The Roadmap Challenge to Design Services



The advances in technology seen over the last couple of years have made it possible to design and build products that could not be made only a few years ago — this is true for developments in many different areas of electronics. This article focuses on the impact that technology developments have had on printed circuit board (PCB) design and layout teams as boundaries between traditional advanced packaging, MCM design and board interconnect are overturned.

A huge part of today's electronics business comes from products that did not exist five years ago, not even in our dreams. Faster, smaller and cheaper is what the technology-hungry market demands at a pace that is not expected to slow soon.

Technology Roadmaps

Companies develop market and product requirement documentation and roadmaps for their upcoming product ranges to meet the market demands. With the product roadmaps at hand, engineers can design and build the new products. With the latest technology developments regarded as enablers for the new products, engineering teams need to consider which technologies to base their new products on. This decision must be based not only circuit-wise, but to physically implement the design and eventually define a technology roadmap. Such roadmaps define component technologies, interconnect and packaging technologies, as well as design technologies to implement in support of the products to be designed.

Many engineers recognize this process and have been through it many times. The process is traditional in many aspects, but is different in a way that creates both opportunities and threats. Until now, technology roadmaps traditionally squeezed the next level out of existence and familiar technologies. For example, in physical layout, two layer boards become four, six, eight, etc. layers, while 12- mil traces become 10-mil and so on. In the same way, engineers tend to stay with familiar assembly and soldering technologies.

New Market Drivers

Today, advanced technologies are driven primarily by the consumer electronics market. Traditional technologies for packaging and interconnect are no longer meeting the performance requirements for many of these consumer electronics products. As a result, the market requirements are forcing companies to draw technology roadmaps that use several technologies that may be completely new to the organization.

Stretched Thin

Technologies like ultrafine line, thin film on laminate, embedded components, stacked dies, open and embedded cavities, and integrated RF are suddenly part of the designs (Figure 1). Many of these technologies that were previously only used in MCMs are now being used on boards as well.

Figure 1. Embedded thin-film resistors use free space under components.
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From having a (reasonably) clear distinction between advanced packaging or MCM technology and board design, the boundaries, if not completely eliminated, are at least fuzzy, creating a common advanced technology scene (Figure 2). It is a scene where tools, processes and people must cope with and understand all the technologies involved.

Figure 2. Wire-bonded stacked dies mounted in a cavity on a circuit board.
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At all stages in the product life cycle, there are technology-related traps to watch out for in each and every technology used. Keep in mind that not only is this a design issue, a CAD layout issue, a manufacturing issue or test issue — it is all of them combined. There is an obvious risk to stretch not only the designer or test engineer too thin, but a serious risk to stretch everybody in the chain too thin as well.

Expertise Gap

By evaluating the expertise requirements in the different areas of the product cycle and taking stock of the staff skills in the areas of interest, an analysis of the expertise gap, related to a given technology, can be made. The larger the gap, the larger the failure risk in that area (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Diagram visualizing the expertise gap for a given technology in an organization.
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There are only four ways to bridge the expertise gap and there are costs involved in all of these paths. One needs to remember that as the new and potentially risky technology is an enabler for the new products, the impact of failure increases dramatically. Introducing new technology does come with a price and a plan has to be made for the implementation. The following are means to bridge the expertise gap:

  • Apply software tools that help bridge the gap.
  • Hire staff or bring in contractors or consultants who possess the missing expertise.
  • Train the staff.
  • All the above.

Right Tool for the Job

Nothing beats the power of skilled and dedicated personnel. Still, having the proper tools for the job is almost a prerequisite. Often there are articles about new technology concluding that a major obstacle for adopting a specific technology is the lack of design tools. Though this may have been the case, today EDA vendors are more than ever taking an active role in backing up their customer's technology roadmaps with tool support and training, as well as interfacing with material suppliers and standard organizations. The result is that vendors have tools available that understand the concept of embedded passives, cavities, multilayer 3-D wire bonding, stacked chips (and that an RF element isn't a short circuit) in a way that fully promotes a correct by design methodology. In short, it means that as the tools support rules driven designs without the designer having to cheat or bypass tool intelligence. Applying the right tool for the job takes out much of the risks involved with new technology.

For example, one of the most limiting factors in the use of embedded resistors has been that the whole process had to be performed manually because of the lack of design tools. Today, the whole process is tool supported from the initial planning and automatic synthesis of embedded geometries to generation of manufacturing data. In the entire process, the design tools from schematic to manufacturing output understand the concept and design rule checks help ensure that what is designed is also correct. A process that took weeks now takes only minutes.

Another example is wire bonded dies with high I/O counts. Traditional design tools have seen the wire bond as a straight flat line emulating a wire bond. Today, in order to pack the bond pads closer and to give true design rule checking when bonding to cavity shelves, the bond pattern generator is working with the bond wire as a 3-D solid model. In some cases, it can reduce the bond pad footprints by more than 40 percent.

Time Factor

Time is an important factor. If performance is to double every year, the staff cannot spend a year in training. Still, training can't be neglected and there are many excellent classes introducing new technologies at both theoretical and practical level at the many conferences and trade shows around the world. In the paths that can be taken to bridge the expertise gap, bringing in people with previous experience is by far the fastest. A combination of applying new design tools and bringing in experienced people may seem costly initially, but it is a very small cost compared to a failure late in the product design cycle. Here, an often forgotten resource is the consulting services offered by EDA vendors. Due to the nature of their work, they very often have early experience with new technology and they know what tools are available, how to use and best apply them. No matter the paths chosen, the expertise gap must be dealt with to be successful.


The fact that the market is moving in directions that force companies to adopt new technology is not something that in general can be controlled. However, it does offer many exciting challenges and opportunities. Analyzing and dealing with the expertise gap will help minimize the risks, because after all, many have adopted new technology before and have shown great success. The only thing new is that this time, there are several new technologies to introduce at once. Complex problems like this are often best dealt with the same way you rip a phone book to pieces bare-handed: one page at the time. Despite the risks involved, a successful early adaptor will gain a competitive edge.

PER VIKLUND, senior product marketing manager, may be contacted at Mentor Graphics, Systems Design Division, Hassle Bosarp 12, SE-274 93 SKURUP, Sweden; +46 0 411 456 11; e-mail: [email protected].


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