San Jose showed once again why it’s the epicenter for printed circuit design.

The outside temperature hit 103°F in the Silicon Valley, but inside the action at the PCB West trade show was even hotter.

Attendance at PCB West in late September was up markedly – 26% for the exhibition and 35% for the conference. Overall attendee registration jumped 20.4%, as the industry responded with vigor to the strong lineup of exhibitors, complemented by an outstanding technical program.

Signal integrity remained a major area of interest, although during the PCB Designers Roundtable – cosponsored by the good folks from the Silicon Valley Designers Council chapter – it was revealed that perhaps one-third of designers don’t actually perform SI analysis. (It’s left for someone else.) Proponents on hand, including the ubiquitous Rick Hartley, who taught several classes during the three-day technical conference, stressed that all designers should perform some level of SI. Also revealed: A large percentage of designers continue to manually route their boards, despite evidence showing autorouters could save time. Whether they do so because they are trying to protect their jobs is certainly understandable, but the notion that autorouting could free up resources that could then be used in other areas (such as SI analysis) bears consideration.

Many of the technical sessions that accompanied the trade show were packed, as designers and process engineers took advantage of the free sessions to glean valuable information on reducing layer counts, thermal management, post-assembly cleaning, and CAD-CAM. In one eye-opening presentation, Don Trenholm of Custom Analytical Services literally ran out of time showing slides of various counterfeited components.

On the show floor, several companies either showed new tools and services or discussed pending upgrades.

National Instruments ( is releasing an upgrade to its MultiSim and Ultiboard suite for design optimization, schematic capture and SPICE simulation. The new release will include upgrades to handle power components, simulation improvements, IPC land patterns, more user-defined functionality, and stronger encryption. “We are starting to bridge the point where we can do a design, the virtual testing and then see how they compare,” general manager Vince Accardi explains.
(For NI, the show also marked a changing of the guard of sorts, as Accardi and longtime product manager engineer Bavesh Mistry have been promoted, and former R&D engineer Natasha Baker is taking over the latter’s role as PME.)

Mentor Graphics ( touted its latest FloTherm thermal analysis tool, which helps designers identify thermal bottlenecks and shortcuts where new thermal paths would cool the design faster. The tool can perform a detailed simulation of the package itself, and users can overlay the component thermal model (which allows black box simulation) to simulate the package and complete PCB. 

As long as there have been CAD tools, there have been translation problems. Not surprisingly, then, several companies showed various flavors of ECAD translators. SFM Technology’s PackageWright ( tool combines an online database of thousands of package models with footprint generation capability and an ECAD-MCAD library synchronization service. The tool supports flow from MCAD-ECAD and back.

AcAe ( drew a crowd with its DART ECAD conversion tool. Noting that the EDIF schematic and netlist translator format was launched more than 25 years ago, AcAe president Bill Basten said the biggest problem designers and manufacturers now face is that many translators simply don’t work. “The schematics don’t match; they can’t do constraints; they leave things out.” DART, he says, which runs on Linux and Windows, verifies netlists and copper, and permits use of libraries and symbols, provided they are similar.

PCB West has an emerging assembly bent to it, highlighted by several tracks on counterfeit component identification and mitigation, post-assembly cleaning and test strategies. Classes on thermal management and layer reduction were also popular. 

By providing PCB engineers, designers, fabricators, assemblers and managers with the most targeted conference in the industry, PCB West proved the market for board-level shows isn’t dead after all. Full details regarding the conference and exhibition are available at

Following this year’s successful show, PCB West will return to the Santa Clara (CA) Convention Center Sept. 27-29, 2011.

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY and PCD&F; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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