PCB West was an interesting conference showing the contrast between PCB and IC design communities.
Although much of the EDA glory continues to go to IC designers, the PCB sector continues to offer interesting challenges to designers. As with IC's, Printed Circuit Boards are getting smaller and faster. They, like the ICs they carry, must also operate at lower power levels. The result is that PCB designers and IC designers have additional constraints in common: manufacturing costs are getting higher, ECOs are costlier to implement, and market pressures are just the same: after all the ICs and the board on which they sit, are an indivisible team.
But there are differences. While the emphasis of DAC, the premier conference for IC designers, is on the future, exploring new ideas and technologies, the focus of the PCB conference is on solving today' s problems and to educate designers. You will not find refereed papers at the PCB conferences. You will find workshops and panels presenting solutions to problems faced in the current design environment. The focus is the working engineer, not the researcher.
I attended a panel with the title of: IC-Package-PCB Co-Design Strategies. After hearing the presentation I am sure that many IC designers should also have been in the audience. Too many of them, in my experience, concentrate on the die without any considerations to the fact that what goes on within the silicon must be used by the electronics surrounding it. And let's not forget that electronics is only one aspect of reality: mechanical and environmental effects also play a critical role in whether or not your nice silicon design will actually work.
As with all smaller conferences, the exhibit floor is not as eye catching as DAC's. The booths are mostly built with a hanging backdrop, require visitors to stand in the aisle, and are staffed by few people, often only one or two. Walking the floor at the PCB conference you will find that the majority of vendors are PCB design contractors and PCB manufacturer, not EDA vendors. I wonder why at DAC one no longer sees FPGA vendors and, with the exception of the Common Platform, foundries. And whatever happened to fabless semiconductor vendors?
What may surprise a few, is that I counted eight vendors of EDA tools on the floor at PCB West. And another six had a presence at the conference. Talking to a number of executives of EDA companies in Silicon Valley that week, I did not find anyone who was current with the state of the PCB market. The segment is considered small, low margin, and dominated by Mentor and Cadence.
Speaking of Cadence, I now have established a trend, one, I must say, that is quite strange. As most of you by now know, or should know, Cadence has decided that CDNLive! is the only show that is worthy of the Cadence brand. So, if you are a customer, or you get a special invitation, you can see demos and hear papers about Cadence's tools. If you are not one of the chosen, you will have to look for your rapture someplace else.
"Yes, but" say the Cadence sales people. What about expanding the market? Since the Cadence brand cannot be soiled by mixing with competitors, gents of lower class, we need a stealth carrier. So next time you are at a show and want to see Cadence's products, look for the EMA booth. EMA is the distributor of Orcad products, a line that Cadence purchased a few years ago. So I would expect to see Orcad products in the booth. What I did not expect was a demo of Allegro and other Cadence products, not sold by EMA, in the same booth. Next July at DAC you will find the Cadence, oops I am sorry, the EMA booth, next to Springsoft and Mentor. Go figure
The other company that was a surprise at PCB West was Zuken. They also did not have a corporate booth, but you would have been fooled if you walked by the booth of Tropical PCB Design Services, since the large sign on their backdrop read: Zuken.
Of course, being there in quasi stealth mode is better than not being there. The participants of the panel I talked about before were employees of Altium, Agilent Technologies, AWR, and Magma Design Automation. All four sell tools for the PCB design community and none of them had a presence on the exhibit floor.
Whether this is a new way of saving money, an oversight on their parts, or just poor selling on the part of the conference organizers I do not know.