelids open with my thumbs while my good friend Dieter Bergman lectured about the need for a new data transfer format. It made me the man I am today … tired, grumpy and frazzled …

An email yesterday from one of my old cohorts on those committees reminded of those happy times. Dino Ditta, whom many readers will remember as the founder of Router Solutions, has spent the past year working on a website designed to be an open community-based portal for creating, managing and sharing accurate 2D and 3D component package models.

“The goal,” he tells me, “is to have thousands of users generating the models using the templates we provide, and then let the global user community share the work product.”

The project is called WikiComponents.com. I checked it out and say it holds promise. Some of the more interesting features include a user rating system (users can give a thumbs up or down to a particular part outline, and — and this is key — all thumbs down must include a comment as to why the rating was given), and a built-in peer review will spur changes to poorly conceived ones.

Dino says he will work with IPC, Jedec and others on component outline and land pattern standards. Given the up-and-down history of the tool providers and standards organizations in keeping up with parts libraries, this is definitely worth a look.