The Shaughnessy Report: A New Materials Paradigm

PCB designers are proud of their independent streak; this is one of the few careers in which being labeled “off-grid” is considered a resumé enhancement. Designers all have their own little tips and tricks for designing boards, and this trait carries all the way to the material selection process.

As we learned in a recent Design007 Magazine survey, when it comes to choosing the right material for their board, our readers are about evenly split. Almost 30% of respondents said they always consult IPC’s slash sheets during the material selection process. One-third said they sometimes use slash sheets in their decision-making progress, but 39% said they never utilize slash sheets.

Once again, it all comes down to data. There just isn’t one document that contains all the information that a designer needs to consider when selecting a PCB material. This is why so many designers say, “I like vendor X for my aerospace boards and vendor Y for medical.”

design_0523_cover250.jpgAs you’ll see in this month’s issue of Design007 Magazine, slash sheets such as IPC-4101/126 were never meant to be used by designers when comparing PCB laminates. These documents were created to facilitate communication between purchasing and customer service departments. I guess you could say that slash sheets are made for administrative purposes, not engineering.

As the captain said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” IPC does offer several design guidelines, created specifically for PCB designers, including one just for flexible circuits. But there isn’t such a guideline for high-speed designs.

Perhaps it’s time for a new set of design guidelines—a new materials paradigm. The ideal design guidelines would contain all the information designers would need to consider when choosing a laminate. These guidelines could also rank the materials by sector, such as aerospace, medical, or industrial. This month, we include a conversation with Doug Sober, IPC’s director of materials and IEC engagement. Doug was instrumental in the development of the first slash sheets over 40 years ago, and he details IPC’s original intent for these documents, which were not targeted at designers.

We have more features from Barry Olney, Kelly Dack, Geoffrey Hazelett, Tim Haag, and our newest contributor Michael Morando of PFC Flexible Circuits. We also have columns by Istvan Novak and Martyn Gaudion, as well as articles by Anaya Vardya and Mark Gallant.

What’s your material selection process?

This column originally appears in the May 2023 issue of Design007 Magazine



The Shaughnessy Report: A New Materials Paradigm


PCB designers are proud of their independent streak; this is one of the few careers in which being labeled “off-grid” is considered a resume enhancement. Designers all have their own little tips and tricks for designing boards, and this trait carries all the way to the material selection process.

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The Shaughnessy Report: A Strong Start


Do you remember when you started working at your current job? What sort of onboarding process did you undergo? If you’ve been with the same company for decades, you likely didn’t see much of an onboarding process at all! If you’re lucky, your boss took you out to lunch on the first day. Were you assigned a mentor? Were you welcomed with open arms into your new work family, or were you basically tossed in the pond and told to sink or swim?

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The Shaughnessy Report: What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?


Many PCB designers are finding themselves concerned about accuracy while designing boards for radio frequency (RF) boards for wireless applications. Once a small but steady percentage of all PCB designs, RF is becoming more commonplace in this segment. The last few decades have brought on a proliferation of wireless handheld devices, and almost all feature some type of RF circuitry.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Tribal Knowledge—Friend or Foe?


The ongoing retirement of many of our colleagues has cast a spotlight on this month’s topic: tribal knowledge. As designers and engineers with 30 or 40 years of experience start pricing condos in Boca Raton, the entire industry is wondering: How will we hand down the knowledge acquired by these “silverbacks” to the next generation of designers? How do we know we’re not handing down tribal knowledge to the new crop of designers?

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The Shaughnessy Report: After The Show, Now What?


You’ve spent a good part of your month either planning for, attending, or traveling home from a trade show, most likely. Now you have a pocketful of new business cards, and your company has a whole slew of leads for potential customers. You’ve learned a few things at conference classes and met a few dozen experts that you plan to chat with ASAP. How do you carry the momentum you felt during the trade show, when you had that “a-ha” moment and knew you were onto something really new and innovative?

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The Shaughnessy Report: Shrinking Silicon—A Warp Speed Facilitator


As we all learned by watching Star Trek, a lot of crazy things can happen at warp speed. Sure, it was great to get to Alpha Centauri in a hurry, but the Enterprise almost destroyed itself a few times when they put the pedal to the metal. There’s just no room for error at warp speed. Now, many PCB designers are dealing with increasing signal speeds and rise times, and a parliament of other effects—some positive, some negative—thanks to shrinking silicon. Not quite warp speed, but a lot of unpredictable things can happen when the die get tiny.

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The Shaughnessy Report: PCB Design and Advanced Packaging


It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that 2022 might be remembered as the Year of Advanced Packaging. The Department of Defense got the ball rolling last summer with the CHIPS Act, which pointed out how far the United States has fallen behind the rest of the world in microelectronics. A few months later, the weeklong IPC Advanced Packaging Symposium took place in Washington, D.C., and I-Connect007 covered this event from start to finish. One thing we learned from the symposium: There’s a great deal of innovation taking place in advanced packaging right now, and it all starts with PCB designers and design engineers making the correct decisions early in the design cycle.

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The Shaughnessy Report: On With the Show


It’s been a pretty good year all around. From conversations that I've had at conferences recently, I know that some of your companies have had great years, in spite of supply chain pressures, an old-fashioned shooting war near some of our manufacturing base, and some unfilled positions in your office. You are taking care of business, and it's a great time to be in this industry. To that end, we’re looking forward to meeting up at IPC APEX EXPO 2023, which takes place Jan. 21–26 at the San Diego Convention Center. In some ways, this will be the first true post-pandemic expo.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Design at IPC APEX EXPO—A Show Within a Show


If you ask anyone in this industry to describe IPC APEX EXPO, they’ll probably call it a PCB manufacturing show. They’re not wrong, by any means; the show was created to serve the PCB fabrication and assembly markets. But this year’s event has quite a bit to offer PCB designers and design engineers. Is this event becoming a PCB design show as well—a show within a show?

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The Shaughnessy Report: It’s All About the Physics—or Is It?


Lately, we’ve heard quite a few design experts say, “PCB design is all about the physics. Designers should focus more on understanding the laws of physics and less on circuit theory.” While putting this issue together, we investigated potential cover ideas. “What if we had James Maxwell and Gordon Moore boxing on the cover, in a Faraday cage match? Let’s get ready to rumble!” That led us to the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots that now grace our November 2022 Design007 Magazine cover.

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The Shaughnessy Report: A Clearer Image


Out of all the process steps in a fabrication cycle, imaging may be the most critical. This is where the design begins to take a physical shape, where the theoretical world meets the physical world. Much like photography, PCB imaging is a nearly magical process. I’ll bet the first technologists to use a Gerber Science photoplotter to create a PCB felt a lot like Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre, trying to coax a Daguerreotype photograph into life in the 1830s.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Let’s Get Small


Comedian Steve Martin could have been talking about the latest issue of Design007 Magazine when he released his album “Let’s Get Small” in 1977. Or maybe not. Well, as Steve would say, excuuuuse me! (You may have to explain that reference to any young people in your company.) But it is tough to get much smaller than ultra HDI. This is a whole new level of miniaturization for most PCB designers and fabricators. UHDI folks speak in terms of microns, not mils. And everything changes when you start working with 15-micron lines and spaces.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Working Through the Design Pain


In a recent issue of SMT007 Magazine, we discussed “supply pain management.” This reminded us of the question that doctors often ask: “What’s your pain level on a scale of 1–10?” PCB Designers really deserve a lot of credit. For years, they’ve been working through supply chain pain, like Rip Wheeler after he got shot on “Yellowstone.” It hurts, but we’re short on cowboys, so get back to work. Designers and design engineers have learned to navigate this supply chain craziness, snatching up components that are in short supply or making do with lower-tech parts that are available.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Tune Up Your Pricing Strategies


If you’re a fabricator, these are challenging days. But there are also plenty of opportunities available—if you know when to embrace them. Sure, margins are still non-existent. Sometimes you feel like you’re just trying to keep the lights on. But your suppliers have sent you an email explaining why their prices are going up—it’s because everything is going up—and now you feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Designing for Material Conservation


The supply chain issues plaguing our industry don’t seem to be going away any time soon. Like an annoying mother-in-law, they’ve moved into our guest room, rearranged the furniture, and generally overstayed their welcome. Why don’t they take a hint? We’re seeing all sorts of interesting tactics for dealing with 50-week lead times. One of the most basic concepts I’ve heard lately is material conservation—when it’s hard to get the parts you need, why not just design PCBs with fewer parts? Materials typically make up 20% of the cost of the board, so we’re not talking nickels and dimes. Sometimes less is more!

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The Shaughnessy Report: With Field Solvers, GIGO Hurts


The “left shift” concept has been under way for at least five years, as EDA tool providers offer more powerful functionality earlier in the stages of PCB design and layout. This month, we focus on one tool that’s been shifting leftward for some time now: the field solver.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Proper Plating


Joe Fjelstad once joked that if someone working in a board shop 50 years ago were placed in suspended animation and woke up today, they would recognize almost everything in today’s board shop. They could theoretically go right back to work because so little of their work environment changed in those five decades. (After five decades, I’d probably want to take a week off and catch up on reruns of MASH and The Bob Newhart Show.)

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Art of PCB Design—I Know It When I See It


When we first started planning this issue, we looked back over topics that we’ve covered for the past few years. We noticed that our contributors spend most of their time discussing the technical side of PCB design. That’s to be expected. When we discuss “best practices” for PCB design, we’re typically looking at it from a technical viewpoint. After all, Design007 Magazine is a technical publication. And in PCB design, what is “design,” exactly? Perhaps we could quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who said in a 1964 case about obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

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The Shaughnessy Report: Data Management—It’s A Lot Like Herding Cats


“It’s all about managing your data.” That’s a refrain that we’ve been hearing from designers over the past few years—in surveys and conversations with designers and design engineers. When we started planning this issue, our most recent reader surveys pointed to data management as a perpetual problem for PCB designers. It’s no wonder: schematics, footprints, BOMs, netlists, fab notes, assembly notes—millions of petabits of data are used to design and engineer PCBs, and readers cite mismanaged data as a constant source of heartburn.

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Design Education: Not a Roll of the Dice


If you’re a new PCB designer today, you may feel like a first-level fighter in “Dungeons and Dragons.” You thrive on the variability and complexity of this career but moving up to the next level is often the result of a series of choices that you have to make—often without knowing what’s going on. But there is one thing that you can control: your education. And the more you know, the more control you have over your career.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Economics of Design


Most colleges teach an economics curriculum. We’re not exactly professors, but this month, we’re going to whip out our calculators and look into the economics of PCB design.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Design for Profitability Now Part of the Process


It’s easy to define profit, but it’s much more difficult to define exactly what “design for profitability” (DFP) means to today’s PCB designers and design engineers. How can technologists create profit in every design when the board’s stakeholders are often spread out across several time zones and continents? It’s a tough concept to get your arms around. Some of you work in giant OEMs; do you have any idea how much your last design cost—man-hours, components, laminates, etc.?

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The Shaughnessy Report: New Year’s Resolution—Get Involved


It’s 2020, and it’s time to hit the ground running as we approach DesignCon and IPC APEX EXPO. If you’re not already networking with other designers or volunteering in our industry organizations, there’s no better time to start. In the January issue of Design007 Magazine, we give a special shout-out to the volunteers who donate their spare time to improving the PCB design community.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Landscape of the Design Community


“Faster” and “smaller” are still the watchwords for even the simplest PCBs. In one of our features, Lee Ritchey explains how he has watched speeds increase 40,000X in just the last 24 years. On top of that, designers have been told that they should have a decent working knowledge of 5G and IoT as well as Industry 4.0 and smart factories, just to be sure; that’s a lot to take in. Of course, designers like this kind of thing. They enjoy putting together pieces of a complex puzzle, and these are just a few more pieces of the puzzle. Tell them what the board needs to do, and they’ll design it for you.

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AltiumLive 2019 Frankfurt – A Perfect Mix of Education and Fun


The AltiumLive PCB Design Summit in Frankfurt, Germany has come to a close, with Happy Holden's keynote signaling the end of this three-day event. Here’s a quick wrap-up of this year’s event.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Reliability Is a Team Sport


My 2003 Mazda Tribute doesn’t look very cool; it’s classified as a “cute ute.” But it can haul four guitars and a pair of PA speakers with room to spare. It’s been paid off for so long that I’ve been able to put more money away for my rapidly approaching golden years. As the saying goes, “Reliability isn’t just an added feature.”

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The Shaughnessy Report: Everything Starts with the Designer


We may think that the days of throwing the design “over the wall” are over. But communication is still a big problem; many designers never speak to their fabricator until they get that Friday evening phone call. But many designers say that they have no earthly idea where their boards are going to be manufactured. They just design each board so that it can, hopefully, be fabricated anywhere.

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Design Rules: For Your Own Good


Like most rules, design rules came about for your own good. And no single designer could possibly remember all of the constraints required to design one of today’s PCBs. But with a set of well-defined design rules, a designer can execute the most complex PCBs on the first try.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Get Smart!


It sounds so perfect—“smart” manufacturing. That must be what we’ve needed all along! We’ve had enough of this “average intelligence” manufacturing. Yes, we’ve heard quite a bit of chatter about smart manufacturing over the past few years. Whatever “smart” means to you, everyone involved in designing, fabricating, and assembling PCBs wants to get on board. But many U.S. PCB designers are curious about what this smart new world means to them and their “old-school” CAD data.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Youth of the Industry


When was the last time your company hired someone straight out of school, or even under 40? Until recently, I would have guessed 1985. But there’s something happening, and I hope it’s the beginning of a trend. Young people are once again entering the PCB design community workforce, and the overall PCB manufacturing industry as well.

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The Shaughnessy Report: The Future on Display at DesignCon


Every DesignCon has an unofficial theme; a few years ago, it was the “Jitter Show.” This year may have been the year for PAM4, four-level pulse amplitude modulation, which was the topic of a variety of presentations and one panel discussion. Another big topic at DesignCon was 5G—one of the main components of IoT. Some engineers I spoke with said they were still searching for the perfect laminate for 5G, which is up to 1,000 times faster than 4G and features super-high bandwidth and low latency.

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The Shaughnessy Report: Beating Supply Chain Blues


Some of you won’t remember this, but gas lines were an everyday occurrence for a year or so in the 1970s. I was reminded of the energy crunch of the ‘70s while researching this month’s issue on the component shortage. Some PCB designers are finding their favorite capacitors on 50- and 80-week lead times. How do you design a board today when the components you need won’t be available for a year or more? Waiting isn’t an option if your product needs to be on store shelves in time for next Christmas. What options do designers have?

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