CircuitData: Creating an Open Source Language for PCB Data Exchange

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Goldman: Are you able to implement this with any of your customers through your chain?

Lydersen: We are, and in December we launched a tool that we've developed. I don't know if you're aware of this, but almost everybody in the supply chain, including the end customer, add some sort of documentation and say, "These are our custom requirements for PCB." You basically receive the format itself and a specification of whatever couldn't be in the format, and then you receive another document, probably a PDF which says stuff like, "These are the materials that are allowed. This is how we want it." Like mouse bites, right? So, “We always need mouse bites. Even though it's not stated in the specifications, you should add mouse bites.”

We started out addressing those. Could we take away that PDF and replace that with something usable? We've been visiting a lot of customers in Scandinavia and Germany, to start the ball rolling, to have them go through their internal requirements and change that into the language, and we have a graphical user interface for them to click their way through and say, "Okay, so this is our defaults, and this is never allowed, or this is always enforced."

As I said, we are looking to our suppliers to have them just import our specifications directly instead of punching them again. Our goal for 2018 is to have one full digital supply chain based on CircuitData. That would be great.

Goldman: This does not involve any suppliers to the PCBs manufacturers, does it? In other words, it's just starting with the design, really, and matching. Because that's where all the confusion is, right?

Lydersen: Yes, it is. As I said, everybody has some requirements that keep adding up throughout the whole supply chain; for the designers, they're lacking a language to explain this, so they end up with a notepad or some text documents, and they send that off. For the manufacturers, it's a whole different challenge. "Okay, I have a number of questions about your design; am I allowed to make modifications, or do I need to ask? And if I need to ask, then how do I ask?"

Goldman: It boils down to communication; we hear that all the time—the need for better communication. "We all need to work together." But this could open a sort of a different chain than getting on the phone and talking to somebody or meeting with them in person. This could explain a whole lot. Like you said, your 108 questions.

Lydersen: Definitely. It opens a whole bunch of possibilities, where systems could point out conflicts in specifications before they're shipped off. Or it could tell the designer while they're designing that, "The choice you just made will increase the product by X percent," because it's an expensive choice. But now, given the fact that we're not talking the same language, that's not possible. You can see it in any other scenario. If I spoke Norwegian to you, we would need a translator; it would take at least double the amount of time.

Goldman: As a PCB broker, you are closely aligned with PCB manufacturers and your customers, so you're obviously spearheading this and driving it. Is there reluctance from designers to get involved? They probably just don't have time, or something like that? You would think they would want to drive this.

Lydersen: You would think, but I wrote a blog post about that just the other day. I think what they're waiting for is something like, "How can I use this in a graphical user interface? When can I fit in my normal design application and make those choices, and start generating something that is in the right language?" They're waiting for the actual, something tangible.

Goldman: They don't have time to drive, they just want it.

Lydersen: That's true, and we're trying to sell something abstract, right? A language is not tangible. So that's a challenge, and I think making the choice of doing it open-source is the way to go. It just needs to be owned by everybody. But it's still time-consuming and it's rather expensive.

For us, it's a question of how to grow together with customers or suppliers. And you don't want to grow on people punching data, you want to grow on people with actual knowledge that can contribute to something in that supply chain. But now they're stuck writing or just translating.

Goldman: Well, this is all very interesting and CircuitData certainly sounds like a worthwhile project. I hope things move along with the help of the presentation at IPC’s Design Forum during APEX EXPO in San Deigo. Thank you for your time today, Andreas.

Lydersen: You're more than welcome.


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