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Cadence Design Systems recently integrated more of its Sigrity capabilities into the front end of its PCB design tools. During DesignCon, Chris Banton of EMA Design Automation spoke with me about how this drive for “model-less analysis” benefits the PCB designer who can now access signal and power integrity, DFM, and electrical rule checking functionality early in the design process and have fewer issues later.
Andy Shaughnessy: Chris, I understand you are here with a new release. Tell us about it.
Chris Banton: Hi, Andy. Thanks for talking with me. We have a release that came out at the end of last year. It’s all around this concept of real-time design where we are enabling customers to check their designs as they go in real time. Currently, we have found that many designers get to the end of the design process, do their checks or verifications, send it to manufacture, and then find all these problems. They go back and fix it and get stuck in an endless cycle.
By bringing design intelligence earlier into the process and providing the designer tips and tools to help them see when problems appear, they can fix them as they design. One of the things that happens is there’s this cumulative effect of the bad decisions you made earlier impacting the future decisions, and it can be hard to unravel that sometimes. Cadence is trying to fix that.
Cadence has taken some of the simulation engines from Sigrity, which is the premier signal and power integrity solution, and embedded them right into the PCB design environment. As the designer works, they can see if they’re having issues with impedance discontinuity, crosstalk, or their PDN, for example. What’s more, it’s all done in a way that’s overlaid on the design canvas. It makes it easy for designers to fix problems and see if they’ve been solved. It’s all about trying to help designers produce a better board at the end with fewer chances for error and better chances of first-pass success, so they can go home for the weekend and start working on the next project.
Shaughnessy: It sounds like you’re giving regular designers, so to speak, engineering power; they don’t have to be a signal integrity engineer to use this.
Banton: Yes, the intent is a “model-less” type of analysis. How do we solve all of these first-order problems? If a designer knows they have an impedance problem they can usually fix it. The problem is they don’t know that they have this issue. So, how do we help the designer see that and identify it easily? There’s still a role for the signal integrity expert for looking at big thorny problems, such as DDR5 and multi-gigabit serial links and other things that require special expertise. But how do we help designers solve the bulk of their design problems up front because they can identify them as they happen?
Shaughnessy: Is this in Allegro and OrCAD?
Banton: Yes; it’s all real-time design. You can go to OrCAD’s or EMA’s website, and we have videos for each one of them. You can see how this works directly within the design canvas. If people want to try it out, we also have a free trial for download where you can see how it works, which is good for 30 days.
Shaughnessy: And a lot of it is taking the functionality from Sigrity and bringing it down into the basic design platform.
Banton: Where it makes sense. That is a critical point; it must be accessible. It has to be easily consumable for design engineers because they have a million other problems they must deal with. So, we need to be additive without causing a lot of distractions for them.
Shaughnessy: The key is getting it to where they want to use it.
Banton: Absolutely, and one of the things Sigrity is known for is identifying, visualizing, and solving complex problems other solutions just can’t handle. Being able to take that and bring it right into the design tool and make it accessible and easy is a powerful tool.
Shaughnessy: What else are you working on?
Banton: A lot of what we’re talking about and working on is helping educate designers. We’re seeing a big shift in the industry where it’s all about EEs taking on the role of PCB designer as well.
Shaughnessy: Right. All the new designers I’m seeing are either EEs or MEs. Very few “pure” designers are coming into the field now.
Banton: Yes, however, PCB design skills are still in very high demand. We’re also seeing a lot of new engineers who just have EE experience/education but don’t have dedicated PCB design training. They understand engineering theory and everything, but how do they get a board manufactured effectively? Having real-time DFM and impedance checking in your toolkit solves problems they would have downstream that can get expensive and eat up time.
Last year, we put together a book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to PCB Design. We brought a bunch of different industry experts together to discuss their lessons learned and made it into a guide new designers can use. Hopefully, they will learn some aspects of the design process or at least get some ideas of the right questions they need to ask themselves or their manufacturing partners. You’ll see us extend on our book and continue to provide tools to help educate the marketplace. We want to ensure people understand the process and can get their boards produced effectively; we have the best technology to do that.
Shaughnessy: That’s our columnist Mark Thompson’s key point. He gives tours at Prototron and a lot of designers have never been in a board shop, or they haven’t been in one in 25 years. How do you design a board if you’ve never been in a board shop?
Banton: Exactly. And Mark was one of our key contributors to the book. The schematic is still very much theory. Then there’s the PCB which is kind of real, but you can still break the rules. Finally, there’s the real world where you try to actually build it. How do you make sure your idea can get through layout and manufacturing and be viable?
Shaughnessy: Thanks for talking with me, Chris.
Banton: Thank you, Andy.