The EE Times Community Ponders, Is the Primitive Data Exchange of Electronic Design Automation an Embarrassment to the Electronics Community?

Conversations That Matter on EE Times

Jul 30, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, July 30, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --It is widely acknowledged that society has been dramatically impacted by electronics.  A substantial behind-the-scenes enabler of today's digitally empowered society has been the electronic design automation (EDA) industry.  Electrical engineer and EE Times member, Vince Mazur, Principal Consultant, Intelligent Marketing, shared his first-hand experience and opinions about the EDA industry as well as its systems today and throughout the years in the blog post "An Embarrassment to the Electronics Community."  Mazur draws attention to the primitive distribution medium of EDA designs.


With the sophistication of the electronics landscape he asked the EE Times community if the data exchange methods available today are the best that can be offered or if it is an embarrassment to the electronics industry.

Several EE Times readers agree that the data exchange methods are an issue, but believe there are promising new formats on the horizon:

Duane Benson: "a Gerber file. Is this the best the industry and professionals who collectively all but created the Digital Revolution can put forth?

Speaking as one who's pretty close to the venerable Gerber file on a day to day basis, I could rant on the evils of the Gerber format...There is some hope though. ODB++ (a somewhat-standard CAD data format) is gaining popularity and IPC-2581 (a supposedly even more standard CAD data format) is on the horizon. Bills of materials are headache near the scale of the Gerber as well. I think there are more BOM styles than there are engineers creating BOMs."

Vince Mazur:  "…Duane, the Gerber file is time tested for what it was intended to accomplish.  However, from a design process standpoint, Gerber is a late stage output file, focused on fabrication of a board. A reference design on the other hand is a very early stage tool…I agree that either ODB++ or IPC-2581 looks promising as a standard data exchange foundation for the PCB aspect of a reference design, to the extent that they support early stage design together with licensing terms and ubiquity acceptable to the community."

Garcia Lasheras: "Vince, this is a very interesting issue -- and the lack of standardization for PCB manufacturing files is a really huge problem!!

Some years ago, I worked for the R&D office of an EMS company and we faced a lot of problems when trying to put a new product in the SMD production line. If the third-party fab files --Gerber, pick & place... -- had been produced with an EDA tool for which our company had not purchased the license, we needed to convert from one standard to another using very prone to errors methods -- including doing it by hand ;-(" 

It seems engineers face similar data exchange issues with other forms of electronics design as well:

Frank Eory: "I am less familiar with EDA for PCB design, but in the IC design world I would hardly lament the degree of standards and ability to exchange data between different tools or different users. It is not a perfect world, but it's close enough that it's quite possible to use tools from different vendors at various stages of the IC design process and change vendors for certain tools when there are good reasons to do so. IP providers understand this very well and have no real problems providing all the required CAD views of their IP to support whatever tool flows their customers happen to be using."

Vince Mazur: "Frank, my comments are confined to board level design, but you make a very good point. I believe a primary reason for the more advanced state of IC data exchange is that the stakeholders in the IC development cycle are under considerably more business risk in terms of the prospect of having to re-spin silicon, or miss a key milestone. Contingency plans, enabled in part by data exchange, are a routine characteristic of the process. I understand that IC package design is a critical area, but I am not fluent on the state of data exchange in that domain."

To read the complete story or to join in the conversation on, see: An Embarrassment to the Electronics Community

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