Upverter Joins Altium

A rocket blasting off into space, signalling a new era of hardware development

Introducing the future of electronic product design. And it’s free.

 

I have some very exciting news: We’ve been acquired by Altium, a leading provider of design software for the electronics industry.

Our mission at Upverter from the very start has been to make hardware and product design approachable for everyone: to make hardware less hard. To empower engineers, makers, hobbyists and students by equipping them with world-class technology through an intuitive user experience. We believe the best design tools fade into the background, freeing designers to be truly creative. And over the past seven years we’ve gotten really close to realizing this vision. We’ve built the world’s most sophisticated cloud-based, collaborative hardware design tool. We’ve helped more than 45,000 people design more than 80 thousand devices.

But we’re not even close to finished yet.

Altium shares our vision for a powerful, collaborative new style of product design software. Free, but powerful enough to design a real product, accessible-to-all, cloud-based and collaborative, and maybe, most importantly, incredibly intuitive, helpful even, and easy-to-use. If the world is going to design millions of new IOT devices over the next decade then it needs a new style of design software. These devices won’t come from the CAD world. Their tools are unapproachable, they feel old, and they were made for a different reason – made for professional, trained, and experienced electrical engineers. These devices need a different approach – they need product design software made for everyone else. A new style of design software made for the new generation. Made for the masses.

You may have noticed that today we removed our paid professional account tier. From now on the best, most feature-full, most powerful version of Upverter will be our only version. It will always be free to use, for everyone, from anywhere. Regardless of whether you’re a professional electrical engineer, a maker, a student, a hobbyist or anyone else, you can now design your product, your hardware, your IOT device, your PCB – completely for free using Upverter. Unfettered access for all.

I want to emphasize that we aren’t making Upverter free for the sake of free, and we aren’t making Upverter free because Altium doesn’t care about it. It’s exactly the the opposite. We believe that this new style of design platform is so valuable, and so necessary, that making it anything other than free would hurt the world, limit our growth, and prevent our vision from being realized. Between Octopart, which provides free electronic component search and discovery (joined Altium in 2015) and our experiments with EEConcierge, which provides paid design services on-demand, inside your design tool (think of it as in-app purchases), we have come to the conclusion that indirect monetization is the future. We think it’s the right way to both make money, and help designers produce products – without getting in their way or limiting them – and we’re betting on it going forward.

It gets better.

The team that built Upverter: Steve, Mike, Francesca, Carmen, Ryan, Patryk, Yashwanth and me – the entire team – have joined Altium, and we’re continuing to work on Upverter in the hopes of making it so much better. We’re going to be growing our team too, investing even more into making Upverter both incredibly powerful, and also incredibly easy to use. We have a grand vision of making it possible for our users to design more than just a PCB – a complete product: system design, schematic, PCB, enclosure, mechanical, firmware, software, BOM, manufacturing, etc, etc. Soup to nuts. All through Upverter. All collaborative. All easy to use. Unified product design.

We’re joining forces with Altium because we think we can move faster, innovate faster, and grow faster together than we could apart. The most important thing is a world filled with thousands, and thousands of new IOT devices and products – and that you bring your product to life. We’re partnering with Altium because it enables us, to enable you, to make that world a reality – better than we ever could on our own.

Thanks for all of your support over the years. Your feedback, your trust, your amazing projects, and your love fuelled us. We got here together – and we’re so deeply grateful for that. I’m excited to open this new chapter with you – we’re going to do so many remarkable things together over the next few years.

Announcing EE Concierge

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Upverter just launched a new product. It’s called EE Concierge. If you’re a hardware engineer and you don’t use Upverter to design your PCBs you should check it out.

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Upverter is the same professional, collaborative, cloud-based design tool you know and love except more so. We’ve made our free plan even better than before, and added even more professional layout and 3D features – more on this soon.

17 months ago we began an experiment within the Upverter editor to make sure that every single part a user ever needed, every part they ever searched for, and every part they ever used existed in the Upverter parts library. At the time we thought it would help us get users to adopt Upverter as their preferred EDA tool. You can read more about our early experiments, and why we built the concierge here.

We’ve since realized that the concierge is so much more than a way to convert engineers into Upverter users. It turns out that most engineers hate making parts. It doesn’t matter what tool they use, where they work or what industry they’re in – making symbols, making footprints, modelling parts in 3D and copying attribute data out of PDF datasheets is tedious. It’s slow, painful and error prone. 75% of manufacturing problems are a result of mistakes by engineers who should be designing, instead of making parts.

We built a new product for these engineers. For engineers that don’t want to make parts, but can’t or don’t want to switch to Upverter; engineers that have better things to do, engineers that can’t afford manufacturing errors because they made parts themselves.

We call it EE Concierge. The Electrical Engineering Concierge Service. And we’re here to help you with any electrical engineering task that you need help with, starting with making your parts for you.

The big difference between this new product and other online part libraries is that you can trust it. When we started the parts concierge for Upverter users we decided that it wasn’t enough to just give people questionable data. No true professional would ever use a random part off the internet – they’d rather make it from scratch and be sure it was going to work. So for the parts concierge to work, we knew the parts had to be perfect – perfect attributes, symbol, footprint, pricing, and they would need to come with a 3D model.

It’s a very hard problem to convert PDF datasheets into CAD symbols, footprints, attributes, and 3D models reliably. Especially if people are involved. To address this, we built a massive distributed team of electrical engineers, and software to split up tasks and spread them around the world. These electrical engineers all work on the same parts together collaboratively using the Upverter toolset and our amazing crowd-sourced design rules. Their data is compared, and checked and improved to eventually produce a winner, or if a winner is not produced, we request more samples from more and more electrical engineers until we are confident the data is correct. We then pass all this data through a machine intelligence to verify if the part is correct. This is the only way you can reliably make the highest quality parts in huge volume and still trust that the data is correct. This is our first secret weapon. You can see an example of our quality by downloading our example library here.

We store all of this parts data in a common format that we’ve been developing over the years at Upverter. This common format is our second secret weapon. It allows us to build intelligent export configuration and translation tools so that the users of EE Concierge can configure their parts library to export in exactly the same style as parts they make internally. One of the first steps to using EE Concierge is to provide us with your internal hardware team style guide, so that we can help you setup your export to be exactly the same as the parts you make manually. You can see our Style Guide and all the many configuration options here.

Finally we’ve built a sophisticated pricing algorithm so that you get charged a fair price for every part you request through the concierge. We think it’s crazy to pay the same price for a resistor that you’d pay for a 2500 pin BGA. That’s why our algorithm is based on the complexity of the part – not one price to rule them all, not how long it took us to make it, or how many parts specialists needed to be involved, or anything like that. You pay an algorithmic, deterministic fair price based on the complexity of the part we made for you. Resistors are cheaper than BGAs, and parts that can be generated with our software are cheaper than non-standard connectors that we need to draw by hand. You can see example pricing on the pricing page of the EE Concierge site.

Our part concierge has grown considerably over the past 17 months. I thought some of you might be interested in some of our stats:

Requests per week:  301,  trending up
Part edits made by our Parts Specialists:  1,145,  trending down per request
Manual Intervention Required rate delivering parts:  4%,  trending down
Error rate in verified parts:  0.2%,  trending flat
Average cost of a request:  $34,  trending up
Mean Time between request and delivery:  21 hours,  trending down
Mode Time between request and delivery:  6 hours,  trending flat
Contract Parts Specialists working full-time for EE Concierge:  22+

Finally, I want to tell you about a special promotion we’re doing right now. For a limited time, if you sign up for EE Concierge we will give you an Example Library of parts worth more than $1500 and an additional $150 in request credit that you can use to request any parts that you want from the concierge – all for free. This is enough credit for 5 or more average sized parts, so you can truly test our capability, quality, performance, and turnaround time.

As always if you have any suggestions, feedback, or questions please comment here, or in the Upverter forum, or email me at zak@eeconcierge.com.

Explore Your Projects in 3D

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You can now export your projects as 3D Model Step files to visualize your projects sooner. Head over to the project page and find the 3D Model (Step) option under the downloads section.

The 3D Model (Step) download option on an Upverter project page.

You can also preview your project while you work. Switch over to the 3D Model tool in the editor to pan over and zoom into your project in all of its 3D glory.

Step model viewer inside the Upverter editor.

This is the first of the new Upverter 4.0 features going live this week. Check it out!

What’s Next at Upverter

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We’ve been a bit quiet for the past few months here at Upverter while we’ve been working on version 4. My apologies for that. We are alive and well. In fact the business side of Upverter is performing the best it has ever performed. Our key metrics are strong, we’re growing, and we’re (finally) making money.

Version 4 is finally, almost, just-about, ready to launch. You’ll see the first of the new features go live in the product this week, and then continue to trickle out over the coming weeks. If you’ve ever signed up for an account with an email address, or are on our mailing list, or follow the Upverter forum we will notify you there too.

I’m pretty excited about all the new features, and some of the new super powers we’re giving engineers using Upverter. But I’m even more excited about a change we made in our thinking about a year ago. We decided that we couldn’t convert every engineer from using legacy desktop software like Cadence or Altium, into Upverter overnight. That it was going to take time. And that we needed to stop alienating these users and instead make it easier for them to participate in the Upverter community, and to benefit from the Upverter marketplace today. And so as part of the Upverter version 4 launch we will, also for the first time ever, release a set of plugins that give Upverter’s super powers to users of desktop ecad software. Now anyone can be an Upverter user, without needing to switch software.

Stay tuned! And sorry again for the silence.

Upverter customer, AXIS, lauches Indiegogo campaign

Upverter success story, AXIS, lauches Indiegogo campaign



AXIS launches Indiegogo for the AXIS Gear

In June, Upverter met with AXIS to discuss the success of their product development using the Upverter platform.  AXIS’ head product development engineer, Marc Bishara, praised Upverter for its attentiveness and support for their customers.  AXIS took advantage of Upverter’s unique cloud-based design to have design reviews of their board before production.

“This was my first fully functional PCB, so from the start we don’t necessarily have the expertise to be 100% confident of the things that we’re doing.  Getting a second set of eyes on the board, to see issues that would potentially mess up the board or impact our ability to run diagnostics on it after it was printed, was useful.  The design review is great.”

— Marc Bishara, Product Development Engineer, AXIS

You can read more about our customer success story with AXIS

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You can visit AXIS’ Indiegogo campaign

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Try Upverter yourself for free

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The Cost of Mistakes on Parts

Creating a proper schematic symbol and PCB footprint for a new part and meticulously checking it for errors can be a tedious task. But when you don’t have a trusted, verified parts library this task is exceptionally necessary due to what you’re risking if you don’t buckle down and verify yourself. A mistake in your part design can be very costly. We consulted a reputable manufacturer, Hooman Javdan from Circuits Central Inc., on the types and ranges of costs that result from part design errors. Let’s analyze what types of costs a mistake on parts could incur for you and your company.

Material and Equipment Cost

The most obvious cost, and possibly the worst case scenario is the cost of re-spinning more boards. If the paste mask is wrong a new stencil will cost in the hundreds of dollars. A new stencil will also extend the timeline of the project by a few days so the manufacturer has enough time to have it made. If the board is just plain wrong, fabbing and assembling a new batch of boards can cost in the thousands.If a particular component’s origin is incorrectly displaced off-center in a part design, then the pick-and-place machine will attempt to put the part on the wrong spot on the board. This will result in part losses, so the cost depends on which part is being improperly placed. If the part in question is a processor, an FPGA, a memory module or something similar, it can be a very costly mistake.

Rework costs can vary wildly in terms of both dollars and time. If a pin marking on the silkscreen is wrong, or possibly flipped because it is on the back of the board, then a part may need to be manually removed and resoldered correctly. For simple parts this may cost only a few minutes per board and a total of 1 day of delay. For more salvaging and reworking more expensive parts, such as a BGA, this may mean spending hours on each board to remove, clean, reball and resolder each BGA and take around a week in total. Expect to pay around $300 per hour for your rework time, making this an important costly decision.

For a small batch of prototype boards (5-10 boards), expect a re-spin to cost in these ranges:

cost-mistake-parts-table

The cost of PCBs are driven up by increased set-up time for the manufacturer due to higher component counts, higher parts costs for expensive ICs like processors or FPGAs, parts that require an conformal coating and thus curing time, and complex mechanical assemblies.

Testing & Debugging Cost

If a symbol or footprint has an error, any resulting malfunctions can take a long wild goose chase to track down the root cause. Hours and days of engineering time can be wasted before it’s determined that the malfunction is as a result of an unverified part design. If a part is placed in the wrong orientation, it could drive high current through a part of the board and damage further components on it. You might not notice this problem until you’ve noticed the cascade of damage on the board. These boards could initially pass quality control and then provide a challenging debug project for an engineer, or fail to work properly in the field. Assuming that engineering time costs companies around $50-100 per hour, it is definitely a huge financial risk to have engineers spending their time on debugging instead of on designing.

Expediency Cost

Usually, a small batch of prototype boards can be completed by a manufacturer in around 2 weeks. However, when an error is found and a re-spin is ordered, companies often want to avoid waiting another two weeks and will have their next batch of boards expedited. If you’re expediting from 2 weeks to 24 hours, expect to pay double for the second batch of boards.

Time to Market Cost

The alternative to paying expediency costs is to delay the launch of the project by a few weeks or months. The cost of the delay depends widely on your market and on your competitors, but it can easily become unmanageably large. Consider that many markets have seasonal milestones they must hit with their products, whether they are targeting a launch at a specific industry conference or trade show or whether it’s a large consumer electronics company trying to hit the Christmas deadline. These market windows must be hit.

There are several things to consider when evaluating the time to market cost, but know that it typically results in an increase in sunken research and development cost, a decrease in sales life, and a loss of market share.

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You can find many calculators online that can help you determine the cost of going late to market, but a general optimistic estimate would be 2% of total profit is lost for every month a product is delivered late.

So if you shudder at the thought of throwing money away needlessly, know that using verified parts is far from needless – it’s essential.

Why EDA Component Creation is Broken

How painful and frustrating is it to stop working on a new hardware design because the component you need to add isn’t already in your parts library?  Not only do you need to switch your train of thought from being creative to being meticulous in transcribing the part details and designing a symbol and footprint, but you’re also aware of the fact that you’re going to have to check and re-check to make sure you did it 100% perfectly.  Since the design work and the sanity check are both prone to human error, there is a tremendous inherent risk involved with the undertaking of adding and using a new part.  This makes the whole process tedious and cumbersome, but necessary.

The first thought that then runs through your mind is, “Can I offload this work?” Of course, if you work for a large company with a big budget, you can just tell some intern to design the part for you, or outsource it to a company that specializes in part creation, but you’re still groaning inwardly at the prospect of re-checking the design once it is done.  Finding an online parts library to download will also sometimes save you some time, but again, re-checking the parts is necessary to maintain your sanity, especially from a mysterious online source.

Most people don’t have those luxuries, and if (and invariably when) they make a mistake and manufacture the PCB they have to eat the cost of a re-spin, delay shipping their product and have a difficult conversation with their manager.  Re-spins take time, cost money and as a result kill thousands of dollars in profit. This makes the risk of a re-spin kill a manager’s sleep.   This puts pressure on the design engineer to attempt to avoid that risk by spending more time manually re-checking designs and kills his or her life.  Working as a hardware designer tasked with designing parts is akin to working as a court stenographer, except even they are being automated out of business.

Maybe there are some easier “parts problems” to tackle… Like, why do we share part data sheets and not the designs for the schematic symbol and PCB footprint?  Or, if I go to the effort of finding the data sheet, why can’t my software magically create my part for me?  A standard file format is probably not in keeping with the business model for part suppliers or the various desktop EDA tool companies.  Speaking of which, why are so many people still using desktop software for this?  If more designers used a cloud-based tool that made collaboration and sharing this kind of information easier, wouldn’t that be a good first step?  In that collaborative forum, we could keep track of how many times a certain part was used which would give a numerical value to the risk in using the part design, saving time spent on re-checking it.

There has to be a better way.  A large majority of innovation has been centered around the idea of eliminating human error to drive efficiency and cost savings. Automated textile manufacturing in the 18th century helped drive the industrial revolution.  “Spell check”, something almost everyone with a computer takes for granted, first arrived on personal computers in the 1980s.  Google is now creating self-driving autos that eliminate the human error from driving a car! You’d think we could figure out a way to eliminate human error from designing schematic symbols and PCB footprints!

Self-driving cars? Yes.  Verified Parts Creation Service? No.

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What do you think?  Does designing new components irk you the way it does me?  Do you find the work of designing a new part empty, hollow, tedious and wasteful?  Do you lie awake at night worrying if the pads on the PCB footprint you (or your intern) created are the wrong size?

Let us know in the comments section below…