The Shaughnessy Report: Are You Designing in a Vacuum?


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Design-May2022-cover250.jpgDo you ever feel like you’re designing in a vacuum? If so, you are not alone.

This month’s topic came to us during an editorial meeting. We were discussing some of the PCB design classes at recent industry conferences—classes on signal integrity, supply chain management, DFM, and EMC. But after talking with designers who have grown accustomed to laying out boards without knowing where their boards would be manufactured, not to mention such info as impedance requirements, it dawned on us.

What the design community really needs to do is focus on designing in a vacuum. Is DIV the next industry acronym?

We surveyed our design and design engineer readers, and nearly half of respondents said they always or quite often design boards in a vacuum. Only 11% said they never work inside a Hoover upright with HEPA filtration.

Check out some of the reasons designers cited for being kept in dark about where their board(s) would be fabricated:

  • Client hasn’t thought about that part of the project!
  • We use CEMs with whom we've partnered for many years, and they will find the most appropriate PCB manufacturer for us.
  • We are a service bureau so almost always ask but often the OEM design engineer doesn't know (yet).
  • Purchasing department determines who will win the contract for the PBA.
  • We do not know who is going to fabricate it.
  • It has not yet been established as a practice to consider manufacturers before design.

Survey respondents also mentioned having to begin layout without impedance data, functional test info, panel drawings, tolerances, process limits, special design rules, drill size vs. finished plated hole, board thickness, and the height of components close to rails.

Fun fact: I attended the Supply Chain Roundtable at SMTA Atlanta. I asked everyone to raise their hands if they felt like they were working in vacuum. Almost everyone in the room—designers, fabricators and EMS providers—waved like Miss Universe. Everyone had a horror story.

If you watch Intervention, you know that the first step forward is admitting you have a problem. Well, we have a problem. For decades, this industry’s top instructors and members of the media, including me, have been preaching about the need to communicate with your fabricator. But for many of you, that’s just not possible, and our advice is not based in reality.

The design segment needs to have an ongoing conversation about designing in a vacuum, and how to make the best of it. This is not to say that designers shouldn’t try to get out of the vacuum. But the current advice about always communicating with your fabricator is just not applicable to many designers.

So, this month our contributors provide tips for designing in a vacuum, as well as the total costs (in time, respins and other resources) of working in the dark, and some strategies for getting out of the vacuum.

We have an interview with Jen Kolar and Cory Grunwald of Monsoon Solutions, who discuss some of the tricks they’ve developed for filling in missing information, including the art of making accurate assumptions. Columnist Kelly Dack examines a breed of designer who actually thrives on working alone, often to the detriment of everyone else: the design narcissist. We also feature a variety of conversations about DIV with our experts, including Nick Barbin of Optimum Design Associates, Mark Thompson of Out of the Box Manufacturing, and Carl Schattke of PCB Product Development LLC. As Carl says, if you design the board correctly, not knowing where it’s going to be manufactured shouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker.

Pete Starkey brings us a detailed review of a great webinar, and we have columns by Barry Olney, Dave Wiens, Matt Stevenson, Patrick Crawford, Tim Haag, Phil Kinner, and Joe Fjelstad.

Will we see a “Designing in a Vacuum” track at a conference someday? Instructors could borrow one from custodial staff...hey, it’s a thought!

See you next month.

Follow these links to access the May 2022 issue of Design007 Magazine.

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