Will users prefer a pay-as-you-go model?
Some 20 months after Altium’s announcement it would move its suite of PCB tools to the cloud, a handful of PCB industry veterans are vying to be the first to offer pre-CAM analysis through that same new channel.
Under the name Iron Atom, Iain Wilson and Alessandro Federici are in the last cycle of beta testing this new model, making proprietary CAM software available for individual, one-off use, without the need for a license or maintenance agreement.
The tool, in this case, is Ucamco’s Integr8tor front-end engineering software. Designers and CAM engineers can now access the software via Iron Atom’s website, choosing the features to run and preferred CAM output (UCAM, Gerber 274X or ODB++).
Using the cloud – really, a group of servers that reside with a third party instead of with the user – is essentially a different medium for tool rental. But the model will allow lighter users the opportunity to take advantage of the Ucamco’s stackup, registration and design rule checks without the cost and hassle of purchasing and installing a full license.
Users create a job, upload their files, and configure which outputs they desire. Reports are generated in minutes, Iron Atom says. Recognizing IP control is a concern, Iron Atom opted for a proven commercial technology partner. The site runs on Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing platform, and secure jobs can be run on Amazon’s GovCloud, which is approved for US ITAR products. “There are multiple levels of security, says Federici. “Design files never make it to the Iron Atom website. They all go straight to Amazon.”
“All processing is done in an instant,” adds Wilson, “with results going back to the user.” Results include a PDF report with design analysis and XML data files. CAM ready data and layer images are optional. Jobs are then deleted from the server as a security measure.
Support is supplied by Iron Atom, but according to Wilson, the need is minimal. “We’ve found Integr8tr provides 80% to 90% of the data automatically. And we report back to the user if problems are found.” Custom design rule checks and manual processing are also options.
To do all this, Iron Atom runs a full feature version of Integr8tor 7.1, Ucamco’s latest release. Iron Atom charges an undisclosed fee per use, with Ucamco getting a percentage of every transaction. (A small surcharge is applied for extra outputs.)
Wilson, who has been a CAM engineer since 1996, says the inspiration for Iron Atom was a “light bulb moment.”
“It’s nice to be the first to offer this. It’s difficult task for CAD vendors because of the type of processing involved. I think it’s a difficult step. But I’m pretty confident that in 10 years’ time, we will say, ‘Remember when we used to have to buy servers.’”
While Iron Atom can scale for larger users, initial interest most likely would come from lighter users. However, Wilson says, “We could see bigger shops using it if they have a spike in demand. Even if they have an in-house solution, it takes up time and resources in their CAM machines.”
For the user, the experience poses the advantages of access to DfM checks and analysis with no installation time or setup or maintenance costs. “My experience with Ucamco has always been very good,” Wilson says. “The level of automation is exceptionally high. The end-user wants to get their DfM done; they don’t want to use additional software.”
The deal between Ucamco and Iron Atom is nonexclusive. For its part, Ucamco sees Iron Atom as an additional pipeline to reach small- to medium-sized customers who otherwise might not be prospects.