Randy Burcham Discusses New Techniques for BOM, Daughterboards

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During AltiumLive, I spoke with IOTA Engineering's Randy Burcham, who taught several classes during the event. He explained his methodology for filtering BOM data, as well as his new approach to working with daughterboards and how he was up and running on Altium tools after only three days.

Andy Shaughnessy: Randy, tell us about the class you’re teaching here and why you decided to come to AltiumLive.

Randy Burcham: Sure. I'm going to be doing a talk on hidden library attributes, how to add them and use them, and how to create a BOM that can be filtered out to supply different things for different applications. Case in point, the application of purchasing, which does not need to have as much information as an engineering BOM. Further, assembly BOMs are frequently divided into two categories: one for the surface mount parts put on at one stage, and one for the through-hole parts that are put on at another stage. You have to be able to separate the BOM from each other into different categories depending on how they're used.

I've developed a methodology to do this where you filter the BOM using an Excel spreadsheet script. I am providing all of this to Altium so they can incorporate it as they see fit or make it available on their website to designers to use and experiment with.

I'll also be doing a secondary talk on adding a daughterboard to a mainboard. And by a daughterboard, I mean as many daughterboards as you wish—it doesn't have to be just one—which allows you to basically treat the daughterboard as a separate component just like any other component. That also allows you to do dimension checking in 3D where you can actually have components on the mainboard that are directly over components on the daughterboard, but they do not conflict with each other in 3D, so the program does not flag it as an error. If they do conflict, then it shows that there's an issue that you need to fix. It might be shifting a board or changing one or the other boards or shifting a component, but this allows you to do dimension checking in 3D.

Shaughnessy: So, this is a system-level design idea.

Burcham: That's right. It is a multiboard capability, but a very simplified methodology.

Shaughnessy: Tell us a little bit about IOTA and how you became interested in these topics.

Burcham: I was a military contractor at both Raytheon and Hughes Missile Systems for over 22 years where I specialized in RF circuit board design. I'll admit to working over 30 GHz, but beyond, that I can't discuss it.

Shaughnessy: With Altium?

Burcham: No, with Mentor. That was their preferred CAD system. I’m knowledgeable on about a dozen different CAD systems, and of all of them, Altium blows them all out of the water by a factor of 10.

Shaughnessy: You’ve done some pretty high-speed stuff.

Burcham: Over 30 GHz. That was not with Altium—as I mentioned, it was with Mentor—but Altium will easily handle that as well. That's more about the user and how they use it rather than the program itself. Altium is a very fun program, and I enjoy it very much. How did I get here? Basically, Raytheon went through a major decline as a result of cutbacks in military spending, and they decided to go from over 13,000 employees down to 7,000, and I was a part of that.

Shaughnessy: Hard to escape that ax.

Burcham: But it worked out well because I ended up getting a job with IOTA, and part of what they wanted was someone who could be a librarian and do fast-turn, and that was my specialty at Raytheon. For a time, my specialty was RF and fast-turn using my own library and CAD program. I didn't only use Mentor and as a result of that—it gave me the background—but I didn't know how to use Altium specifically.

By having the knowledge on about a dozen different CAD systems, it's just a tool that you learn. To use this particular tool, all you have to do is make sure, "Okay, that's a screwdriver, not a such and such." It's just a matter of learning the phraseology necessary to use the tool.

So, IOTA hired me contingent on being able to learn Altium. I had a good friend who I've kept in touch with over the years, and he helped me learn Altium because he was using it. I was able to hit the decks running, and in three and a half days, I learned enough to prove to IOTA that I knew what I was talking about and could hit the decks running, so they hired me directly at that point. I’m a PCB designer, but I am also the librarian for IOTA as well.

Shaughnessy: A lot of designers don’t want to work solely with libraries.

Burcham: Definitely. With Altium, it's so easy you can do it on the side. I've created thousands of parts for IOTA. They had no standard 3D library at all when I started, and in a matter of two years, I basically did every part they needed to be done in their library.

Shaughnessy: Great talking to you, Randy. Thank you.

Burcham: Thank you, Andy.


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