Trending at Freedom CAD: New Crop of Next‐Gen Designers
Scott McCurdy, director of sales and marketing at Freedom CAD Services, expresses his vision for what North America is bringing to the table in the world of circuit design. I‐Connect007 Publisher Barry Matties and McCurdy also discuss China, trends in product design, tools, and more.
Barry Matties: Tell me a little bit about Freedom CAD. What does the company do, exactly?
Scott McCurdy: Freedom CAD is one of the largest printed circuit design engineering service bureaus in North America. We’re primarily known for PCB layout which is where we have the largest number of our employees, with about thirty layout designers. We also go upstream as well, with electrical engineers doing hardware design. The EE guys (electrical/electronics engineers) work from the customer’s block diagram sketch to create the digital schematic; then we’ll do the layout.
But we also go in the other direction: When we get the opportunity with our customers, we can provide prototype assemblies. We manage the projects, working with a few select partners for PCB fabrication, component kitting, and assembly houses. We’re really only dealing with prototypes builds, but it’s that entire cradle‐to‐grave span that we can provide to our customer, to take them from the sketch pad to the working PCB assembly.
We’re basically providing the engineering that will ultimately turn into a circuit board.
Matties: You’ve been at this for how long?
McCurdy: I have been at it for a few years. I got started in 1968 and opened a little printed circuit board shop with my dad.
Matties: McCurdy Circuits?
McCurdy: Yes. Dad got it off and running and a decade later I took over the company and over the following 20+ years grew it to $33 million. Then came the cataclysmic event of 2001. Lots of headstones in the PCB fabricators graveyard! McCurdy Circuits was one of them. I stumbled into the IPC Designers Council. All of a sudden, my eyes opened up that the design side of this business was a great place for my previous fab skills.
I’ve been the president of the Orange County Chapter of the IPC Designers Council since 2003 and really enjoy being able to bring designers and fabricators together. This way we can learn more about what each other is doing and actually create some reality out of that term “DFM.”
Matties: Is your customer base primarily in the U.S., or are you in the global market?
McCurdy: We do very little outside of North America. There are a lot of our customers who are designing and engineering in the States but they’re building it somewhere else. That’s just the way it is today, but they do appreciate the mindshare of same time zones, and we’ve got designers in 13 states and British Columbia, so we’re scattered all over the country. There is the comfort level of talking in the same language and being in close time zones and cultures and things like that. Not that we don’t feel that there are other parts of the world that are making a great contribution to this interconnect industry, we’re just primarily North America—that is our main customer base.
Matties: One of the things that I’m hearing is that China is really coming on strong in the design sector.
McCurdy: They have a huge population and they are educating an enormous number of engineers. They’re bringing these people into the design seats. The average age of the designer in China is substantially lower than it is here in the U.S.
In America, we have a whole bunch of baby boomers in front of the displays doing the designs. These are the 25‐ and 35‐year veterans of printed circuit design that started off laying tape and drafting from the industrial arts side of printed circuit design, that have adapted to the computers. The designer generation that’s coming up in China—they’re coming in as double Es.
That’s a benefit in terms of understanding electronics but they don’t have the years and years of practical experience. But hey, the clock is going to continue moving and they’re going to gain the experience over time.
Matties: I think the case could be made that they don’t have the years of habit embedded into them.
McCurdy: That is true. At Freedom CAD, we are grooming a crop of 20‐somethings. We’ve been doing that for about three or four years now. We’re bringing in small groups of high‐aptitude, good attitude, want‐to‐learn, puzzle‐solvers. But they don’t all make it.
To start them off we’ve got a training program that brings them up. We’ve developed some solid designers in just a few short years as apprentice journeyman. We put them under the wing of somebody who wants to help to guide them along. They come in with no baggage. We’re developing that next generation of designers ourselves. We’re doing it here in the United States.
Matties: What trends do you see in product design?
McCurdy: Density continues to march on and the biggest thing is high‐speed now. Controlled impedance, material choices, trace length matching; these things all come into play in so many of the designs that we do. That’s a big deal. Our designers just don’t “connect the dots”.
Another trend from the CAD tool standpoint – For so many years designers said, “I hate autorouters.” I would go to designer council meetings and I say, “Hey, with a show of hands, how many people autoroute?” Out of 65 people in the room, maybe five designers would raise their hands.
The CAD vendors such as Mentor and Cadence finally started listening and developed much different routing tools for their latest upgrades. It’s not just a matter of push the button, walk away, come back, and the board is done. They’re letting the designer have some say in how they direct the tool to provide guided routing automation.
For instance, Mentor Graphics has recently released in their latest version of Xpedition, a very interactive tool called “Sketch Router.” Cadence has similar types of solutions and I think that will change the 30‐year designer mentality of “I hate autorouting” to “Wow, this is a tool that will make me more productive with great results, saving me time and money.”
It’s good for our industry if we can level the playing field and keep from going overseas for the routing by doing it ourselves smartly with better tools.
Matties: Scott, thank you very much. I appreciate it!