DownStream: What a Long EDA Trip it’s Been


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No doubt about it: DownStream Technologies co-founder Joe Clark is an EDA veteran, with a history that dates back to the very beginning of EDA tools through the merger madness of the late ‘90s and beyond. I sat down with Joe during IPC APEX EXPO, and asked him about some of the changes he’s seen, and the direction of DownStream as it enters its 15th year. 

Andy Shaughnessy: Joe, why don't you start off by giving everybody a real quick background about yourself and DownStream?

Joe Clark: I actually began in EDA with a company called GenRad, or General Radio, which manufactured automatic test equipment (ATE) for verifying PCBs. The application there was mostly for functional testing. We created a PCB simulator to simulate the board and test if, for a given set of inputs, the outputs were correct. From that we ventured into simulation tools for custom components as custom ICs started to make an appearance in the market.

I went to work for Racal-Redac in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s before I moved to PADS Software, where I spent 10 years of my time. There we merged with Innoveda, which was formerly Viewlogic, and from there we spun out in 2002 to create DownStream Technologies.

Shaughnessy: And 2002 was a great year to launch a start-up.

Clark: That's a very good point. When I think about how long we've been doing DownStream it seems like it was only a couple of years ago, but it has been 15 years. When we spun out, it was really a bad time: The tech bubble had burst and then there was 9/11 and all the terrible things that surrounded that. It was just a bad time in general. Our view was the EDA industry up until then had focused primarily on what we called the upstream processes, like specifying the design, creating the schematic, the layout and so on, very few companies were focusing on the back end of the process, where we actually build things.

Shaughnessy: Where all the mistakes are.

Clark: Exactly. Our belief was that in the whole process of NPI, new product introduction, it was equally important to focus on the front end, the upstream processes, as it was to focus on the back end, the manufacturing process – where we build things. Our vision for DownStream was to be the company that helps companies to bridge the gap or chasm between the “upstream” design processes and the “downstream” physical processes. This was an area of new product development that we believed would move from something that was “nice to do” to “mission critical”.

Now, 15 years later, our vision was correct. Today, when you hear companies today talk about where they are focusing it is on the downstream processes. How do we improve that hand-off from design to manufacturing? A company’s time for realizing a return on their products is always shrinking. The technology itself is always advancing, geometries continue to shrink, and flex circuits and embedded components are now a reality. The complexities have increased enough that is it no longer good enough to take the design and do the proverbial “hand it off over the wall.”

Companies need to understand the manufacturing process and prepare the upstream processes to deal with them. Basically in a nutshell, where DownStream fits into the equation is we help companies bridge that gap, that chasm, between the upstream and downstream processes and how their products are built.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the May 2016 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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