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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
We’ve teamed up with MikroeElektronika to issue a challenge to all hardware designers out there.
Before September 18th, design and submit an innovative mikroBUS™ add-on board. If your project rises above the competition, your board will be manufactured and marketed – it will join the Most Excellent Order of MikroElektronika click™ boards. And you, the champion, will be showered with $6500+ worth of prizes from Upverter and MikroElektronika.
New To Click Boards ?
click™ boards are add-on boards with a standardized mikroBUS™ pinout that make hardware prototyping as elegant as it gets. Each board carries a single sensor, transceiver, display, encoder, connection port or any other sort of chip or module. There are currently more than 130 of them.
From the idea to the final touch, here are things you should consider:
1. Idea: Will your board be useful to end-users? What’s it for? What’s the short term and long term market availability and price of the BOM? Is there a novelty factor to your design and the technology it’s based on?
2. Design: Is the main chip or module used to its full potential? How functional is the layout? (for example, if the click board has a pushbutton on it — is it placed on the optimal position? Did you do your best with routing the board? Did you follow the guidelines of the particular chip or module’s producer?
(the complexity of the design comes to play here)
3. Final Touch: Did you come up with a cool name? Silkscreen illustrations?
Shape of the PCB?
First, register astarter Trial account on Upverter (takes less than a minute). Then, to make sure your design conforms with mikroBUS™ specifications, fork one of following templates (NOTE: don’t call your board a “click”, that’s reserved for the winner):
There are three sizes you can work with:Small,Medium & Large. To better understand all the possibilities and constraints of mikroBUS™ download the official spec document: HERE.
1. 5x winning click™ board and a special commemorative plaque for bragging rights, and the winning design gets manufactured and marketed.
2. A one year Upverter Standard account (valued at $499/month)
3. mikroC, mikroBasic or mikroPascal compiler license of choice
4. “Easy” board of choice
5. clicker 2 board of choice
6. Arduino UNO click shield, Pi 2 click™ shield, mikroBUS™ cape
7. An hour of hardware design consulting with Upverter engineers via phone/Skype
1. mikroC, mikroBasic or mikroPascal compiler license of choice
2. “Easy” board for architecture of choice
3. A Design review from Upverter engineers
4. An hour of hardware design consulting over phone/skype
1. mikroC, mikroBasic or mikroPascal compiler license of choice
2. clicker 2 board for architecture of choice
3. An hour of hardware design
4. consulting with Upverter engineers via phone/Skype
Submitting Your Design
Remember — only one mikroBUS™ add-on board from this competition
will become a click™ board. To increase your chances, you can submit
as many designs as you like. Terms and conditions apply.
Send all submission through the official contest portal –>HERE
If you need to make use of a component and it is not already in the parts library, what two things do you need to consider while designing it in your CAD tool?
How to make your part reusable in the future
How to make your part design practical for fabrication
The last part aspect worth perfecting, is the footprint of the part. The footprint is used to describe the specific mechanical shape of the component. The perfection of this aspect is crucial for the PCB layout design to ensure manufacturing goes smoothly. This last entry in our Perfect Part series focuses on optimizing our design for manufacturing considerations.
We contacted Hooman Javdan from Circuits Central Inc., a manufacturing expert of more than 5000 designs, for his best practices on designing a footprint that will best position your layout design for a successful fabrication process.
There are some best practices to use while inputting the exact dimensions of your footprint.
It is important to make sure the units that are used in the data sheet are the same units you’re using to design the part – avoid converting between metric and imperial yourself.
For through-hole and surface mount components, the hole and pad size need to be chosen correctly. Consult the IPC standard 7351 (here) and follow the guidelines for the component you’re creating.
Likewise, for through-hole components that need thermal spokes, the spoke width should be set according to the manufacturer’s capability. Your manufacturer will give you guidance on the maximum surface area of the copper spokes, which will in turn help you choose the spoke thickness.
It is important to have pad sizes chosen perfectly, and this takes careful consulting of the data sheet and some experience.
If a pad is designed too large, parts can be pulled to one side of the landing area during soldering and not connect on the other side. The effect is called “tombstoning”
The choice between Solder Mask Defined (SMD) and Non Solder Mask Defined (NSMD) for Ball Grid Array (BGA) parts is an important one. For standard BGAs it is okay to use SMD, but for parts with a fine pitch, such as a Quad Flat No-leads package (QFN), it is important to use NSMD. SMD will usually protect better against pad lifting, while NSMD will protect better against connection bridging. See here for a comparison.
Know that having a via-in-pad can make the pads effectively larger and cause some problems.
According to Mr. Javdan, solder mask layer errors can be frustrating and costly. If a BGA has an issue, the fabricator must remove the BGA, check its functionality, reball it, clean the board and solder it back on by hand which costs them time and you hundreds of dollars per board. So be mindful of the manufacturing process in your designs.
For the practical “How-To” of creating the layout footprint of a new component in Upverter, see our YouTube video.