key strategies make PCB smarter

If we review the past 5 years, when most electronics companies faced the economic crisis and the slow recovery. To keep ahead of the competition, the demand of development increased significantly. The project of "Technical Leadership Award" from Mentor was an obvious evident for this. Every year, many companies around the world are invited to submit their most advanced design, and handed over to a group of independent industry expert to appraisal. Finalist design after 2012 is more complex, the design methods and tools used in the process is also much more advanced than before. This article describes the use of technology in the future to promote the feature will no longer be a luxury, but a necessity of development.

In one survey from Aberdeen Group, many leading electronics companies confirmed that they can meet the six practices design that can meet business goals of actively. With the slow recovery of the economic situation, these basic PCB technology practices will become an essential part of each company's development in 2012.

The electronics industry is trying to recover from the economic crisis, the pressure to provide comprehensive support from design to manufacturing process is also greatly increasing. Electronics companies around the world have to bring differentiated products to the market faster with much lower cost, and the trend will continue due to the weak economic. Even in China PCB market, to improve productivity, it also needs to apply the latest technology to the system design and manufacturing support tools.

The following is overview for six key strategies which can make work smarter, we believe in these six key strategies can be key to future development.

Strategy one, Collaborative Product Development Process

Generally, collaborative refers to the ability of changing serial operation into parallel operation, and it has two modes. First model is let multiple designers to work simultaneously on the same design flow. It’s not new in market, but it has big difference on efficacy compared before. Designers are always able to operate PCB design database and split, and every designer is working in design process. But the database must be re-combined, though it’s very time-consuming and error occurs easily, it can shorten the design cycle at the end!

Currently, we have the ability to let multiple designers work simultaneously in the same database, without having to split the database. It can be used for many PCB design process, such as schematics inputs, constraining inputs, management and physical layout. Besides, let designer see the real-time result of others. It not only significantly reduces the design cycle time, but also improve the productivity of the designers and quality of products. Some users’ reports show that the technology saves 30 to 70% of the design time. Companies ought to get the similar improvement to keep competitive.

The second model is the ability to run several different processes, and it’s a parallel pattern which is different form sequences. Schematics, constraints, and layout analysis can be parallelized, thereby improving designer productivity better and shorten design cycles. However, this mode requires complex design data management which contains version management, synchronization, calibration, permissions, this will be explained later in this article.

Strategy one, Virtual Prototyping

Usually, companies build and test multiple prototypes to validate their products. To design a PCB, build physical prototypes, in the laboratory test to determine what changes need to be made, then re-design, and then repeat the relevant processes. But there are some problems in this way. Firstly, it’s very expensive and time-consuming. It will miss the best timing if the listed time is very urgent. Secondly, we cannot discover all the potential problems. For example, if you hope that the product can be used for many years in severe vibration and other harsh environments, but ‘Vibration and heat treatment’ lab maybe unable to run long enough to find the long cyclical problems. Also, signal Integrity has the same problem. Extremely critical condition maybe not obtained in the laboratory.

Solutions are simulated in software in future, such as virtual prototyping. This can be operated in the process of PCB design, and will be applied to more and more areas, such as IC, package, PCB and system-wide simulation of thermal management, PCB manufacturing and assembly practice, 3D mechanical interface, etc.. In the whole flow, it can make sure the design continue and no need backup and correction. What’s more, the software can detect extremely critical condition, and can simulate the problems which may happen in the laboratory for several weeks and months, only within a few hours. Though designers prefer to get the real products, and extensive-performed virtual prototyping may be delayed, but it can help lessen the cycle and cost down, also, the productivity of designers, the quality, and reliability of the products will be improved.

Strategy three, Process support from design to manufacturing

Costs and listed time to market is the key to many industries. Even military, aerospace and automotive industries, they also faced the limit of a long development time and high cost, now it’s still need improvement. Besides, PCB designer should keep in mind that their responsibilities are still continued even the data is in the manufacturing process. What’s more, from EDA vendor's perspective, support is more important than the end of the design phase, stand with manufacturers to optimize their production lines and achieve the lowest cost of delivery are more important than enable designers to easily fulfill their responsibilities can manufacture products.

Flow is evolving all the time, help support manufacturers define the rules and practice from the beginning, a positive impact on output and reliability. These DFM rules will be used to design process. DFM software can identify the problems in the design environment and can be corrected by the designers. Coincidentally, most manufacturers use the same rules and design software to check the received data. This ensures that once the design was put to the manufacturing process, it can continue to perform without design rework.

Once the design get through intelligent interfaces, such as ODB ++, when get into the manufacturing process, manufacturers can use the software for production-line modeling and optimizing them. When running the production line, the software will continue to monitor the on-time delivery of parts, machine downtime and product traceability and other issues. Even in the event of quality defects, it also can make sure track and highlight the device or process with low failure rate.

Strategy four, Complexity Management

For differentiated products which can beat competitors, companies must take advantage of the latest and most advanced technology, more features will be compressed into a smaller space and meet positive market timing simultaneously, which will be more important in future. Integrated circuit technology at the aspects of high density, high speed will be continued improved. Printed circuit board fabrication techniques, such as HDI / tiny holes, the density can be increased, but the design is also more complicated. Faced with the increasing complexity, how do we maintain and improve designers’ productivity? The answer is increasing the functionality of design tools.

For example, not long time ago, a typical design may include some high-speed networks which may comply with length and adjacent rules. These networks can be easily managed by designers. Now, large reading designs have more than 50% of the high-speed network, and even some up to 90%. Another example is the increasing of BGA pin count and density. This will be a challenge when fan-out PCB. Such a situation raises a complicated issue, productivity will decline and listed time will significantly extend if there is no advanced design tools.

Strategy five, Interdisciplinary cooperation

Product development and delivery requests interdisciplinary cooperation. In the electronics field. And we have experts in integrated circuits, packaging, FPGA, RF, analog and digitizing aspects. Besides, in the mechanical field, we have shell design and CAE analysis engineers. What’s more, we have procurement, supply chain and manufacturing staff and embedded software development. All these need effective cooperation during the research and development. This was cooperated by paper and e-mail before, now mainly by electronic media, but it’s still a problem for team members to save the large amounts of data.

Actually, most interaction is a kind of consultation. For example, if a mechanical engineer found a component on the PCB would interference physical product shell, then he can change the location of the component. It will take a gradual form (only when replacing) propose to PCB designers. Then PCB designers must check and confirm the proposal by sequence. Gradual changes in performance was already developed to standard EDMD by Mentor Graphics、PTC and users, and got approval from ProSTEP. This proposal will be shown as picture to PCB designers, the latter will take, reject or put forward a better suggestion based on actual situation of the related PCB. This will continue before reach agreement, and the mechanical and electrical database will be updated. This is only one sample of much fully electronic cooperation in real actual operations.

Strategy six, Intellectual Property management

Top-one electronics companies determine that managing their work processes and databases is the key to future success. For the design team members, whether they are in local site or scattered around the world, it need create a valid permission, and manage the most important asset of the companies strictly. Database administrator put the qualified information components into the approved management infrastructure, it can be assessed by designers. Pre-designed PCB can be added into the database and used in future

With the progress of PCB design, schematics, PCB layout constraints, and data are created. It’s very complicated for data management, and it need create special infrastructure systems for IP management. The date edited from different team members will face version management and synchronization issues. Companies can hire agencies to design parts of products, and just share part of the IP, this will exclude complexity by use standard PLM system. It means, mature product development, the final design data must be uploaded to a company's PLM, ERP systems for lifecycle management.