This month, I interview Rick Hartley about his presentation for the PCEA’s grand opening webinar on July 14. Next, PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez shares a timely message on how our time working from home is a serious matter, and how letting our guard down could be a mistake.
Again, PCEA chapters are in transition, and due to social distancing requirements, no face-to-face meetings have taken place to date, but there’s a lot of virtual activity happening. I also share our most updated list of professional development opportunities and events, which we hope you will find useful.
In this interview with Rick Hartley, we discuss an upcoming educational opportunity at the PCEA’s grand opening webinar on July 14 at 11:00 a.m. PDT, where he will present a free class on PDN tips for successful power distribution.
Kelly Dack: Today, I am speaking with renowned electronics industry educator and PCEA executive team member Rick Hartley. I’m so glad to talk with you. You have been kind enough to share your knowledge at the upcoming grand opening webinar. Tell us a bit about the event and why designers won’t want to miss what you are going to share.
Rick Hartley: The power distribution network (PDN) is where everything starts. All of the transmission lines and energy moving have to come from somewhere. It comes from the power supply but the high-frequency portion that gets loaded into the drivers and onto transmission lines so that driver “A” can drive load “B” and so on comes from the PDN. Generally, the PDN consists of either power planes or power routes with ground planes, decoupling capacitors, and sometimes other devices as the main ingredients.
I have done a longer version of this class at PCB West that was 3.5 hours and took the audience through everything I consider important for power delivery. For the PCEA grand opening, I’m going to share an hour of good tips on key features that need low inductance, how to maintain that, and other things regarding PDNs that they need to understand first and foremost. For example, one of the most important elements of good PDN design is maintaining a low inductance through the PDN at a broad range of frequencies at which the energy gets delivered. One of the myths engineers believe is that the principal energy of the circuit is the clock frequency, but it isn’t; it’s driven by the rise and fall times of the IC outputs. They run at a much higher frequency than the clock.
Dack: Will you tell the audience some horror stories about how this misconception can play out in design? I love the horror stories you sometimes share because they illustrate what can go wrong when improper assumptions are made at critical points in the design process. What do designers miss with regard to this topic?
Hartley: Designers need to care about inductance because high inductance at any of the frequencies of concern can cause major problems—and there is a broadband of frequencies that the PDN has to deliver. It starts at the clock and extends out to a very high-frequency level based on the rise time. All of that energy has to be delivered through the inductance of the power bus. If the inductance—or impedance—is high at any of those frequencies, you get large voltage drops that lead to switching noise, which leads to signal integrity and EMI problems, as well as others. It is important to understand how to design the PDN to ensure these things do not happen.
Dack: That sounds outstanding. This is you speaking about physics in action. It sounds like you are going to provide the audience with visual representations of stackups and show how the conductors work to distribute power.
Hartley: Yes. With everything I present, I try to bring a simple but realistic view of the physics to people so that they can understand why things happen, including a behind-the-scenes approach on how this stuff works and why people need to know it. I do not approach the subject matter like a professor in college who launches into high-level math.
Instead, we’ll talk about subjects like the proper location of decoupling capacitors. For example, with a BGA part, do the caps belong under the BGA, or do they go on the same side of the board, next to the BGA? The answer to a question like this is, “It depends.”
It depends on the board stackup, the BGA, the power, and a number of factors. Designers have to possess that knowledge when they deal with these elements so that they won’t do it incorrectly. Without considering these elements, they will end up creating some amount of power starvation, resulting in inductive losses and switching noise that will lead to other problems. It is very important to know these tips, and I have chosen the important ones to go through during the one-hour class.
Dack: It’s something for our design community and membership to look forward to. As you know, our PCEA membership is not limited to PCB engineers and designers. Tell us how PCEA membership is relevant to other electronics industry stakeholders from the manufacturing side.
Hartley: What is the PCEA going to do for manufacturing and test engineers and many of the other professionals involved in getting a PCBA to market? This whole spectrum of people needs to be involved with the PCEA because it will give them a better ability to share their knowledge with one another and make each other better at what they do. The PCEA exists to facilitate collaboration between all of these disciplines.
You may remember the story of when I first got into board design. I thought that because I had just obtained my EE that I was going to be the best board designer in the world. Nobody could tell me anything. The very first board I designed caused the board shop to show up at our company for an important meeting in the conference room with me and my boss. The DFM reps from the PCB supplier sat us down and said, “The other EEs at your company may think you are a great designer, but we think you are an idiot (laughs)! This thing you have designed is completely non-producible.” And I admit that it was. While I put all of my design efforts on electrical performance, I did not know how important manufacturability or DFM was to the overall process of getting a design to market. One of the things the PCEA needs to do is focus heavily on getting manufacturing engineers involved for that reason.
Dack: Amen! The PCEA is on its way to attracting all of the cross-sections of the electronics industry. It’s going to make the electronics world a better place. I look forward to hearing your presentation, and I appreciate you giving us a preview of what you are going to be share. I’ll see you at the webinar!
Hartley: Thank you. It has been my pleasure.
In addition to this upcoming webinar, there are so many ways to get involved! Join the PCEA by visiting our website, pce-a.org, and registering as a member to become part of the PCEA collective, which is more than 1,000 members strong. You can always reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or PCEA’s Chairman Stephen Chavez (email@example.com) for more information.
Message From the Chairman
by Stephen Chavez, MIT, CID+
Another month has gone by, and many of us continue to work remotely from our homes. It has been a challenge to get the foundation of the PCEA set in place. The executive board members have done an amazing job juggling their day jobs while putting in so much extra personal time to help the PCEA succeed. We are extremely excited about the release of our official website that took place on June 1. All the hard work has paid off so far with lots of activity coming from our website, including new members joining, webinar collaborations with SMTA, and our grand opening webinar. Stay tuned for more activities coming your way now that the PCEA is up and running!
Now, the “new normal” has become our new way of life. I, like many, have been working remotely for about three months, if not more. I don’t see an end to this remote isolation any time in the near future as the world battles COVID-19. With the constant barrage of meetings through WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other platforms—as well as virtual seminars—it seems to be getting a bit tiresome and overloaded when you add in isolation, constant sanitation, and wearing face masks in public.
As we have adapted, we continue to push on successfully. Work has not stopped for many of us, and in many cases, we are busier than ever. The industry had already made the jump many years ago to the ability to work remotely. For the most part, the toughest challenges today are usually network connections and remote access onto VPNs, Mobil Pass, or Duo Mobile. Security is paramount, but, at times, it comes with its own set of issues. However, we continue to do what we do best; we do what it takes to get the job done!
Again, this new way of living is taking its toll on us. We eagerly look forward to the day we can get back to those days of old before this virus hit the world. Businesses have started slowly to re-open, even though the world is seeing spikes of the virus in certain locations. It’s scary! Many people have seemed to let their guard down, though, and have relaxed social distancing requirements, as well as not wearing face masks in public. I’ve heard and read that some people have even felt that this virus is not real and is more of a political conspiracy attack. Everyone has their right to their own beliefs—this is America—but I can tell you from a very personal and recent experience that this virus is real; it’s no joke.
It’s amazing how one’s perspective changes when the virus hits close to home, and someone close to you dies from COVID-19. This happened to me on June 7. My extremely close and dear friend Alvin was as healthy as anyone I knew; I grew up with him over these past 43 years, and he was like a brother to me. He lost his battle with COVID-19. From the time he contracted this virus to the time he passed, it was less than 30 days.
As we continue to work remotely in isolation, my personal belief is it’s necessary for all of our safety. We need to continue doing our part, maintain social distancing, sanitize, and wear face masks when we are in public until the world gets a handle on this virus, and a vaccine is developed. I continue to wish everyone and their families to be healthy and safe.
Professional Development and Events
It has been our custom to highlight all up-and-coming industry events to watch for in 2020. We will continue to do this; however, with the challenges brought on our industry by the COVID-19 outbreak, we can only remain hopeful that these events will not be affected. If you are interested in any of these events, please search and contact the event coordinators directly for the latest event status.
- July 14, 2020 (11:00 a.m. PDT): The PCEA’s Grand Opening Webinar—Virtual
- August 11–13, 2020: CadenceLIVE Americas 2020—Virtual
- September 7–10, 2020:PCB West (Santa Clara, California)—Virtual
- September 16–17, 2020: Del Mar Electronics & Manufacturing Show (San Diego, California)—TBD
- September 28 –October 23, 2020: SMTA International —Virtual
- October 6–8, 2020: AltiumLive 2020 Virtual Summit—Virtual
- January 23–28, 2021:IPC APEX EXPO (San Diego, California)
- January 26–28, 2021: DesignCon (Santa Clara, California)
- May 11–13, 2021: IPC High-Reliability Forum 2021 (Baltimore, Maryland)
- November 10, 2021: PCB Carolina (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Spread the word. If you have a significant electronics industry event that you would like to announce, please send me the details at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will consider adding it to the list.
We have many choices with which to occupy our time during this COVID-19 era. From wherever you work—whether that’s at home or in an office—it’s a good time to gain knowledge and take it seriously. Use that knowledge to become part of the solution and avoid becoming part of the problem.
This column originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.