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.

That’s the way to do it!

One of the Alliance’s more prolific “Best Practice” partners just submitted a very impressive “how-to” video about managing the ODB++ flow out of their CAD tools into DFM and manufacturing. Take a look at http://www.odb-sa.com/wp-content/uploads/How_To_Implement_ODB.mp4. Well done Randy Holt of Optimum Design Associates – a film producer as well as PCB technologist! In this case, the flow illustrated is using the design tools of Mentor, but the exact same principles can apply to any other design tools-flow. Are there any other partners out there who would like to make a similar “how-to” for a different brand of design tools? I would be glad to arrange for them to feature also. What are the opinions about Randy’s video though? I am sure he would be glad to receive your feedback via the Community forum. All those designers who say to themselves “I can see ODB++ is a better way, but I just don’t really know how to get started” should take 30 minutes to watch Randy show them the steps! Enjoy the viewing….

ODB++ version-8 . Evolution not revolution

Today the latest version of ODB++ format, version-8, becomes available – you will see it there on the resources page, available for download alongside the v7 specification. Do I hear sighs of relief about the metric units and cheers for the extended range of standard symbols? This new version contains a range of enhancements that build on the existing structures. Everything there is intended to enable higher levels of automation in DFM and CAM to be achieved by incremental development of existing software tools. It has been a few years since v7 was released, thus this upgrade of the format to v8 contains the results of many suggestions and requests from the global user base. Will it cause disruption? Not if it is implemented “manufacturing backwards towards design”, while at the same time maintaining compatibility with v7 in the tools-flow. Will implementation happen overnight? No, but that is to be expected as outsourced design-to-manufacturing value-chains implement the format step-by-step to realize efficiencies in engineering business processes. As a side note, a major effort has been made to make the format specification document more transparent. Let us know if you see any aspect of the document that is unclear and can be improved; we will be glad to make changes to improve clarity.

Job on hold – no purchase order!

Take a look at this link: http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?srchtype=discussedNews&type=member&trk=eml-anet_dig-b_pd-ttl-cn&ut=2mFfX3sEPQNBA1&item=209389651&gid=1821753&view=

Here, in a few words, is one of the major reasons to use ODB++. Very clearly articulated by Mitch (thanks!). But don’t forget the purchase order to your manufacturer as well; most manufacturers will expect to be paid……. ODB++ carries a lot of value, but it does not carry actual money…!

Apart from lack of money, what other reasons are there for having a job go “on hold” at the manufacturer?



Ask the manufacturer!

Probably some of you have noted the article in PCB007: http://www.pcbdesign007.com/pages/zone.cgi?a=89442. It is all about visiting the fabricator to understand the manufacturing process and take that into account all lessons learnt during your design work. The main part of the article is about learning the manufacturing process constraints, but the same principle applies to the question of learning what the manufacturer actually does with the data you send out to them. There remains (confirmed by the survey: http://www.odb-sa.com/2012/03/19/data-hand-off-survey-results/) a massive understanding gap between what many designers think the manufacturers does with the data supplied, and what the manufacturer actually does. The classical one is the perception that the data supplied is actually used to drive the manufacturing machines; well it isn’t! It is read into a CAM system further analysis and processing. The last thing the manufacturer does is actually generate the machine driver-files. So, designers out there, I ask the question: when did you last ask your fabricator or assembly house what they actually do with the data you supply them? Did you succeed to move the conversation from “we can build from what you send us – no problem” to “well actually, if you just sent us a single ODB++file with the following attributes set, we will not need anything else…”? Without an open dialogue between manufacturer and designer, progress is unlikely. Did I hear somebody mention “over the wall syndrome”?