What is PCB design? With Kelly Dack and Judy Warner
What is design? Have you been inside a board house? Join Altium’s Judy Warner and Kelly Dack, CID+, for a lively conversation about PCB design and becoming educated in the field. From CID and CID+ to visits to your fab house, learn how to learn for PCB design and where some of these resources are available today.
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AltiumLive 2018 - save the date!
Hi everyone this is Judy Warner with the OnTrack podcast. Welcome back, we are recording today from Design Con 2018 in Santa Clara California. Today I have another amazing guest, Kelly Dack and before we get started I want to make sure that you subscribe on your favorite RSS feed and also please follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter at @AltiumJudy and Altium is also on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. So, please give us a follow and we'll continue to put out as much good content for designers and engineers as we can possibly razzle.
So today I am with Kelly Dack who is a PCB designer. Are you CID or CID + ?
CID+ so he's a hotshot. So a designer for many years, currently he is with a Northwestern EMS provider and…
How many years have you been in the industry Kelly?
Well too many dimensions, thanks for having me Judy.
I know, I know...
But I thought you're gonna introduce me; look what the cat dragged in.
- well no but yeah I've been in the industry since 1978 something like that.
Okay well longer than me so yeah, I don't like to say when I started either, but I think I started in ‘84 I know Wow I know I don't want to say how old I am but it just automatically dates me so Kelly so we're here at Design Con and I know you have a completely broad perspective of this industry because you've been on the journalistic side, you've been on the design side, you know about fabrication. Now you're on the MS side, you just mentioned that the design that's being done at your current place - that you have Altium designer so we like you better already. And so tell us, you and I started to talk… I'm just gonna let you roll because I know you have a wealth of things to share. So start out with… ready? What is design?
Wow design... I've been talking about that with the cohort of mine Andy Shaughnessy all morning because we come to a show like this and we're talking design relative to high-speed and things measured in gigahertz.
Things like this typically the engineering crowd of the degreed crowd but they have to relate also. The stuff has to be translated into the classic or traditional PC board designer. There's been a lot of talk about the two merging, there's been a lot of talk about where's the next generation of the PCB designer coming from.
Now that somebody told me yesterday, you know, these guys are all dying out and I chuckled. But you know it's a fact that we're all at least hopefully retiring happily so that this generation of folks that started in the 70s doing board design and earlier, are moving on and there's been a concern about where the gap is going to be filled and a couple years ago I had a chance to have a brief stint in the Seattle area and I found the answer to that question. I worked for a Prototron for a brief period…
Yeah, oh my goodness…
- and part of my job was to reach out to designers in all of the Seattle area and so my job was to go in, drive downtown shake hands with designers and turn them on to the great things that Prototron does. Well these these people were not old designers - these people were young, hip. People that had just graduated at a university, had picked up the design tools and because they're quick studies and they're smart they learned it in a matter of weeks. At least that's what they make it seem like, yeah they're quick studies and they were laying down tracks right and left and my job was to go help them from the standpoint of how they can make their designs flow through our shop a lot easier.
So it was a little customer liaison, engineering liaison, so I was very surprised to find out that the designers are out there now.
They're out there. By the way Kelly I've talked a lot about this and if you actually read my newsletters that I sent you... just kidding, just needling you a little bit. I've actually found since I've been at Altium the same exact thing you're finding is that one, this next generation, they basically came out of the womb with a smartphone in their hand right? Playing computer games, so they learn so much faster and in the case of Altium and we’re certainly not the only ones out there who are sponsoring engineering teams and universities and so much now right? Engineers are laying out their own boards. It's not a distinct role and so these kids are bright and they're quick, and now I'm seeing globally... I would have never seen it had I not been where I am now. But I see exactly I would echo your exact thoughts is that I see them everywhere they're on Hyperloop teams, they're on SAE you know. Formula teams, they’re on there and engineering groups, there in space teams and and they're learning to lay out boards in college. And in our case we're gifting the software right, so they have a tool; a professional tool. So when they graduate it's easier for them to get a job - so I see it I and I'm so glad to hear you say it, because I feel like the only one that's kind of like, don't be afraid people, it really is gonna be okay
Well check it out now; the product is called Altium Designer and there's a lot of designer based products out there that infer and rightly so. It’s a very powerful design tool. But back to your question; what is design?
Design has to do with a depth of knowledge that's gained not necessarily by a design tool. A design tool is only as good as the knowledge of the designer, the knowledge base of the designer so what I mention (and what was fascinating) - working at a prototype bare board supplier and now - what you didn't mention - but I work at an EMS provider doing assembly work now and there's a similar stream of challenges and the same problems and issues that we would see at the bare board supplier. That needed coaching or mentorship for the designers are happening and echoing through to the assembly suppliers right. So we're seeing problems like copper pull back from the board edge. Who knows how much that needs to be. In other words if if a designer is going to design, they need to consider all the stakeholders of the process who's going to be building this board. What are the processes that are involved in building this board and there's many there are many.
Many, many along the way.
Many yes, and this is, I think many would agree, that's what's maybe - I've never taken one of those university design courses - but I know they go fast and I know sometimes they're measured in weeks not years,
Exactly. Except I will tell you I don't mean to interrupt your thought pattern here but I was overjoyed and I think you'll be glad to hear this too and maybe you already know this that Eric Bogatin is teaching at the University of Colorado, Boulder so you know he he and a colleague have written a curriculum that's PCB design with manufacturing and assembly best practices included.
Right, holy cow, like to me that's like the motherload because it's in context! Like you said of all the stakeholders so, anyways continue on.
I know Eric's really good at boot camp philosophy right? Hit that ground running but you know, know where the ground is, and be able to… I can't imagine he's not, you know, encouraging the folks that go through his programs - I can't imagine he's not encouraging them to go visit.
Boots on the ground. Support supplier, and they send me the supplier so they can see and meet the people who are doing the work. So back to design what is design. Design has to do with having a product - dreaming a product - and then embedding or creating all the process steps within the layout so to speak. Maybe that sounds too simple but from the standpoint of what can go wrong - things can go wrong as a new board designer starts designing. One of the things that the software tools are - the layout tools are doing so well, is they have a lot of movement is - is this a word? Manipulatable constraints set up.
Constraints, DRC rules and things and being a relatively new user to Altium I am amazed at how many things you can control and Altium - it is just amazing now, from a new user standpoint, that can be a blessing. But that can be a curse because all of these setups are are off-the-shelf setups. There are default settings right? So what a designer - to be called a designer - needs to be able to have the knowledge of doing, is manipulating those constraints so that it will yield the best outcome for all the stakeholders in the process. What do I mean by stakeholder?
Yeah I was gonna ask you that.
So we can't as a designer, a true designer, we can't design in a vacuum. We can't have our own office in our own world and live in a vacuum and think that this product we're creating, this chunk of clay - I'm bad at metaphors - this chunk of clay is going to be beautiful when we're done with it. Because there's nobody else looking at it. What I'm trying to say is design has to do with reaching out and considering who is going to be putting this thing together. It's not the designer typically right? The designer is not the one plating and etching right, we define things like stack ups. We define trace widths and via sizes and placement things right? But what do we base those things on? This is at the core of design. What are we basing these design attributes on? And without getting out and shaking hands with the stakeholders in the industry right, the bare board fabricator for instance - the engineer that may have designed the schematic, the test folks. The people that are going to be having to test this board. The assembler, the people that are going to have to be putting the stenciling the solder paste onto the board and applying the parts. Who else is down the line? The customer the overall..
What about the box builder, or you know maybe interconnecting devices maybe cable harnesses?
Sure, I'll keep it short - to design is to be in touch with all the needs of those people the stakeholders of the and their processes okay.
I 100% agree with you I've been beating this drum blogging and writing about it for a long time except I feel like people look at me and go... I remember one old-school guy that I've known for a long time - he goes it's so girly because why would you have a relationship with your fabricators?
Girlie what the heck! Like it was just sort of a silly comment but my point was; you can't design in a silo just like you're saying, you can't design in a vacuum if you don't have that design intent. One has to be communicated, and you have to need to know you can design something amazing and are not only Altium. All the EDA tools out there are extremely powerful and they can let you do really stupid stuff from a manufacturer standpoint. So do you get to be the Wizard of Oz and then it's completely unbuildable on the other end you know.
So if you're not in touch - now I'm gonna ask you a loaded question - I know you Kelly, you've been in lots of board shops and EMS shops and you're very well connected to that stream of stakeholders. How has your CID/CID+ helped equip you for that? Has it, or does it equip you more theoretically and then you gotta go get your boots on the ground?
Wow not a loaded question at all.
Okay I just don't want to get you in trouble at IPC, if you understand.
Not at all. I’ve got to say I went for my CID back in the 90s while I was during my time down in San Diego and it it had been an evolving program and I paid for it myself. I was at that point where there was no convincing a company - a telecom company - that hey there's the certification that will help give me an in-depth knowledge of all the processes and it wasn't happening. So I went and did it on my own dime and that was CID and that was a long, long time ago. A lot of has happened with the program and with technology since then, but I've got to say that the thing that I loved about it was that it described the stakeholders of the process. It defined the start to finish process of how to manufacture a board, how to document a board for manufacturing and for inspection, and even explaining that that the fabrication drawing is not as much of a how-to document as it is an inspection document. We're not telling - with a fabrication drawing - we're not telling the supplier how to do it. They know how to do it with the data right, they have all the data in the world that tells them how to do it.
But there are parameters that right?
There are parameters but the difference is they are nominal parameters. Everything in CAD data that we know of is mostly nominal data right? You lay a linewidth down at seven mil - 7 thousandths of an inch wide. If you think that that line is going to end up 7 thousandths of an inch wide on the board when you're done, you may be in for a surprise. You know it depends on manufacturing tolerance and without recognizing manufacturing tolerances we’re doomed.
Right so let's just say that. You know this gets a little crazy to me is because a lot of engineers have not had the benefit of being inside a board house and because they are used to using a lot of physics phased holes and stuff. They think it’s 7 mils - make it 7 mils - if you don't understand how the printed circuit board is made, the print edge process, what happens inside of an etching bath, it is not possible. Let me tell you engineers - I don't mean to be condescending at all - it's that I really care about this that it cannot be made perfectly seven mills ever.
I mean it's that's why we have tolerances plus or minus this or that but now with these high speed stuff it's like: oh yeah can you give us a 1 mil trace,plus or minus zero and I'm like NO. No no no no...
Yeah well, very very important to understand that and like I said - back to the CID program from IPC. I had gone on, years later I went back and did the advanced. The advanced portion of that course, the CID+ and I gotta say that then I didn't go job jumping very often, but when I did, in this particular case, I was able to list my CID and they seemed to scratch their head a little bit at the interview process but I was able to define or describe just what I've described to you about about some in-depth knowledge of the processes and the people involved. That's when I got their attention so this is what I'm saying: that the CID program helps that in a lot of ways and CID+ all the more, goes into more advanced processes and ideas about circuit boards.
Fast forward to a few years ago, I was invited and Gary Ferrari was invited - to help instruct on the program. So I get my certification to teach - I did that - and let me tell you that is wonderful. To take a class of 10 or 20 people through the materials that have been evolving, but are now pretty much set in stone, is a real solid curricula for what was a three day class. Three days of intensive review of materials that the students had been studying for months. Now it's a four-day - we've expanded. I was going, there's so much information in there, it's expanded to a four day class and the pressure that you see on some of these students faces as we're getting toward test time - because it's an exam. It's an audited exam, very official. There's a lot of pressure and let me tell you that the pass rate is very, very high now because of the the level of training and the level of study materials. I mean you need to study this material it's not easy. We're condensing a lot of material into a four day class. The expressions on some of these designers - they are designers - but now they have more of an in-depth knowledge of design, what design is. You know it's stakeholders and its processes, and it's materials and things that now we're giving them is a lot more in depth. When they pass that test I have had people jump and hop around and clench their fists and say, yes! They're so happy to have done this and it's really gaining traction, as far as a certification. We talked about University classes and you know maybe those are measured in weeks.
Yeah well, and CID, like you are saying really has to do with the stakeholders you mentioned.
We're in the university, as you said, I've heard some professors say, yeah I teach the printed circuit board design but don't be impressed it's three 50-minute classes. One on schematic, one on routing and one whatever...
Yes and let me tell you I was in 3rd grade classes and 4th grade classes where at least we’d jump on a bus and go visit the fire strips right. We talk about the fire station but at least we hold hands and I'll walk up to it or you jump on a bus and go see it. I'd like to challenge all of those University professors right now to to get their students on a bus and go visit a board shop or an EMS supplier I mean brother.
No I feel the same because I think there really is a disconnect there and sometimes, honestly on the board side, there's a disconnect in our understanding of what the designers are and sometimes we’re like - errr we treat them like... Instead of partnering with them and going, what are you trying to accomplish and how can we get together and move you in that direction? So it can go both ways, it's not just one way.
Absolutely I didn't get a chance to attend the Altium event.
Yeah Altium Live, well don’t miss it this year.
Well I have heard so many great things, I mean, powerful, powerful things from people that attended and the people that were there-
-The notables that were there speaking.
Oh yeah, we had the big guns there yeah.
Yeah but but speaking along those lines I think again you and I are just lockstep on this issue and when I began at Altium they said, ok we're gonna give you a team to pull this event off Judy, but you're gonna run the strategy and you're gonna get the speakers and I'm like, ok. And so I'm like designers need to hear from other designers right? So it's not just theoretical but they also need to hear from fabricators, assemblers. They need to hear from the whole gamut. So we did a call for papers but we also had people talking about what you need to know when you're designing Flex circuits, because you might all of a sudden have to be doing flex or rigid flex and you didn't have to do them before. Or multi board systems, so you know we worked to kind of sprinkle that in throughout. And then also have sponsors who were there that they could interact with and, boy I knew it would be a good experience but I didn't know how good. Kelly, I can't wait you have to come this year.
Yes, yes sounds very holistic PCB design - holistic - but yeah amazing.
Yeah holistic, sounds very Zen.
And what we tried really hard not to do was just to beat the Altium drum like sell/buy our stuff. Here's our new... of course we're proud of our tools and our new releases. So out of two days we took two 45 minute slots for ourselves and the rest was about them. Resources, plugging them in and I remember Laurence, my colleague, saying oh my gosh these people - it's like they're really inches away you know - as far as functionality goes - but they never talked to each other and I said, exactly right, and so to put them all together and the energy was just absolutely electric. So yeah come, come again and yeah yeah we would love to have you. So that's been truly a highlight of my career honestly, to see that all those light bulbs go out probably how you feel after you teach a CID class you know.
Yeah the afterglow. Yes we were all singing kumbaya and so - oh good I heard great things - thank you, thank you. It was really it was a blast and it was a giant team effort you know I'm not tooting my own horn at all, I just got to go get the speakers and oh my gosh our team worked really hard to do all the logistics stuff and they did an amazing job.
So I'm dying to interview you and I'm trying not to. I know I'm being interviewed I'm just dying to ask again. Being a new Altium user I know version 18’s out and I don't want to ask you about it because that would be me interviewing you. But as a new user I have to say that I'll confess you know, a lot of this 3D capability that I haven't been exposed to in the past and now, becoming new to it I've got to say it's it's a lot easier than I thought it would be and like I say, Altium is my first tool to have introduced me to that. So that's where the industry is going and I found that it's pretty easy now to communicate with my mechanical cohorts you know.
Yup, because that’s our goal.
We're back to design - the design flavor of our discussion. It's not only electrical constraints that we're talking about but there are mechanical constraints and we talked about everything being in CAD being in nominal values in CAD so there's a natural dialogue that designers, in order to design, have to have with each other with regards to these nominal settings and these nominal layout features and geometries. So 3D CAD - 3D capability step files and things, have made things a lot easier to visualize and you can check alignments and things. But again I want to look at - I'm still learning how to use the tool in consideration with tolerancing. I can see a very nominal conditions like a mounting boss and nylon mounting bosses centered within a hole on the board. It looks really nice but I know that that hole is perfect in the step file I have to consider, as a designer, what kind of tolerancing - that locational tolerancing - and diameter tolerancing that that hole has. So that's something I have to encourage myself, admonish myself, without trying to admonish others. My purpose here is to inspire others to consider beyond the nominal condition. So I'd love to see the tools of the future as they evolve. Be able to address that somehow and you know, about the best we have in the design world is to design our maybe our part bodies at a maximum material condition or something like that.But wouldn't that be nice if we can if we get to toggle back and forth we could snap back and forth.
Yeah yes - min to max. I was picturing in my mind if you could open and close down that hole and see.
Yeah and i can see our R&D guys right now screaming when they're listening to this.
It’s encouragement you know that might be somewhere that we're going - there's a term that I'm loving right now, that's a buzz term that's been out for a while. I I guess where the industry is bringing together the electrical constraints, the electrical designers, and the mechanical designers which theoretically all are going to become merged into one designer pretty soon. Sooner than we know and as it it's called mechatronics right?
And I've heard there's courses being taught in mechatronics and it's just that, to me, is an inspiring place to go. I'm too old to go to school again I know. I feel like I'm in school every day you know, we're learning new software tools and things. Every every day we go to work and we we lay down trax or have to address problems. It's like a new day in school: are we gonna ‘BS’ our way through something or are we really gonna get into what's going on here and learn about it? And you know, that may mean a call to the supplier. How do I handle this? What are your capabilities? And not forgetting that just because we talk to that one supplier that doesn't mean the rest of the suppliers have those capabilities and other things. That's where we're kind of freestyling...
Yeah we are freestyling.
That made me think about pet topic and that is prototype versus production. How do we design and prototype versus how do we design a production just because we can go to a supplier that'll quick turn a board for us in a few days.
The biggest mistake - let me go with a case scenario - the biggest mistake I see engineers make, some designers - is they'll get a design made at a quick turn board house and guess what they'll get it back into their shop, they'll give it to a tech have it assembled. You know what, that thing works perfect okay, and it's made with all these special core materials and special weights of copper. It's been printed and etched just fine. It's got purple solder mask just like it's specified and then because it's working perfect they say okay let's go to print and they want to go order a million of them. But that prototype shop’s not going to be able to make a million of them right. So you know, what's going offshore? So, what do you think's gonna happen to that specialized recipe? The designer, the engineer has to cut and paste the actual recipe of the design onto the board?
What's going to happen? Yeah it's gonna be a bloody disaster it's gonna get kicked back.
Yeah it'll probably just get kicked back. So we're talking design, and design involves creating you know. Sometimes hybrid stack-ups, but we have to be so aware of where this project’s pointing.
Is it producible in production? If you're heading towards - this is going into consumer market - you have to be thinking about that at the proto level. You cannot, oh let's just do this you know, get a Ferrari with all these special processes and then think that that's going to go into mass production because that takes... By the way when you talked about Prototron and shops like that. I worked for a shop much like that and there’s guys hanging over that job, kind of hand-carrying it through and making sure that everything goes perfect. That's not sustainable in a production environment. And you know that's not always understood.
That's right it needs to be understood.
Yeah how do we get that done?
Well the awareness needs to be there. I think it gets done but it gets learned the hard way.
Yeah for sure, and this is one that makes me feel, actually a lot of empathy for engineers. I feel like they're having to learn things over and over and over again that it's like reinventing the wheel over and over again instead of there being like some recipe book or some definitive guidelines of course CID+ plus and those things are are hugely enormous Lea valuable yeah but I don't know that there's a there's a straight cut and dried answer for that because it's complex process.
Yeah back to the CID - you know the guidelines - the CID program - points the designer to our specifications and again I'm a big proponent of not only getting designers out to the board shops, EMS shops, but out to the trade shows. I mean if you're a designer, I ask the students in the CID courses. Y'all been to trade shows y'all been to APEX or PCB West, or you know SMT shows and Design Con like we are here right now? If you haven't been out to these shows you might be missing out. This is not only a great place to shake hands and talk to people that are in the business of you know, selling of the products, but it's a network. Just like we're doing right now, it's a networking opportunity and a lot of what you're learning as a designer is going to come from networking
And in a tradeshow, you can do it like at hyperspeed. You can take in so much in two or three days like drinking from the fire hose level - like you can so much!
Yeah yeah, well that's me others that to drink it from the fire hose and then drinking... So you know you can take in so much information in that period of time. So how often do you teach the CID courses?
Ep Tag has been a instructor - supplier of teachers - for many many of the IPC specifications there. They're based back east in New Hampshire, and they have - for the CID program - they have a dozen or so instructors. Again these these instructors were pretty much hand-picked out of the industry to be able to go out and teach these classes. However, you know a lot of them, myself included. We have day jobs right? It'd be nice to be teaching - the teaching is so positive - I would love to do it every day but I would never want to get burned out and the travel involved... because they're offered all around the United States, Canada even down in South America. We have instructors like Mike Creeden.
Mike Creeden he's like a globetrotter.
Yeah he is he's putting lots of miles on doing classes down South way-
Yeah, WAY down South,
We keep it to you know, three to four classes spread out among the instructors. Yeah so keeps it fun, keeps it manageable and and keeps us fresh I guess.
So it's about time to wrap up but I feel like we just got started we could go on and on. But thank you so much for this conversation.
Oh, my pleasure...
-and boy I really see eye to eye with you. I bet you've articulated it's so much better than I could so, thank you so much Kelly. Okay my last question for you - I think I already know the answer - when I ask it. So at the end of the OnTrack podcasts, I've observed that many people who are designers have interesting creative hobbies or things they do. So this part of the podcast, we call ‘designers after hours.’ So I know one talent you have after hours. So tell me what you do for fun with that creative brain of yours after hours?
You know I just recently moved to Spokane so there's not many after hours. After hours gets dark really fast up there, in the wintertime. However in the summertime it's just the opposite. We have lots of daylight up in the Pacific Northwest and I don't know if this is the answer you're looking for, but one of the purposes of the movement up there was to fulfill a bucket list of getting a hobby farm and raising cows,
No way! I wasn’t going for that, but that’s cool.
I know you weren’t so we did the hobby farm part. We moved to Spokane…
When? Wait time out, what’s a hobby farm?
A hobby farm is where you really don't know what you're doing some folks call it gentleman farmer but that's too nice of a term. I call it a hobby farm and so far we've got the chickens down we had 16 chickens laying eggs and we have 26 acres - and a barn - that we're gonna put cows on. But a sage old guy, one of my neighbors told me: You know Kelly - I asked him about what do you need to do to get cows going - he says, the first thing you need to do is build good fences. So, for two years now I've been trying to build good fences and the only thing I've been doing is tearing them down in the industry by shaking hands. How's that for an ending, yeah tearing down fences, shaking hands with the stakeholders!
That was corny! You’re a stand-up comedian as well. What I was really pointing at - and then I swear we will stop talking - is about your musical outlet?
Oh that, yeah did a lot of really really fun stuff over the last couple decades with the Porch Dogs, remember Pete Waddell and the Porch Dogs?
Oh my goodness, yeah they used to play at shows sometimes by the way.
Every time yeah it was - or it it's even fun to think about. So I'm a hacker, I uh play a little blues harp and a little guitar I'm a guitar hacker but it's another thing where this industry needs an outlet and interestingly enough the designer type is typically right brained.
Right that's what I'm saying.
A lot of them are musicians or like Bill Brooks’ sculpting I don't know... I really love hanging out with designers.
Yeah so to get together - you know it was a natural occurrence to just start playing music and jamming it. So Pete Waddell was a great mentor for me way back.
So, for our listeners, Peter Waddell is the publisher at UP Media, so not only an industry guru but founded the Porch Dogs.
Yeah, yeah, and so we played and played and I met so many great people through that and we still carry on. At trade shows somebody will bring their guitar, somebody will bring a harp and that's all we need.
That's all we need - fun! Okay Kelly thanks so much for joining me, I could talk to you all day, it's so great to connect and you only get to connect at trade shows.
It’s my pleasure Judy.
But now I want to come to your hobby for…
Where are your boots?
I have them I suppose. Well that's it for this edition of OnTrack Podcast. Thank you so much for joining and we'll see you next time.
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