Rick Almeida Discusses DownStream's Latest News

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Starkey: It’s good to be able to communicate in an intelligent language instead of a dumb one. I was brought up in an era where we would be given taped artworks in the first instance.

Almeida: That's how I started too.

Starkey: And then master photoplots. Nobody would give us the data that produced those photoplots in case we interfered with it. They said, "Right, that's where you start," which is fine, but that's just dumb picture information.

Almeida: It's ironic because when you think about the design database, every designer looks at it as the holy grail. However, before you can go to manufacturing, you have all of this intelligence and interrelationships in there, but you strip it all out into just a number of disconnected files when you go to manufacturing.

Starkey: When we first started manufacturing from data put in a CAM front-end and a laser plotter, we were on the sharp edge of technology. But we were being fed with dumb information and spent an awful lot of time, particularly when we wanted to do automated optical inspection and electrical test. If you're on quick-turn, short-run stuff, you don’t have an established golden board to compare with; you have to try and put the intelligence back into that dumb information.

Almeida: Right, and the designers take a lot of pride in making sure that design is correct, and then they rely on a third party to put all of this unconnected data back together and deliver their little green card.

Starkey: And this is what you've been achieving.

Almeida: Yes, that's where 3D helped us sort it out. We get a visual model of what the PCB will look like depending on how you design it before you go to manufacturing and before manufacturing engineering. You get a better understanding of what this manufacturing data will look like before you actually start using up copper clad.

Starkey: Even the bare-board PCB fabricator can see what they’re aiming at in 3D and look at it from all sorts of angles. And at the next stage, the person who is going to assemble it can see not just in a schematic but also where those components physically are and how they interact with each other—the tall ones, short ones, etc.

Almeida: It's a realistic view before you have to spend the money to get the design back. It's an interesting paradox that we have because ODB++ and IPC-2581 go a long way to solving that because it keeps all that data together in one file. I think there's a little bit of a trust issue on the design side when adopting these intelligent formats.

Starkey: There has to be.

Almeida: Because of the intellectual property, which is understandable too—IP theft is becoming a big issue that we have to address now. But at the same time, as I said, you disconnect all of this design data, rely on somebody else reading the documentation to put it all back together correctly, and you never know if they did it correctly until arrives it in your shipping department.

Starkey: But if you can step back and effectively see a seamless chunk of the supply chain all talking to each other in a uniform language and accessing meaningful data, that's going to benefit everybody in that chain.

Almeida: And that is one of the other things we've introduced in the CAM350 with this release—it’s a stackup visualizer. The idea of the stackup visualizer is to orientate the stackup for manufacturing and understand the construction intent, and also extract that stackup out of CAM350 and send it to your fabricator to get feedback. What materials are they using? Can they build the board as you're basically specifying it? Then, they can send a revised stackup back to CAM350 and read that back in based on the construction materials they your supplier uses. So, we can try to work with some of the inherent barriers that are still there.

Starkey: Do you get involved at all with the signal integrity people? Because they look on a stackup from the point of view of controlling impedance values.

Almeida: We don't because it tends to be done further up in the design chain than where we are. We look at it from the construction intent of it, and using things like Gerber and drill information, which is not also the best to do signal integrity on.

Starkey: Sounds good. Rick, I really appreciate your time. It’s good to see you again, learn about what is state of the art now, and compare it with what was state of the art then.

Almeida: Yes, it's come a long way. My first boards were done on a light table as well, and God forbid if you stepped away from the light table and had a little piece of tape on your wrist: "Where did this come from?"

Starkey: The big unknown is where it's going to go from here because it’s accelerating exponentially fast.

Almeida: I think the cloud will eventually catch on and cloud-based EDA will let you take the design with you wherever you go—on your tablet or phone, whenever you need it.

Starkey: It’s been great to talk to you, Rick. Thanks again. I’ll catch up with you next time.

Almeida: Thanks, Pete. I look forward to it.


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