PCB Data Management and the Great Paradigm Shift
Change is the only constant in life. Learn how to shift strategies and accommodate PCB Data Management Processes to fit market demands.
There are several problems that are directly impacting the PCB Design area and specifically the PCB Data Management. For some time, it has not been business as usual, it is vital to understand these issues and develop a good strategy to handle them.
TOPICS IN THIS SOLUTION
With the invention of the internet, civilization dragged itself (kicking and screaming sometimes) out of the industrial age and into what can only be described as the “Information Age”. As an official description of the 21stcentury and characterized by the sudden rise of technology that is driven by information technology (IT). There is a strong belief that this Information age was brought on by the innovations created during the industrial age that preceded it. The great news... in the very center of this occurrence is the electronic industry.
The PCB industry has been no exception to this inundation of information. In no other time in history, has so much information been so readily available to so many. Which of course, has brought its pros and cons. With what seems to be endless information that is collected, stored, created and distributed to different individuals and parties. It is very easy to feel as if you are drinking from the proverbial fire hose. With the end results being, the required or needed information only being lost in the noise.
In the words of Heraclitus, “Change is the only constant in life”. Our entire industry is in the middle of the throws of change and constant flux. Some may refer to it as “Organized Chaos”. Meaning there are endless challenges that drive the PCB industry in interminable directions either voluntary or involuntary. Fortunately, all these issues in some way touch on the PCB Data Management area. I would further argue do not just touch on but literally guide this “river of information” and keeps it in its banks and controlled.
It is the intention of this chapter to discuss several problems that are directly impacting the PCB Design area and specifically the PCB Data Management. For some time, it has not been business as usual, it is vital to understand these issues and develop a good strategy to handle them.
This may seem a rather strange place to start when discussing the changes or issues in our field of expertise. But, it is a fine example of the “chicken or the Egg” scenario. Does the industry drive the PCB software development or vis versa? I have seen both at various times. But, now I personally believe the latter. With ever increasing advancements and challenges (which will be discussed upcoming) it has been the PCB software that has grown and transformed more than anything else. As someone who has seen this over many decades, it amazes me to think that all this originally started from such simple beginnings of a few items of tape & mylar on a light table. Like a good carpenter the first rule is to use the correct tool for the job. We would not use a screw driver to hammer in a nail.
PCB Design software companies have popped up faster than pimples on a teenager’s face after eating a large pepperoni pizza. But by far, the leader in this industry since they first came on the scene in 1985 has clearly been Altium (formerly Protel). I have seen firsthand the company philosophy is very simple, be and stay on the cutting-edge of technology. That means being steps ahead of everyone else. Altium has taken that principle to heart and by doing so have driven the entire industry in an astounding direction.
What is it about Altium? That may be a loaded question. One of the great joys that I have in life is it to take the grandkids for ice cream and to watch them create their masterpieces with the various toppings and of course always having that cherry on top. In the same way, Altium has developed from the beginning “toppings” the features, the wizards amazing tools that are intuitive and innovate and now are the most powerful tools in the industry.
Secondly, the investment that is made in the tool itself. Altium has always assured that they are listening to the needs of PCB designers and engineers. It is those ideas that drive the direction of where the company goes. Always investing back into improving the tool.
In 1965 at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, engineers were developing the first manned flight into space. To help in the process, they installed the IBM System/360 Model 75s computer. Which at that time, was on the “cutting edge” of technology. It only had (512K) bytes of core memory. Costing a whopping $3.5 million dollars and was the size of a Car and no not a Prius.
We jump to Nov 17, 2017, 52-years later with the release of the iPhone X. In a case size of 5.65 in by 2.79in. Uses the 64-bit ARMv8-A six-core CPU architecture that has over 4.3 billion transistors. It uses what is called the Neural Engine that does 600billion operations per second. In addition, 3GB of RAM with additional storage of 256 GB. Bottom line most people hold in the palm of their hand tens of thousands of times more POWER than what was in the entire main frame computer that sent a man to the moon.
True this comparison is a bit unfair it is like comparing a Model-T to a McLaren. But it clearly shows the major advancements in the electronic industry just over the past few decades. That is nothing less than astounding. It is estimated that the knowledge base of our entire industry doubles every ten years. If that is true, the bigger question is not where we have come from but rather where are we going? What will be the advances that will be seen in what will seem like the immediate future? We can only expect more of the same. Breathless growth and advancements towards an ever-moving finish line.
The life blood of these advancements has been and will depend more on in the future “Information”. Starting with smallest of components to greatest multiple design systems with volumes of data. BUT nothing is set in stone. The trait that is so needed will be flexibility. Yesterday’s components, information or process’ may not particularly work in today’s environment. The days of simply of rehashing previous designs without confirmation are over. With how things are today, treating each PCB design as if it was brand new. Is the only way to assure that these changes will not impact our design projects.
Following very closely with the first Paradigm Shift is the Market demands.
Pass by any phone store days before a new mobile phone release, you easily see on full display this thing called “Market demand”. People camped out, with sleeping bags, lounge chairs and can goods. What exactly are they demanding? Is it the shiny new toy? Yes maybe. But also, they are looking for the new innovations, the new features, the new technology. In layman terms, the new bells and whistles. Market trends clearly show that the customers are requiring these “toys” to be smaller, sleeker, faster, with more features. Their demands can be summed in one word… they want POWER. The electronic industry has provided just that. Furthermore, from what is seen price does not seem to be an issue. With ever increasing prices, the customers seem to be willing to pay it.
Tied into these market demands is a huge requirement. A call has gone up from many a board rooms to reduce the time a product is in development. From that moment, it is first scribbled down on a napkin (preferably not used) over lunch by an engineer to the time the product goes to a customer is becoming a major concern. There is a lot motivating this. Either capturing more of the market share or to beat a competitor product.
But even though many time managements demand sound great on the surface but may not be the best thing. If the product does not work as expected. This forces the PCB designer to make sure that he maintains the integrity of the design to assure there are no mistakes. Knowing there will be no time or resources to re-spin the PCB design … so a simple rule to follow…. Do it right the first time.
With the present market take no prisoner mentality, there really is no “second chance” with a design. This section can be reduced to a single word “accuracy”. With it being very closely connected to the previous discussion regarding Technology Advancements. These two issues are linked, when Accurate detailed information and data is used. The results are extraordinary. BUT…. the reverse is also true… when it goes bad. It can go very bad. So, how that information is stored, verified and used is imperative.
For much of the past couple years, a major crisis has hit the electronic industry in the way of sourcing of components. Especially with many of discrete. With lead times increasing to what can only be described as a crisis levels. Especially for the Multi-Layer Ceramic Capacitor (MLCC) and Tantalums Capacitors. Some components availability is estimated out as far out as 32 to as high as 80-weeks.
Simply, the demand far outweighs the supply. But several specific sectors of the electronic industry are driving this problem.
First Internet of the Things (IOT)
There has been an absolute explosion of devices in the residential and commercial industry of the Internet of Things (IOT). With such Smart devices from TV’s to toasters., Bluetooth speaker systems, Amazon Alexa and Googleomes to renewable energy products, solar panels and Cloud Computing. It is estimated according to Gartner, there will be more than 20 billion IoT devices deployed by 2020 which will be a 100 percent growth in the number of these devices in the next two years. This alone will bring about multiple problems.
Secondly, Mobile Phone Industry
Time to age myself. There was a time not too long ago there were things called “landlines”. According to a special report called Mobile Technology Fact Sheet". Put out by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Dated 27 December 2013. In 2004, only about 45% of people in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 owned cell phones. In just 4 years' time, that percentage climbed to about 71%. That same year, 2008, about 77% of adults owned a mobile phone. In the year 2013, 91% of adults in the United States owned a mobile phone. Almost 60% of those with a mobile had a smartphone.
There are an estimated 1.5 billion new phones that are created on a yearly basis. It is also estimated that each new Mobile phone uses about 1000 MLCC Capacitors. With the total production of estimated 3-trillion capacitors each year, the math is just staggering. Nearly 50% of all the capacitors created are placed into Mobile phones.
Major advancements have occurred in the Automotive industry. Not just for the fully Hybrid or electric vehicles. But advancements that have now crossed over to the conventional Gasoline vehicles with the addition of new technologies in automation of via automated driving systems (ADS). All the new automated gadgets such as parking sensors and auto windscreen wipers. The standard combustion engine car, has somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 capacitors. A hybrid or an electric vehicle has up to 22,000 MLCCs required in a single car.
To only to add to the Component shortage problem. The manufacturers have started to deprecate many of the component lines that have less of a demand. Especially those components that are based on size. Many of the larger size components are going the way of the through hole parts. By doing this, it has allowed those production lines to switch over to the more productive product lines.
All this has resulted in a massive component shortage across the entire electronic industry worldwide. Mix that with the powder keg of TNT with the practice of Allocation we begin to see exactly why this is such a problem.
So, why should this be a concern for the PCB Data Management area? In the past, it was straightforward to procure whatever parts were needed for a design. Since the back bone of a PCB design starts with component and their libraries, not much concern was placed on the components being used. With the onset of this crisis, more apprehension has been given at the beginning of a project not to basically paint ourselves into the design corner with something that will never be assembled. Once again “Information” is vital to provide the options for the Electronic Engineers (EE) to make adequate decisions on components.
Similarly, it has affected “how” designs are done.
This has had a triple threat on PCB Data management field.
- First, having adequate component parameter information to be able to have multiple choices that will accomplish the same thing. As it is said, variety is the spice of life. Narrowing down to a single source it is setting up for problems.
- Secondly, forced to be proactive during the design process. It is not always required to have such high tolerance parts on a certain design.
According to IPC, there are the various Performance classes of:
Class-1 General Electronic Products,
Class 2- Dedicated Service Electronic Products
Class-3 High Reliability Electronic Products.
In that light, many times the components used are “overkill” for the class of design. For
Unless it is required, may not be required to use 1% tolerant parts. Could probably get by with using a 5%. This will result in an increased supply of components.
Lastly, to have component availability data with multiple sourcing for each. With ever-growing list of component suppliers around the world. The part procurement field looks more like the wild west.
Fortunately, to help in this problem Altium has one of those “ice cream toppings”. Called ActiveBOM, it allows the automatic search and storage throughout the design process specifically for the procurement of components. Taking a Bill of Material and determining the “status” of each component and whether it is a good choice. With things changing so quickly especially in this area. Some parts that were called out one day are gone the next.
With an understanding of these several stumbling blocks that are in our way. With some flexibility, accuracy and being proactive, we can turn those stumbling blocks into stepping stones as we maneuver through this ever-changing landscape.