ODB++ Solutions Alliance – Free Just Got Better

I am happy to announce a couple of ODB++ Solutions Alliance milestones! Recent updates to the ODB++ Solutions Alliance website make it much easier to navigate. The layout has been streamlined and the materials on the resources page have been updated.

Furthermore, the free ODB++ Viewer has been updated to version 9.6.  Now all ODB++ Viewer users will enjoy the same maximum level of functionality. With this current release, users of the ODB++ Viewer can utilize  the following functionality:

  • Filter by component
  • Measure (between points, features, nets, annular ring)
  • Show populated components only
  • Highlight two different nets
  • Expanded component display options (CAD, CPN/IPN, MPN, VPL, pins)

Also, we’ve removed the need for annual registration for access to the ODB++ Viewer.  We originally did that to make sure everyone was current with the ODB++ version, but feedback from the community said they would rather register once and accept the responsibility to visit the ODB++ site frequently to stay current with versions.

For our Cadence Allegro customers, the ODB++ Inside application has been updated to version 9.6 as well.  Version 9.6 provides the translation of backdrill information into ODB++ and enables the passing of component spacing requirements from Allegro into Valor NPI.  If you haven’t already downloaded it, I recommend you do.

The ODB++ community keeps growing – both in terms of users and partners. This past month we passed the milestone of 20,000 registered users worldwide and there are now more than 3,200 companies that have downloaded the free ODB++ Inside software for Allegro. I am also pleased to welcome two new ODB++ Solutions Alliance development partners, CadSoft Computer and Solaria Thermal.  I encourage you to view their ODB++ capabilities from the links on the partner page.

This is your community and it is our responsibility to serve you.  I welcome your continued suggestions on how we can make it better for you; leave a comment below with your feedback. 

New Product Introduction Success is Measurable

It seems obvious to measure a project, but, I have to say, in my many years in the PCB design and manufacturing industry, we don’t measure our decisions very often.  Before making a decision or investment, we typically make an assessment of our current state and we frequently project our expected return and benefits in quantifiable terms.  However, it is rare for us to actually revisit our state after we have implemented our changes and investments.

How do you know if something is good or bad unless you measure it?  Why would any of us do something different if that action did not lead to an improvement? 

With Optimum Design Associates and their Lean NPI initiative, revisiting is key and they show us why.  Two years ago, they began down a course of action they thought held promise: Lean NPI – improving the efficiency of the PCB design to manufacturing process.

Efficiency was measured by Optimum Design Associates in terms of time, cost, and quality.  Quite methodically, Randy Holt, PCB Layout Manager at Optimum Design Associates, measured their current NPI flow before beginning the project and reported their anticipated benefits in the first whitepaper in the series. Then, Randy took the time to note and report their experiences on the process.

Optimum Design Associates successfully completed their Lean NPI initiative and published the results in the third part of their whitepaper series in Printed Circuits Design and Fab magazine: Refining Lean NPI at Optimum Design Associates.

What I like best about their report is how they measured the quality of their designs in terms of callbacks from suppliers and the number of defects reported per design.  And, they willingly share this information for others to see.  You only do that if you are confident in your capabilities.

I tip my hat to the people at Optimum Design Associates for their diligence in the Lean NPI initiative and their openness in sharing the results.  I am confident many others in the industry will benefit as a result of their reporting.

Download the entire whitepaper series from the ODB++ Solutions Alliance website.

The Evolution Continues

In my first blog post, I asked you to stay tuned for some upcoming news about the ODB++ data model and I’m happy to report the recent announcement of ODB++ v8.1 specification release.

This release is significant in terms of the content it adds to the ODB++ data model. Among the enhancements are:
• Characterization of intentionally shorted nets
• Definition of build-up zones for rigid-flex designs
• Inclusion of virtual documentation data

Previously, there was no established way for a designer to communicate a designed short between two nets aside from a notation, often overlooked or ambiguous. As simple and common as that practice is, fabricators often put a job on hold to confirm the intentional shorts because of the criticality of the issue, thus causing unnecessary delays.

Regarding the rigid-flex build-up zones, this is a prime example of how a data modeling format needs to be inclusive of all technologies, not just the majority. ODB++ has supported the definition of flex and rigid-flex layer types since v8.0. Now the area, or zones, that constitute the various material buildup can be defined so that proper impedance calculations can be applied. This further reduces the manual and redundant effort currently required between design and fabrication.

Lastly, and most significantly, ODB++ now enables the inclusion of content previously conveyed through drawings, documents, and instructions. Think about all the information that needs to be communicated to, fabrication, assembly, and test that is not part of the PCB definition. This includes, but is not limited to, IPC process standards that are to be applied, soldermask finish color, and impedance constraint IDs. So, why do we continue to use multiple, disparate means to communicate what defines a single printed circuit board?

Take a look at the new ODB++ v8.1 overview and specification. You will see how the ODB++ data model continues to evolve to serve our evolving industry and how it can help you increase efficieny.

Also, check out this video, How to Export ODB++ Manufacturing Files.

Taking the ODB++ Solutions Alliance Baton

Hello, ODB++ universe! I say hello but I have known many of you for years.  My name is Patrick McGoff and I have the pleasure of taking the baton as the steward of the ODB++ Solutions Alliance that my friend and colleague, Julian Coates, has handed me. I have been in the PCB industry since 1985, beginning with Applicon, the number two EDA company at the time, behind another legend, Computervision. Shout-out to any veterans of the industry who got their start with one of those two pioneers!  
After Applicon, I spent ten years at Gerber Scientific. That’s right – the same company where the format originated. I’ll speak more on that and Mr. Gerber at a later time.
Our industry evolves and morphs; technology, processes, materials, tools, and suppliers change. There are times when it seems like it doesn’t change fast enough and then there are other times you blink and you missed a new technology. Collectively, we are constantly in search of new and improved solutions that allow us to bring new products to market, lower our costs, or improve our quality.
That’s one of the objectives of the ODB++ Solutions Alliance – to provide an open forum where everyone can be kept informed, up-to-date, and supported on the subject of solutions driven by the ODB++ data model.I look forward to my time as the steward of the alliance and welcome any questions or suggestions you may have on the subject.
In the meantime, you might want to read some of the things users said about ODB++ as part of a recent survey conducted by research firm, TechValidate Software. And, stay tuned for some upcoming news about the ODB++ data model.

Onwards and upwards!

This is to let you all know that after 30 years in the world of PCBs I have decided to move on to a new software venture in the electronics industry. Still connected to PCBs but less directly.

The development and support of ODB++ has been a mission of great importance to me personally because of its potential to genuinely improve the way PCBs are manufactured. When we first launched ODB++ in the mid-1990s it was greeted with suspicion by most, curiosity by some, and enthusiasm by a handful of visionaries. Now, 20 years later, it is an entrenched mainstream technology in the engineering tool-chains of thousands of organizations worldwide. As I write, over 16,000 engineers are members of this ODB++ Solutions Alliance, and the number grows every day. Millions of PCB designs have been manufactured using ODB++ over the years. V8 of the format was launched in recent years and is already starting to deliver benefits to engineers across design-to-manufacturing flows. V9 of the format will come in due course, bringing additional layers of value in terms of time, cost and quality. There are over 60 3rd-party software solution-vendors signed up as “Solutions Development Partners” – more than at any time in the history of the format. All positive signs of progress overall, none of which would happen without the critical combination of the format itself, tool-vendors delivering software solutions that derive value from the format for the benefit of the end-users, and technical support resources to ensure successful implementation; a format on its own is not enough!

I will be handing off the stewardship of ODB++ to my colleagues in a managed way over the coming weeks, to ensure continued success of the format in the hands of its users. Thank you for your participation in the ODB++ mission:- to streamline the way PCBs are manufactured. There is more to come and I am sure ODB++ will go from strength to strength in coming years.



What about the design quality?

An interesting piece of editorial flashed across my screen this morning, from a PCB fabricator explaining why intelligent formats such as ODB++ are better for everybody as compared to Gerber (meaning not just the late-lamented RS274D, but also the latest derivatives). Take a look:-


Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Mr Kaufhold’s message is his observation that “transforming a poor layout to the new format will not make it better! ” So, it’s not all about the data after all – the data also has to have well-created content verified by manufacturing-focused tools upstream at the design stage. Well said, Mr Kaufhold! The success-formula at manufacturing hand-off is 50% intelligent, integrated data, and 50% product-manufacturability. Really? Who says? Maybe it is 60%/40%, or 80%/20%? Who wants to take a stand on that?

In the end, this is the great challenge of the new-product introduction business process for PCBs – to run a coherent flow that generates highly manufacturable designs before making the output to the manufacturing-process engineers. How to do that in an outsourced manufacturing environment with a variety of software tools from multiple vendors all the way down the line? Is that the argument for continuing to use Gerber – after all, intelligent data is problematic, no? – better to keep it simple and leave it up to the manufacturers to reconstruct your product-model… -surely some mistake there-….. Or, take a different approach – work with design and manufacturing tools that have an established track record with an intelligent format, and a format for which there is a wide range of supporting tools, and give the manufacturers something that can be taken directly to manufacturing process preparation!

With over a million PCB designs processed into manufacturing using ODB++ since the format was invented, and more than 8000 members of the ODB++ Solutions Alliance, maybe it is time to organize a “cyber-flashmob” event to remind all those traditionalists out there that there is a better way. Not just intelligent, but manufacturable also please!


Everybody’s reading about it….

With the Lean NPI workflow built on top of ODB++ for product-model hand-off to manufacturing, it is worth  noting that the most intensively read article in PCB Design and Fabrication magazine last year was on the subject of Lean NPI, contributed by our Best Practice Partner :- Optimum Design Associates. See the report at http://pcdandf.com/cms/designnews/10575-readers-choice-top-10-articles-of-2013 Congratulations to the team at Optimum Designs! We hope to publish the Part-3 of their “Lean NPI journey” story during this year, when they have gathered quantitative data on the benefits achieved.

Other news about Alliance partners is that we now have over 50 partners listed, with more in the pipeline. The range of ODB++ interfaces being created continues to interesting, with a handful of testing software and machine vendors such as Seica, GigaVis, Corelis and Digitaltest driving their solutions from ODB++. The most recent news is from Artwork Conversion Software Inc., who have just published a video showing how to use ODB++ as the basis for generating a 3D model of a PCB assembly, for use by a well-known MCAD system. Said to provide a much better solution than IDF or STEP – which is quite thought provoking. I guess that aligns with our long-standing view that what the industry needs is working solutions that link tools together in the most efficient way – that is the primary consideration; whether the data conforms to a formal standard or not is, at best, of secondary consideration. In the end, it’s all about getting the job done. Take a look at http://youtu.be/lzvPgkxxFqU. What you see there is a 3D rendering of the ODB++ 2.5D data. Even though the components are prismatic, the accuracy of representing the PCB is excellent – looks like what would come off the production line! Maybe one day PCB manufacturing data will go to true 3D – that can be an additional +-sign in the ODB++………..ODB+++?

Lean NPI – the story develops

Today we have published the second part of the Lean NPI implementation story from Optimum Designs. Take a look at http://www.odb-sa.com/resources/, where you will see part-2 in the white-papers section. Thanks to Optimum Designs for continuing to document their approach to re-engineering their NPI processes to take maximum advantage of ODB++ and the associated tools-flow between design, fabrication and assembly! As I see it, the most notable aspect of their Lean NPI plan is the extensive “left-shifting” of DFM to the very earliest stage in the design flow, using a significant overlap between the two types of product-model – the design database and the manufacturing-oriented product model (the ODB++). I also see that the switch over from the old Gerber method to ODB++ is seen as a transition-process that will be managed over a period of time. No sign of any drawings in their definition of “best-practice” either…. The next editions of the white-paper series will describe how (whether…?) they succeeded with the implementation and the actual quantified benefits achieved. The journey continues!

4000 members

Well, the Alliance just passed the 4000 member mark, and I see a lot of healthy traffic in the community with members helping each other to understand the format and the options for its implementation. In the last 6 months we have also seen an acceleration in the “Solutions Development” partners, where there is now an interesting range of ODB++ implementors there: 8 PCB CAD vendors, 8 functional-simulation providers, 5 CAM vendors, some production machine vendors and at least 3 companies active in mechanical CAD and PLM. More are on the way, and all are welcome. In the new “Best-practice” partners’ section you will see many new names there, covering all aspects of PCB design, fabrication and assembly services – with an extensive international distribution.

Soon there will be some initial samples of ODB++ v8 data on the resources page, something we can expect to see more of as this latest version of the format starts to be implemented across the design/manufacturing spectrum.