The view from within the electronics industry – individual comment pieces from people working in the technology sector.

Automation? Design still needs a human element

Last week we asked a PCB design tool specialist from Mentor Graphics what we thought was an obvious question. Why does PCB layout design still need a strong manual element? Why isn’t PCB design as automated as chip design?


Mentor Graphics Xpedition

He explained: chip design needs to be automated because of the scale of the process. But it is a highly repetitive process within well-defined boundaries.

PCB layout is not like that.

An example of this is via holes. If computer programme sees an obstacle on a PCB it routes the track through the board runs a track underneath the obstacle and then back up. This maybe a logical option for the computer, but it results in far too many via holes.

So the best PCB layouts are achieved with a combination of automate and manual design.

It is at this boundary between automation and manual control where we spend much of our creative lives. If only because we feel here is where we can gain real advantage, from either design innovation or by gaining a commercial competitive advantage.

But it is not an easy place to be. Get it right and there are big gains to be had. Get it wrong and automation can easily get out of control.

In PCB layout the speed of automated design rules is still balanced by a strong element of engineering judgement. Get it wrong and you could get a PCB which looks like a Swiss cheese with via-hole overkill.


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