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Xpedition Awaits for PCB Designers

Mentor Graphics announces improvements to and the re-branding of its well-known Expedition line of printed circuit board (PCB) design and manufacturing tools.

By John Blyler, Chief Content Officer

Earlier this week, Mentor Graphics announced the launch of a new PCB design platform called Xpedition xPCB. The release marks the first phase in an ongoing update of the company’s board-level design and manufacturing tool suites.

The company is integrating its former Expedition PCB suite of tools under the new name. “The first release of the re-branded Xpedition platform aims to greatly improve board-level design productivity,” explained David Wiens, Product Marketing Manager at Mentor.

Today’s board designers face challenges from increasing design complexity and workforce dynamics to the handling of larger systems. Like chips, board designs are growing in complexity with high speed (e.g., 28Gbit) signals, shrinking board sizes with more layers and increasing board densities.

Greater design complexity means that today’s PCB designer efforts are shifting from drafters to board and systems engineers. Unfortunately, there are fewer layout designers in part due to the decline in engineering graduation rates. Adding to these workforce challenges is the move from stand alone PCB projects to more complete systems that include electrical, mechanical and software sub-systems.

Many of these challenges can be met with improvements to design productivity, such as streamlining the design process. Additionally, systematic component placement and planning should be available throughout the development process. The quality and speed of automated routing also should be improved. Finally, PCB development should support both 2D and 3D design, as well as integrate both electronic and mechanical systems.

Xpedition xPCB claims to address all of these challenges. For example, to help streamline the design activity, the platform provides a more consistent and logical user interface, personalized layout toolbars, faster learning curves features and more.

With increasing circuit complexity comes intricate topologies that require more in-depth planning, not to mention the careful placement of thousands of board components. xPCB provides planning and placement features for all of these parts throughout the entire design process, from schematic capture to layout.

Once the design is complete, the board must be routed. The routing environment of xPCB addresses design scenarios including digital and analog subsystem, high-speed signaling plus flex and rigid-flex board implementations.

Routing is tricky. “While automatic routing engines can help, they often add too many vias,” said Charles Pfeil, Engineering Director atMentor. “They also tend to meander. Results from auto routers can take longer than the designers doing it themselves.”

Mentor’s claims that its new routing environment makes it easier for users to get good results with several specific features: sketch router, dynamic router, differential signals, and curved router. The sketch router matches the quality of manual routing but allows the user to manage the location of traces with options for routing styles. It also enables the selection of via patterns. A surprising result is that an optimized, efficient routed selection is also pleasing to the eye, much like a work of art.

Conversely, differential pair routing may not look as good to the casual observer but it is critical for today’s high-speed signals. The challenge with differential pair routing is to maintain symmetrical pad entry as well as trace length and phase matching. “Phase match tuning is all about noise management,” noted Pfeil. “Signals and hence traces that are kept in phase with less impedance mismatch are less susceptible to EMI noise.”

To appreciate the benefits of automating the task of differential pair routing – e.g., quickly moving along rule areas and via pads – check out this video.

Another routing feature of the xPCB tool is the way it handles curved routing, which are needed for BGAs or connectors with staggered pins. The traces for such pins can not be at the usual 45 degrees but instead must be arcs. With high speed signals – around 20GHz, the arcs result in less noise from signal reflections than the more angular 45 degree traces.

The final feature to help increase PCB productivity is in the use of 3D design. Why use 3D techniques in PCB design? Perhaps the biggest benefit is that 3D approaches reduce the errors and resulting iterations between PCB and MCAD designs. A tighter collaboration between the electronic and mechanical board domains is essential in today’s need for full system development.

The other driver in 3D designs is that many applications require a flexible PCB in addition the more traditionally rigid boards.

Xpedition xPCB claims to support true 3D layout instead of just a 2D design interface. The tool boasts a true parametric 3D mechanical kernel, which supports one environment for both 2D and 3D development. The 3D layout designer provides the same features as the 2D version including a generous library of models; component planning, placement and manipulation; constraints and design rule checks; a spatial measurement capabilities. Naturally, the 3D tool has additional features such as board flipping.

In summary, the Xpedition layout platform boasts an automated router that provides hand-routed quality in a shorter design time. Addition, the tool supports component placement and planning, 3D design and validation for minimal MCAD respins, and a better user experience via a more intuitive interface.


This is the first of many announcements under the new Xpedition brand that should make the development and manufacturing of PCBs considerably easier for designers.

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