Designing the ultimate PCB

March 2nd, 2012, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Hans van de Groenendaal, EngineerIT

PCB design has comes a long way since the dot and tape era – having moved from PCAD to the latest Altium software.

Nechan Naicker with one of the sophisticated PCBs designed by EDA. The company has designed boards for the space industry including for SA’s own satellite, SumbandilaSat.

Altium provides design solutions that break down barriers inherent in electronic designs by unifying the separate processes, all within a single design environment, working off a single data model which links all aspects of product design into one process.

“It is all well and good to have these sophisticated software tools but it is the skills of the design engineer that will dictate the ultimate results,” says Nechan Naicker of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) Technologies, a Centurion, Gauteng-based company that distributes and provides training on the Altium suite of products as well as the CID and CID+ qualifications for engineers.

CID AND CID+ are qualification registered by IPC – the association connecting electronic industries. Formed in 1957, IPC has been guiding the electronic interconnection industry through its dramatic development. As a global trade association, IPC is dedicated to the competitive excellence and financial success of its more than 3100 member companies. IPC represents all facets of the industry including design, printed circuit board manufacturing and electronics assembly.

“If the South African electronics industry wants to be competitive in the global markets it is essential that our engineers are well qualified and IPC-accredited. To date EDA Technologies has held two CID and CID+ certification workshops and over 40 candidates have been certified by IPC as globally competent designers.

It is often said that our tertiary institutions do not qualify engineers with the skills that industry requires. Today companies expect graduates to be up and running as soon as they join a company straight after graduating. Universities are often criticised for not matching their degree programmes to what industry requires from a graduate. One way to solve the problem is for industry and universities to work together, and industry to provide more support.

“We are working with Tshawane University of Technology, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, North West University, Stellenbosch University and the University of KwaZulu Natal to integrate Altium into their curricula. With the support of Ultium we have been able to provide licences for students at a very low cost per student – a fraction of the commercial version of the software, yet offering unrestricted access to the full suite of programmes;” said Naicker. “Engineering students now have the opportunity do their designs on the same system that all major industries use and gain the experience that their future employers require.”

During the past few years the major development in electronics has been the introduction of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) devices. A FPGA is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by the designer after manufacturing – hence “field-programmable”. The two major manufacturers are Xylinc and Altera. To assist designers Ultium has collaborated with Xylinc and Altera and has replaced the front end of Xylinc and Altera tools which means that designs with FPGA devices can be done in Ultium, thus obviating the need to learn different tools, or acquire special software.

Besides training, EDA also offers a PCB design service – assisting companies with complicated designs such as high speed designs, multilayer and flexible boards. In association with the NACB group, the largest PCB manufacturer in Europe, EDA handles the manufacture of boards that cannot be manufactured in South Africa.

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