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    Ben and Judy 2019 Wrap-Up

    Judy Warner
    |  December 17, 2019

    Welcome the year-end wrap with Ben Jordan, where we’ll discuss routing engines, RF and microwave and high-speed design, and how they differ. We’ll talk about signal integrity, and discuss what 2020 and beyond will hold for design. And lastly, we’ll share some resources and links as our holiday gift to you.    

    Listen to the Podcast:

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    Show Highlights:

    • The recent launch of Altium Designer 20® is getting a great response, and one of the most well-received features seems to be the routing engine—specifically the any-angle routing feature. 
    • Technically, with previous Altium Designer versions, you could place a trace at any angle, but it involved numerous clicks. And the response to our question ”Why don’t we design at other angles?”, was, once laid down, you couldn’t edit traces any further. That’s the real crux of it.
    • The key update to Altium Designer 20 is, now we can have beautiful, flowing traces with tangential arcs—tangential to the trace they come from—and concentric with the object they’re clearing. The real key here is being able to edit after it’s laid down. 
    • It takes a lot of time and groundwork to build the algorithms, and it takes a lot of math, testing, and time to build libraries to do things elegantly. 
    • Interviews with users revealed that people weren’t using the simulator and there was a need for improvement. 
    • With Altium Designer 20, you don’t have to leave the comfort of the schematic environment that you know (which saves time), and the simulation is very fast. One of the themes of the next major release will be virtual prototyping and simulation.
    • With the explosion of the IoT market, not everything is necessarily digital and there’s a lot we’ll have to learn. The design process is exceedingly complex and becoming more so. 
    • The complexity is not in the manufacturing of the board (other than tolerances). The complexity is in the design. 
    • Don’t let complexity fool you into paralysis—just get started. Ben Jordan’s talk, ‘The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to RF Design’, is a great resource. Ben will be presenting the talk again at Design Con, January 28th-30th, 2020, at the Santa Clara Convention Centre, and again at the IPC Apex Expo, February 4th-6th, in San Diego. 
    • Q: “RF and microwave are not high-speed, but typically high frequency. Then there’s high-speed digital and high-performance: what does it all mean and what’s the difference?”  
    • A: “High performance refers to anything that does its job exceptionally well, but is not necessarily high-speed. High-speed digital does boil down to frequency in current technology. The signals we’re dealing with now are very high-speed digital, meaning we’re using a higher ‘clock-rate’ (sending more bits of information in less time). The actual speed of a signal in a PCB is where frequency comes in—it’s not clock time, but rather a microwave frequency”. 
    • The formal partnership between Simberian and Altium brings an accurate tool for considering all the materials in the layer stackup and the way boards are made, generating a very accurate impedance profile for the traces on the board. This tool works whether you have a high-speed digital board, or an RF board with microstrip transmission lines over Rogers material on the outer layer. 
    • The actual delay calculation in Altium Designer 20 comes from Simberian’s static field solver.
    • Rick Hartley’s comment at AltiumLive in Frankfurt was very encouraging: “...happy that Altium is doing tune for delay, because that’s the way to do it, rather than length tuning”.
    • Altium now has a dedicated development team for simulation, routing, and schematics, paving the way for future enhancements of the user interface.
    • Altium has launched something new and exciting: a video series called ‘Altium Stories’ that just tells your stories! Go to YouTube and find some stories now—Ben’s favorite is the Vox Story. 
    • The blog by Mark Harris, ‘Geeky Holiday Gift Ideas’, is an amusing read to end the year on a fun note.
    • All the AltiumLive sessions are now online.
    • As we head into the new decade, PCB designers can look forward to routing boards being faster and easier, can expect more long-awaited automation, more boards in bizarre places (such as wearables, exoskeletons, precision agriculture), and much, much more.
    • The role of the PCB designer will change, but it won’t disappear. The newest generation entering the industry will have to be more holistic than previous generations of engineers.  
    • Finally, thank you to our listeners for making this year a great one for the OnTrack Podcast.

    Links and Resources:

    Altium Designer 20: Any angle routing
    Altium Stories + VOX Amplifiers
    Geeky Holiday Gift Ideas - Blog by Mark Harris
    AltiumLive 2019 Session Links: San Diego 
    Sarcos Robotics


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    About Author

    About Author

    Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry since 1984. She has a deep background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing with a focus on Mil/Aero applications in technical sales and marketing.
    She has been a writer, contributor and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, The PCB Magazine, The PCB Design Magazine, PDCF&A and IEEE Microwave Magazine and is an active member of multiple IPC Designers Council chapters. In March 2017, Warner became the Director of Community Engagement for Altium and immediately launched Altium’s OnTrack Newsletter. She led the launch of AltiumLive: Annual PCB Design Summit, a new and annual Altium User Conference. Judy's passion is to provide resources, support and to advocate for PCB Designers around the world.

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