Bringing tutorial-level instruction to designers’ desktops.

Last month UP Media Group produced our third Virtual PCB trade show and conference for PCB design, fabrication and assembly professionals. Every year the event has grown and shown more promise as a format for bringing together the industry.
We originally started researching virtual trade shows in the late 1990s, but the technology was just not ready. There just was no platform for doing a virtual show in a way that we felt would appeal to our audience.

About four years ago, things changed. Editor-in-chief Mike Buetow called our attention to a company that had a good grasp of what we needed. For those of you who don’t know Mike, he is a thorough and hard-charging editor, with a good handle on most areas of the fabrication and assembly sides of the printed circuit board market. Once Mike set us on the path, UPMG’s Frances Stewart and Alyson Skarbek turned the concept of Virtual PCB into a must-attend event. This year we had a record registration of over 2,600 people from literally every corner of the globe. Those who missed the two-day live event can view the on-demand version, available through May 4.

I take this as another indicator of the power of the Internet. And though we at UPMG are, at heart, print kind of people, we realize the Internet has a huge and still-evolving role to play in how we interact with our readers and advertisers.

This leads me to our latest project. The PCB Design Conferences have always been one of my favorite projects. As an old PCB designer at heart, I realized from my own experience how much we need to learn about every aspect of design, and to stay in touch with technology that sometimes changes almost daily. A couple months ago, a friend turned me on to a software platform that allows us to take the virtual experience to a new level. This new project is called Printed Circuit University. PCU’s primary mission is to help PCB designers, engineers and management stay abreast of technology and techniques. We’ll accomplish this through short flash presentations, webinars, white papers, resource links and blogs by some of the most interesting people in the industry. You’ll be able to post questions for peers to comment, and share experiences and opinions on just about any subject that has to do with circuit boards.

Then there is the Design Excellence Curriculum. The DEC is a program we developed around 15 years ago for the PCB Design Conference. Over the years, thousands of PCB designers and engineers have taken the courses and furthered their knowledge of specific areas of PCB design. Today, the Web allows us to reach a greater number of people than ever, so we’ve decided to bring the DEC to Printed Circuit University.

How does it work? Think of a college curriculum where to get a degree in a specific subject you complete core classes like English and math that round out your general knowledge, and then follow a field of study that builds knowledge in the area you want to pursue. Core classes are on subjects that build the foundation for what every good designer should know: PCB fabrication, assembly and test; dimensioning and tolerances; laminates and substrates; electrical concepts of PCBs.

After passing the core courses, you’ll be able to choose from a series of classes on specific subjects such as flex design, signal integrity, RF design, advanced manufacturing, packaging and a host of others designed to build your knowledge in that area. After the core classes, a person can study as many fields as they want, to gain more and more knowledge of all types of PCB design.

The platform we’ve settled on for PCU is the same used by universities and online learning institutions such as Penn State, Tennessee Tech, University of Iowa and many more. The platform establishes a real-time, online classroom where you can see the instructor and ask questions. You’ll be able to view presentation materials, and the instructor can even switch to a white board view to illustrate a point. Sessions will be archived for review at any time, and when you have completed a course of study, you’ll take an exam to demonstrate that you were listening in “class.”

We expect to launch Printed Circuit University at the end of June, so stay tuned. If you have comments or questions, please email me. In the meantime, stay in touch and we’ll do the same.

Pete Waddell is design technical editor of PCD&F (; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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