The Shaughnessy Report: Designing for Material Conservation


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The supply chain issues plaguing our industry don’t seem to be going away any time soon. Like an annoying mother-in-law, they’ve moved into our guest room, rearranged the furniture, and generally overstayed their welcome. Why don’t they take a hint?

We’re seeing all sorts of interesting tactics for dealing with 50-week lead times. One of the most basic concepts I’ve heard lately is material conservation—when it’s hard to get the parts you need, why not just design PCBs with fewer parts? Materials typically make up 20% of the cost of the board, so we’re not talking nickels and dimes. Sometimes less is more!

It seems like a simple idea: Just design boards with fewer components and less laminate. Do you really need all those decoupling capacitors? And, as Happy Holden points out in this issue, there’s no real reason that most boards are still 0.062" thick. They were originally that thick because they had to plug into motherboards, but why are boards in our handheld devices still that same thickness?

It's because we’ve always done it that way. Maybe it’s time to consider something different.

It’s just common sense. If the industry designed boards with fewer parts and less laminate, the savings could be in the tens of millions of dollars. Thinner PCBs with fewer components could mean improved signal integrity, but there are a lot of tradeoffs to investigate.

Obviously, this would change everything. Designers are accustomed to crafting PCBs a certain way. It would require looking at design in a completely new way. Are we ready? Judging from the prognostications of the supply chain experts for 2023 and 2024, we may not have a choice.

Design-0822-cover250.jpgIn this issue, we share a variety of strategies and technologies to help reduce your overall material consumption during the PCB design cycle. This will help lower costs, streamline the supply chain, and add competitive advantage.

We start out with a conversation with Happy Holden, who explains why risk-averse designers have not traditionally tried to conserve materials in their designs, and why it’s time for designers to embrace new technologies such as VeCS. Happy includes some tips on material conservation, as well as his relative cost index (RCI) that helps designers figure out the cost per square inch of a new design. Columnist Barry Olney discusses a raft of design strategies that can cut costs, including choosing the correct laminate and using simulation early in the design cycle. Next, Cherie Litson shares her tips for lowering the cost of manufacturing your board, and as she points out, sometimes reducing layer count is actually a bad idea.

Alun Morgan provides a great macro view of the whole supply chain situation. As he points out, even if the container ship bottleneck opened tomorrow and the components we needed were suddenly available, it would still take months for these parts to reach their final destination. And the docks are still trying to fill open positions. Columnist Dana Korf walks us through how we got into this mess as he explains why designing for conservation may be at least part of the solution. Columnist John Watson discusses some new design techniques for these inflationary times (DFI, anyone?). One of his best pieces of advice: Stop making knee-jerk decisions.

Columnist John Coonrod takes us through the benefits of hybrid multilayer construction, which can increase reliability while cutting costs. And columnist Kelly Dack pontificates about the importance of avoiding component “logjams” by maintaining practical packaging density during the design phase. We also feature columns from many of our regular contributors, and welcome new columnist Beth Massey from Electrolube. You'll also find our printed electronics roundtable and my review of Cadence's thermal integrity webinar.

Our Big News
As many of you have heard, IPC has acquired I-Connect007. It makes a lot of sense; we’ve been their media partner at IPC APEX EXPO for over a decade, and we enjoy working with them. Not much has changed, really. Barry Matties is still our publisher, but now he might be able to take a day off every now and then.

See you next month!

This installment of The Shaughnessy Report first appeared in the August 2022 issue of Design007 Magazine.

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