John R. Watson Returns to AltiumLive in San Diego

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We've gotten creative with our designs, but also I think a lot of times we were over designing some of our products. And I think a lot of companies do. I've been talking to a lot of assembly houses recently in preparation for AltiumLive and they see of a lot of designs that come through that don't require such a high level of tolerances, for example. They have a 0-ohm resistor with a .1% tolerance, but it’s not necessary. One of the things that I'm really pushing on our designers is to keep in mind what we're building and the class that we're building.

So, we can go with a 5%, or we'll go with a 10%. Those parts are out there and we kind of sidestepped the entire problem by doing that. Because it's just vicious out there right now with components. It's absolutely unbelievable.

Shaughnessy: And people are just stockpiling components, right? What else can you do?

Watson: Yeah. Once you're into a vendor, they now have special guidelines. They've switched over to allocation where they're now rationing out their components. Once you get into that, then the companies are just panicking. That's the best word I can come up with, panicking. They're doubling and tripling their orders and they're just stockpiling. Exactly right.

We have a tool in Altium called Active BOM that lets you check your parts and basically go out and check your vendors and see what their recommendations are as far as if this is a good part or not. That's sort of in connection with this little talk's about. It's a nightmare. It's really opened my eyes to really how bad it was. I knew it was out there, but I didn't realize how bad it was.

Shaughnessy: You taught at last year's AltiumLive, which drew hundreds of designers. What did you think of their inaugural show?

Watson: We had a great time. Last year I was talking about Altium Vault, which was the precursor to the Nexus system, and basically more of the organization of Altium and how we can use it to better improve our designs.

Shaughnessy: Are you going to be at the Munich show in January?

Watson: I will. I am very excited about Munich. That's going to be great. I think Europe might outdo San Diego in the United States this year. That would be great. I'm really excited about the interest and how the response has been for these events.

Shaughnessy: Is there anything that you want to mention that we haven't talked about?

Watson: Last year when I first heard Altium was going to do a convention, I was in the middle of doing beta testing on Altium 18. So I knew they were going to be doing this release and my first thought really was, “I sure hope this doesn't turn into a two-day commercial for Altium 18.” They sit you down there and give you demos and tell them how great this product's going to be, etc., etc. I was absolutely delighted when that didn't happen. This turned into something I don't even think Altium was expecting last year. I kind of just sat back and watched this.

There was such camaraderie and friendships that were being developed and team building and different aspects of this whole conference. Over two days, there was just a phenomenal growth because we're all from different levels. It wasn't like this was just for the experts. This was where everybody was able to benefit from it. They had probably two or three sessions of Altium 18. But the rest of it was made up of team-building and learning about printed circuit boards, and that's the same way it's going to be this year. I almost don’t consider this an Altium convention.

Shaughnessy: I see they added this University Day at the beginning just so that if you wanted Altium stuff, there it is, but the rest of the event would not be vendor-specific at all. It's not just a user group.

Watson: I will be speaking at University Day this year. I'm very excited about that also. But as I said, I would not even have called this an Altium convention; this is a convention of fellow PCB designers that have come together and they're just getting away from their work. Kind of getting away from all that and concentrating on themselves and on their careers and just taking care of themselves, you know?

Because with PCB design you're always learning something new. It's a never-ending task. It's not where you can wake up one morning and you've arrived. It's always learning. And just about the time that you've learned it and you think you've got it nailed down it changes. You've got new technologies or different things like that. New parts that come out, new problems, new issues. Keeping people trained and keeping them up to speed on those sort of things is vital.

I've noticed several changes recently in PCBs. There seems to be a lot of discussion now about high-speed design, the DDRs and the length tuning and all of that. I've been reading a lot with the automotive industry that there's actually going to be a push towards high-power stuff. And I think there's a gap there. Everyone's been kind of lost in this high-speed stuff because it's cool. As far as the high-power stuff, I find even a lot of the EEs have issues with it because they're unaware of the compliance and the requirements and different things like that and how that impacts the PCB design.

I think in the future, high power is going to hit the PCB area a little bit of a broadside, because they've been concentrating so much on the sleek and the shiny stuff that they’ve lost the direction of going to the high-power stuff.

Shaughnessy: It's a really good time for us. I remember designers complaining about EDA tools for years and years. But what else do you want the tools to do?

Watson: I actually just wrote about that in a white paper. It’s the belief that the PCB software area is like the trailer on the back-end of the truck. I don't believe that. I believe that the EDA industry has taken the lead. I remember years ago sitting down with a calculator and determining what the height and the frequency of a trace would have to be to determine the length based on the miter angle, etc. Now you type in a number and you scale it out and, BAM, there it is. I keep trying to remind Altium that some of us do get paid by the hour out here (laughs). We push the button and it starts running. We go get our coffee, come back and it's all finished. We're having to come up with new excuses about why it takes so long. The tools are unbelievable.

Altium has constantly kept shocking me. They come up with new things. You're going to see in Altium 19 some brand new things that are just mind-blowing because now they have a whole new platform to work with going from 32-bit up to 64-bit. And boy, they are now just really ramping it up.

I'm going to sound like a marketing guy, but now Altium is sitting in a fantastic position and I think they are the leader in the industry. The fact that they have the engineers behind them means they're well ahead of jumping on the next new thing.

Shaughnessy: Thanks for your time today, John. Maybe we can meet up in San Diego.

Watson: Thanks, Andy. I’d like that.

Visit I-007eBooks to download your copy of Altium's micro eBook today: The Printed Circuit Designer's Guide to Design for Manufacturing.




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