If I were to ask many of my American designer friends as to which EDA vendors supply enterprise-level PCB/system design and verification software, I'm pretty sure that around 99 percent would say "Cadence and Mentor, of course!" Also, more than a few of my friends are very enthusiastic about Altium's offerings. Since I come from Europe, I'm also aware of another major player in this area -- Zuken.
Founded in 1976, Zuken is a Japanese company with corporate headquarters in Yokohama, Japan; European headquarters in Munich, Germany; and North American headquarters in Westford, Mass. In many respects, it's surprising to me that Zuken has managed to maintain such a low profile in the USA because they are so well known in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are No. 1 with regard to enterprise-level PCB/system design and verification software just about everywhere in the world except North America.
Having said all this, Zuken's presence has been steadily growing in North America over the last 10 years or so in certain areas, such as the military and aerospace markets. This tells you something right there, because the big American Mil-Aero contractors are strongly incentivized to purchase their EDA tools from 100 percent "Red, White, and Blue" American companies. Thus, the fact that so many of them are using Zuken's tools has to make one pause for thought.
What sort of tools are we talking about? Well, Zuken has three main contenders in the PCB-system-product design and verification arena: CADSTAR is billed as the Expert Desktop Design Solution, CR-5000 is targeted toward Enterprise-wide PCB Design, and CR-8000 is Zuken's flagship multi-board, system-level design solution.
I was chatting to the folks from Zuken just the other day. They were saying that circuit boards have traditionally been the centerpiece of the design process, but that this is no longer the case. Now, System-on-Chip (SoC) devices and System-in-Package (SiP) assemblies are the centerpiece. Also, companies are no longer thinking primarily in terms of designing boards; instead, they are thinking in terms of designing products, and the sheer complexity of today's products is driving a new approach to product-level design abstraction.
This is why the CR-8000 features IP management and protection, system-level design exploration and planning (fully integrated into the design process), the concurrent design of multiple PCBs (rigid, flex, rigi-flex) and IC packages, platform/reuse-based design, native 2D/3D package and PCB design with 3D ECAD/MCAD co-design, and multi-site library and engineering data management.
Furthermore, many products do not have all of their electronics subsystems neatly gathered together in one place. Instead, in products like automobiles, medical scanners, industrial robots, and aircraft, the electronic subsystems may be distributed all over the place. This requires the use of complex wire harnesses. Amazingly enough, many design houses still design these harnesses using pieces of colored string wrapped around nails that are hammered into wooden boards. You can call me a "silly-billy" if you wish, but this does not sound like a 21st Century design technology to me.
All of this explains why the CR-8000 product-level design platform is tightly integrated with Zuken's E3.series solutions for electrical wiring, control systems, and fluid engineering. The E3.series includes wiring and harness design, cable assembly design, control system design, panel and cabinet design, hydraulic and pneumatic design, and so forth.
Also, the fact that Zuken saw a 25 percent growth in North America from 2011 to 2012 may explain why the company has just announced that it is going to spend up to $50 million in US-based operations over the next three years to increase its North American presence. In addition to opening a new Innovation (R&D) Center in Silicon Valley, the folks at Zuken plan on dramatically increasing their participation in the North American design community. This will include creating technology papers, speaking at conferences, and the launching of a new partnership program.
One more point that's worth mentioning is the user experience. I was just talking to a PCB expert (who asked to remain anonymous) who said: "One thing that you can say about PCB designers is that -- generally speaking -- they do love to complain about their tools. By comparison, Zuken's users tend to be fanatically enthusiastic. Hanging out at a gathering of Zuken users is reminiscent of the heydays of Atari user-group meetings." Good grief, that's high praise indeed!
Well, we certainly do live in exciting times, don't we? Now, I'm very much looking forward to the grand opening of Zuken's new Innovation Center in Silicon Valley, which is planned for September of this year. I will, of course, be reporting further on Zuken's thrust into North America, so watch this space...