Socially Speaking

You might say humans are predisposed to chatting. The art has taken a few twists and turns over time: in the past 50 years the back-fence gossip session gave way to party lines (for some), then to online means so popular and ubiquitous it made AOL for a time one of the most valuable companies in the US.

To be sure, the AOL-style chat rooms were (are?) fun, but ultimately more of a time-waster than a problem solver. (Unless, of course, wasting time is the problem to be solved.) But the basic concept – interacting with peers without leaving the cozy confines of your home – is transcendent. For years, we’ve been working at developing a mechanism that emulates and captures the essence of online shared group communication without all the chaos of a free-form chat room.

At long last, we think we have it.

A year ago, we acquired BeTheSignal, the brainchild of signal integrity guru Dr. Eric Bogatin, in large part for the slick web-based platform he had developed. We rolled that in to Printed Circuit University, our founder and owner Pete Waddell’s vision for a comprehensive website dedicated to training printed circuit board designers, fabricators and assemblers.

On the heels of that acquisition, we began in earnest to develop a unique “moderated chat” environment, under which our readers could engage in question/answer sessions with experts on a particular topic. The idea is simple: Chats are conducted online at a set date and time. Attendees can privately submit questions via email in advance of the chat, or through the site itself while the chat is “live.” The moderator – typically an expert in some aspect of PCB technology – can review the questions and choose which to answer. As questions are answered, they appear online in sequential fashion.

Each chat session will have a specific time length, after which a transcript will be made available for on-demand viewing. Most sessions will last for 60 to 120 minutes. We foresee chat session topics ranging from the broad to the specific. In some cases, the topic will be the driver, such as discussions of market or packaging trends, for example. In other cases, the presenter will be the attraction, because of their “name” and reputation in the industry.

UPMG plans to enlist the leading names in electronics design from around the world to hold chats in their respective regions. The emphasis in most sessions will be on the specific over the general; for example, “layout and routing of cellphone boards” would be preferred to “layout and routing.” (For our advertisers, sponsorships will be available on a one-per-chat basis.)

PCB Chat is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for tens of thousands of industry technologists to come virtually face-to-face with their peers to ask questions and share problems and solutions in real time. Needless to say, we are thrilled at this development. Visit for a look, and watch our websites and digital newsletter for the first scheduled chats to be revealed.

PCU’s Top 10 of 2011

Here are the 10 most-viewed items on Printed Circuit University in 2011.

1. Essential Principles of Signal Integrity
2. Advanced Signal Integrity Design
3. High Speed Symposium
4. Differential Pair Boot Camp
5. Getting Started with SI
6. A High Speed Design Methodology
7. What Is High Speed and Why Should I Care?
8. Controlling Transmission Line Loss Boot Camp
9. High Performance Multilayer PCBs
10. Separating Myth from Reality in Signal Integrity.

As always, thanks for watching!

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.


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, 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 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

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 (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.

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

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.