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Archive for April, 2010

EDA Extends Board Design into Manufacturing

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

A recent EDA and PCB acquisition represents a significant merger between the worlds of electronic and mechanical manufacturing.

From the perspective of a complete PCB design through manufacturing solution, the recent acquisition of Valor Computerized Systems by Mentor Graphics makes sense. From the perspective of the supply chain versus the PLM design space, the acquisition demonstrates an interesting trend in both the semiconductor EDA and PCB manufacturing markets.

To learn more about this acquisition, Chip Design magazine talked with Julian Coates, Director of Business Development for the Valor Division at Mentor Graphics.

[ChipD] In terms of the supply chain versus the product lifecycle management (PLM) design space, why was this acquisition important?

[JC] This acquisition represents the first time that a major EDA company has taken a position in manufacturing by extending the traditional design flow into the electronics manufacturing space. If you look at the mechanical PLM market, you have the big companies – PTC and Seimens UGS (now Siemens PLM) – where it is quite standard for the PLM vendors to have their flow include support for design-for-manufacturing processes and manufacturing execution.

I’ve always thought that it made sense for a company like Valor to be integrated either into a PLM design space or the supply chain system – as was Genrad when acquired by SAP (via Visiprice). We ended up in the PLM space by expanding Mentor’s PCB design flow into manufacturing.

[ChipD] How different is the PCB manufacturing space from the chip fabrication industry?

[JC] The board- and system-level assembly space is highly fragmented, especially in comparison to the silicon fabrication business. There is an order of magnitude in variation of the machine vendors in the PCB and system assembly world. It is no small feat to persuade all the machine vendors that it is worth their while to participate in the software control layer that is necessary to automate the factory floor.

[ChipD] How do the product lines between Mentor and Valor match up?

[JC] Mentor’s domain is that of PCB design and testing. Valor’s expertise lies in the domain manufacturing optimization which some people call simulation. In the mechanical engineering world, it is known as digital manufacturing, which is all about simulating and optimizing your manufacturing process as an off-line, pre-manufacturing activity. It is the twilight zone between the back-end of design and the starting of the manufacturing. 

The manufacturing optimization space contains all the Design-for-X (DFX) processes that have to be done before you can launch into the actual business of manufacturing – including DFT, DFA, DFF and the preparation processes for in-circuit test, assembly and fabrication. These are sometimes collectively known as Design-for-Manufacturing (DFM). Valor also brings a suite of manufacturing execution tools to the flow.

[ChipD] In the EDA space, the closest competitor to Mentor with PCB design tools would be Cadence’s Allegro suite. But does that handle manufacturing as well?

[JC] Once the PCB design is completed in Allegro, the data files are sent to manufacturing. That is the traditional flow, namely, the hand-off from design to manufacturing. The differentiator here is that Mentor is trying to be on both sides of the wall with an intelligent flow.

[ChipD] In what market is Valor predominant? Mobile, consumer or …?

[JC] Those segmentations are highly relevant to the design space. But once you get into manufacturing, the segmentation is different because fabricating PCBs. In the manufacturing world, it doesn’t matter too much whether the end product is for the mobile phone or consumer electronic markets. Instead, the segmentation tends to be more by region, by high or low volumes or mix of part types. For example, is the end product target for an outsourced EMF sector or for the vertically integrated OEM sector? Those tend to be the ones that have more meaning at the manufacturing level. Having said that, I should note that we have customers in all the major design segments: aerospace, defense, telecoms, and consumer.

[ChipD] Earlier, you mentioned manufacturing execution. What does that process cover?

[JC] For the last 10 years, we’ve been developing interfaces for all the board and system-level assembly manufacturing machines. This has enabled us to recently launch a complete tool suite called the Manufacturing System Solution (MSS). The MSS is used to control all the business process in a typical PCB factory (see figure).


Figure: Screen shot of a virtual PCB factory floor, which serves as the main portal for Valor’s MSS.

The main portal or GUI of our MMS is really a complete virtual map of the factor, with the assembly line exactly as it looks on the production floor. Through this portal, you can manage everything from the manufacturing process preparation and simulation to scheduling, control of materials (for lean engineering techniques) and final production. Control of materials is a big issue, 80 percent of the finished printed circuit assembly is due to the cost of the materials. By controlling those costs, you also minimize the amount of cash that is locked up in a business.

All of these things can be managed by a single portal, which is why you need to have all of those interfaces and data control points working together, delivering meaningful data.

This matches nicely with the goal of the two companies, i.e., to provide a complete flow from product development through manufacturing. Our vision in Mentor is to build more and more feedback loops in the various steps of manufacturing, to bring knowledge about the manufacturing operation – components and process – back into the design process. That way, when you set out to design the next generation product, it will be so much more manufacturability, thanks to knowledge based on previous generations of the product.

EDA Tool Vendor – A Rose by any other Name?

Friday, April 9th, 2010

 What is happening in the EDA industry? Irmgard Lafrentz, President and Founder of Globalpress, poised this question to me in a recent phone call. She did a good job of capturing the essence of the conversation in a recent blog: Something’s happening in EDA, and this time it’s good! I want to explore this question in a bit more detail.

First, let’s consider the media side of this question. With the collapse – but not total annihilation – of the print business model as a primary means for funding the development of meaningful content, EDA companies are finding fewer and fewer venues for their technology and product announcements. Couple that challenge with the necessity of reaching a global audience with their message. This means that EDA companies must look for coverage beyond the traditional sources. Hence the push into online and social media outlets. (Yes – there are other reasons for the push, too.)

Secondly, many EDA companies are making a serious push into vertical markets with their technology and products, markets like medical, industrial, automotive and communications.

This “shift” way from being seen as an “EDA tool vendor” to instead being perceived as a “system solution provider” is both evolutionary and essential for business survival. EDA companies can no longer focus solely on the design and manufacture of the chips. Instead, they must consider the chips in relationship to the package and board – and even in terms of both hardware and software. This is one reason why IP has become so critical in the EDA tool chain.

This move away from the nomenclature of the “EDA tool vendor” can be seen in the restructuring of most of the big technical trade shows, too – like DAC and ESC.

So, if you don’t want to be known as an “EDA tool vendor,” then what is the correct phrase? System Solution Provider? That sounds rather PR-ish. But what phrase will capture the essences of today’s EDA company? I’m not sure. What do you think?

The “Bang” That Left The US Behind

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

“What happened before the Big Bang? Are there parallel universes? Is time travel possible?” According to Mr Kaku  – today’s media equivalent to Steven Hawkings – these are some of the questions that could be answered by the experiments now taking place at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. [A Second Big Bang In Geneva?]

As fascinating as this work is, many may wonder about its practical application. My Kaku addresses this question by pointing to the monumentous changes that have typically followed breakthroughs in basic research:

> Sir Isaac Newton’s work on the theory of force (gravity) laid the groundwork for the steam engines and the Industrial Revolution

> Research in electromagnetism – thanks to Edison, Maxwell and Faraday – lead to the creation of TV, radio, radar, computers and the Internet

> Albert Einstein’s famous energy-mass equation “unlocked the secret of …nuclear forces,” thus ushering in the age of nuclear power and further exploration of the stars.

Who knows what life changing effects will result from the work at LHC?

An interesting side note to this story is that the US choose not to participate in – or benefit from – this important work by failing to fund such basic research. Can the US afford to be “penny wise and pound foolish” when it comes to supporting activities that ensure our long term standing in technology? Perhaps our children will be better able to answer that question than we are.