SAN JOSE, Calif. The pc-board tools segment of the EDA industry is seen today as a mature, consolidated and somewhat stagnant market, but it's going to liven up soon, according to Mentor Graphics CEO Wally Rhines. In a keynote address at the PCB Design Conference West here Tuesday (March 16), Rhines predicted that users will need to retool as faster PCB designs break current tools.
"The complexity of integrated circuit design has spilled over to the board," said Rhines. "You are getting to the limits of what you can do at the chip level, so why not share the pain and make the board design more complex? That is what's happening, but it is not happening linearly, it is happening exponentially."
Rhines said that while most people are aware of the issues challenging IC design tools, they are not aware of "the stresses" challenging PCB design.
"EDA companies continue to add new capabilities to PCB tools to overcome the stresses, but the tools we provide were largely designed a long time ago," said Rhines. "I have a thesis that printed circuit design is going to go through the kind of pain that integrated circuit design went through for some very fundamental reasons."
Rhines said that PCB fabrication, FPGAs, signal integrity, libraries and data management, and globalization are the five "stresses" that will drive a not-too-distant retooling in PCB design.
Rhines said that PCB fabrication is introducing new levels of complexity that some tools simply cannot handle. Rhines noted that the use of microvias, high density interconnect, and embedded passives have become more commonplace. And as designs become more complex and use of these technologies increases, placement and routing technologies may break, he said.
"Just being able to route at the pin densities, to route out from a package that has high density pins, or route a board that has lead spacings down about a factor of five from what they were at the beginning of the last decade, will be an enormous benefit," said Rhines. He noted users are seeing great layer and density savings using high-density interconnect (HDI) and microvia technology over laminate-only approaches.
Rhines said that as new silicon processes are developed, they introduce an increasing number of passives. Reducing passives in a design while keeping form-factor space requirements shrinking will likely require a PCB synthesis technology, he said.
Rhines said that as PCB designs become more complex and FPGAs become more commonplace in them, the FPGA and PCB design teams will have to work more closely to determine tradeoffs between the PCB and FPGAs. While this isn't an imminent problem, Rhines said technologies that facilitate the communication between the two groups are needed to speed designs and help teams collaborate.
In addition, Rhines said that signal integrity will continue to be a dominant problem as chip and systems speeds continue to increase and boards become denser. Rhines pointed to 3GIO and asynchronous design as examples of areas that will break rules of thumb for signal integrity and require "statistical analysis."
Rhines also noted that library data management and the related subject of globalization also bode to break current PCB design methods. As new technologies and tools evolve, Rhines said, the libraries are also going to change and companies need to be able to adjust to those changes.
"At some point the existing [library] formats will break and move to a new generation because they have to," said Rhines. "They have to be able to automate the part selection process and mix EDA vendor libraries into total corporate solutions."
Rhines noted that as more designs are created by teams collaborating from disparate parts of the globe, it will become imperative for those teams to use common libraries and data management software. Rhines noted that PCB companies could create software that allows design groups in disparate areas to concurrently design PCBs.
Rhines said design companies are going to be reluctant to upgrade their home-built databases and library repositories, because doing so could introduce problems.
"But the fact is the restructuring of industry has forced a lot of change in databases anyway," said Rhines. "So if a company does have a repository with a large database, they now also have businesses they've acquired and spun off other groups that need subsets of that library and who need to have the same support and controls."