All Systems Go: Time Traveling to 2030 for ML-Augmented PCB Design

Jorge_Gonzalez_250.jpgIn our previous column, “Accelerate Your PCB Designs with Machine Learning,” we explained how artificial intelligence (AI) is an umbrella term embracing technologies that empower machines to simulate human behavior, while machine learning (ML) is a subset of AI that allows machines to automatically learn from past data and events without explicitly being programmed to do so. As ML systems become increasingly complex and capable, the distinction between AI and ML is becoming increasingly blurred.

Luke_Roberto_250.jpgWe also discussed how we are currently in the early years of the second era of AI, and how ML has started to appear in PCB layout applications. Remembering that we are still in the early days of ML deployment in the PCB space, we talked about the types of tasks ML can help with today, such as detecting when we start to perform repetitive low-level activities and assuming the responsibility of implementing these tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone tasks, thereby allowing us to stop doing the dull and boring things and freeing us up to start doing only the cool and interesting things.

Since we’ve already looked at some of the more practical ideas we can implement in the short term, we thought we might use this column to zoom a little further out into the future, to brain-stem-storm on where things might go in the next five, 10, 15, or even 20 years.

Of course, as the baseball-playing natural philosopher, Yogi Berra, famously noted, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” When we think back to the beginning of the current millennium in the form of the year 2000, which is only 22 years ago at the time of this writing, few people would have predicted the technologies we have today, like smartphones with multiple cameras, GPS and maps, and apps that allow us to do things like video conference with family and friends around the world, identify tunes that are currently playing on the radio, guide us to our cars in parking lots and help us tune our ukuleles (seriously, it’s a thing). How about the ubiquity of today’s wireless networks and cellular communications, with low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations like SpaceX’s Starlink starting to come online? And then there’s virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and of course, AI and ML.

Remember that the first iPhone didn’t appear until 2007 (15 years ago), the modern era of AI and ML only kicked off circa 2012 (10 years ago), and that consumer VR in the form of the Oculus Rift made its first appearance in 2016 (only six years ago). Who among our number would have predicted any of these applications and technologies 20 years ago? So, how accurate will any predictions we make be here? Well, let’s take some guesses, and then in 2030 and 2040, we’ll look back to see how well we did.

In the case of AI and ML, today’s models are scaling to incredible heights in terms of size and sophistication. Amazing applications are being developed in other domains, so what might AI and ML models trained on humongously large data sets bring to the PCB design and layout space?

A good starting point might be to look at GitHub Copilot, which has been trained on billions of lines of code and which uses the OpenAI Codex to suggest code statements and entire functions in real-time right in the software developers’ editors. One of our embedded software developer friends was recently telling us how Copilot can start making suggestions as soon as she types in a function name. As a result, she says her personal productivity has improved dramatically.

Suppose we were to incorporate something like this sort of AI/ML capability into our PCB tools. For example, let’s assume a designer selects a certain complex component, and the AI/ML immediately “looks inside the part” (i.e., accesses the datasheet) to discover the various voltages required (including the core voltage), the electrical interfaces supported by the GPIOs, any special memory interfaces like GDDR and PCIe (and which generations of these interfaces), and so forth. Right from the get-go, the AI/ML could start thinking about—and suggesting options pertaining to—power supplies, breakout patterns, thermal concerns and other considerations.

Today, we are largely constrained to viewing our 3D designs using 2D displays in the form of computer monitors—we are also limited to manipulating our tools using interfaces like keyboards and mice—but new technologies are on their way. For example, one company has just announced a technology that will provide true 3D holographic walls and tables that provide “stunning high resolution, perfect depth of focus and 180-degree to 360-degree viewing angles” without the user having to use any form of glasses or contact lenses (apart from anything they wear normally).

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Figure 1: Even today’s PB AR systems offer tremendous visualization capabilities.

Imagine having the ability to view a PCB design in 3D. To be able to use hand gestures to rotate the design, zoom in, grab things, move them, pull the design apart and rearrange things—think Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” but without any obligation to wear his retro-futuristic steampunk gloves.

Another possibility will be to include multiphysics visualizations, including heat transfer, electrostatics and magnetostatics, stress and strain, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Imagine being able to see a glorious 3D view of a design in its entirety, with animations of things like signals propagating through traces (think “Tron”), heat being transferred, electromagnetic fields interfacing and interfering with each other, and so on. Critical signals approaching the limits of their propagation delays could be indicated using color; similarly for signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) concerns. During all this, the AI/ML could be offering optimizations and suggestions.

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Figure 2: Multiphysics visualizations provide a whole new way of seeing designs and systems.

Do you think this is “far future?” We haven’t even started yet. When most of us hear the word PCB we typically think of a traditional 2D board. Yes, of course, it has depth in terms of layers, but we predominantly visualize it in the context of a 2D X-Y plane. Our belief is that, in the not-so-distant future, we’re going to start thinking of “boards” in the context of 3D X-Y-Z volumes.

3D printing technology has come a long way. In addition to plastics, it’s now possible to print metals, including silver, gold, copper, and even stainless steel. It’s also possible to print glass. New printhead technologies allow conductive inks to be printed with resolutions of 0.5 µm.

What we are visualizing is an AI/ML-based true 3D PCB 3.0 generative design and implementation process that starts with someone saying, “We need to create a system with these capabilities that fits in this volume.” Right from the get-go, engineers and layout designers will be working together with the AI/ML, with each new suggestion generating a cascade of options and possibilities.

For example, it’s currently possible to 3D print a standalone coaxial cable. If a “board” is to be implemented as a 3D-printed entity, then such cables could be created inside the board as an integral part of the board. Silicon chips and chiplets, along with other components, could also be fabricated into the board, with both metallic and optical waveguide interconnects being implemented as part of the 3D print. Similarly, thermal conductors and cooling pipes could be fabricated as an integral part of the 3D structure.

It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that by 2030 or 2040 a group of designers and engineers scattered around the world—along with one or more humanoid avatars representing AI/ML systems—could be working together using 3D holographic visualizations to create something we wouldn’t even recognize as being a PCB.

These are just a few of the ideas that we’ve been bouncing around between us. What do you think about all this? Where do you think things are going? And do you think we are overstating the possibilities or understanding the potential of next-generation technologies?

Jorge Gonzalez is a lead software engineer at Cadence. Luke Roberto is a principal software engineer at Cadence.

Download The System Designer’s Guide to… System Analysis by Brad Griffin along with its companion book The Cadence System Design Solutions Guide. You can also view other titles in our full I-007eBook library here.

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2022

All Systems Go: Time Traveling to 2030 for ML-Augmented PCB Design

08-23-2022

In our previous column, 'Accelerate Your PCB Designs with Machine Learning,' we explained how artificial intelligence (AI) is an umbrella term embracing technologies that empower machines to simulate human behavior, while machine learning (ML) is a subset of AI that allows machines to automatically learn from past data and events without explicitly being programmed to do so. As ML systems become increasingly complex and capable, the distinction between AI and ML is becoming increasingly blurred.

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All Systems Go: Accelerate Your PCB Designs with Machine Learning

07-06-2022

Even though we hear the terms artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) almost daily, there’s still a lot of confusion about the actual meaning of these designations. In a nutshell, AI is an umbrella term embracing technologies that empower machines to simulate human behavior. ML is a subset of AI that allows machines to automatically learn from past data and events without explicitly being programmed to do so. So, how do these play into PCB design?

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All Systems Go: Can You Design Without Electronic Data Management?

06-07-2022

For any sizable design, PCBs are usually designed by a team of multiple design engineers (EEs) creating the schematic and multiple layout designers placing all the parts on the board and routing the traces. These teams often work with an extended team of experts in the supply chain, signal integrity, and mechanical and thermal analysis. Engineering management also has a stake in the design process, as it monitors design progress, resources, and scheduling. For a successful design, this multitude of interactions requires mandatory mechanisms to keep everyone on the same page during the design process.

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All Systems Go! Supply Chain Woes—Which Comes First, the Design or the BOM?

04-21-2022

In an ideal world, when developing a printed circuit board (PCB) for an electronic product, decisions made during the design process should drive the bill of materials (BOM). We may think of this as an example of “the dog wagging the tail.” In the real world, however, there has always been some small amount of the BOM driving the design, which we may think of as “the tail wagging the dog.” A classic example of this is when an engineer’s calculations indicate the need for a resistor of 123 kΩ—a 40-cent part—while a 120 kΩ resistor—available for only 4 cents—will provide an almost identical response.

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All Systems Go! Find and Fix Thermal PCB Problems Sooner Than Later

03-17-2022

In an earlier column titled "Bridging the Gap Between Design and Analysis with In-Design Analysis," Brad Griffin discussed how the “shift left” that’s happening with electronic design means it is no longer sufficient for signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) analysis to be performed in isolation. Designing, analyzing and verifying the design in its entirety is key. Another facet of this shift left is the need to address thermal integrity (TI) sooner rather than later. In other words, finding and fixing thermal PCB design issues early in the design process is necessary to save costs, reduce design spins, and maintain your own sanity.

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All Systems Go! Ensuring Power Integrity—Explore, Design, and Verify

02-17-2022

When designing an electronic system, ensuring power integrity (PI) is all about making sure that the power you are putting into the system via the voltage regulator module (VRM) reaches the downstream components in an efficient, sufficient and stable manner. In the not-so-distant past, ensuring the PI of an electronic system was a relatively simple and pain-free task. Many products involved a single PCB populated by readily available off-the-shelf ICs, such as the classic 7400-series devices from Texas Instruments. For the purposes of PI, these ICs, which were presented in low pin count, coarse pin pitch packages could be treated as closed boxes represented by simple power models.

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All Systems Go! Bridging the Gap Between Design and Analysis

01-20-2022

Electronic designs are increasing in capacity, complexity, and performance. This is coupled with increasing pressure to get new products to market as quickly as possible while, at the same time, ensuring that these products are robust and will not fail in the field. The only practical way to address all these diverse requirements is to make design and verification tools and methodologies more powerful, intuitive, and easier to use. In-design analysis provides a way forward.

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All Systems Go! Meet Power Delivery Requirements Upfront with Power-First PCB Implementation

01-06-2022

The drive for faster throughput, increased mobility, and maximum efficiency in modern electronic devices has made power delivery a critical piece of design success. However, meeting the power needs of modern designs is anything but simple. To achieve a robust design, each supply must be capable of delivering sufficient current to every dependent device. In addition, those supplies must be both stable (able to maintain narrow voltage tolerances) and responsive (capable of adapting to transient current demands). Identifying and resolving power delivery problems late in the design process is incredibly difficult. If design power requirements aren’t considered upfront, it can lead to schedule delays and a significant amount of debugging time in the lab. Implementing a power-driven, PCB layout methodology ensures the design process addresses critical power and signal integrity (SI) issues collectively at a time they can be easily solved.

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2021

All Systems Go! Simulating Wirebonded CoB on Rigid-Flex

11-18-2021

There are many good reasons to use a chip on board (CoB) implementation. When this is combined with wirebonding and the use of rigid-flex PCB, challenges mount. An application that demands all three—CoB, wirebonding, and rigid-flex PCB—is a camera module that goes into a mobile application, the sample design used to illustrate the design and analysis challenges in this article. If you are not aware of and prepared for the potential pitfalls, it is highly likely that your project could fall short or even fail.

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All Systems Go! Signal Integrity Signoff of 3D-IC Systems

10-14-2021

3D-ICs meet the demand for integration of disaggregated system-on-chip (SoC) architecture built from multiple chiplets and heterogeneous architectures such as analog, digital, optoelectronics, and non-volatile memory.

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All Systems Go! Comprehensive Thermal Analysis of a System Design

09-23-2021

In recent years, driven by the demand for smarter electronics, device designers have witnessed enormous scaling of large and hyperscale integrated circuits (ICs) and embraced development directions toward high density and reliability. These devices have increasingly higher thermal performance requirements—both transient and steady-state—and meeting them is becoming increasingly complex and time consuming.

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All Systems Go! Challenges in Analyzing Today’s Hyperconnected Systems

07-26-2021

Today’s data-thirsty world is looking forward to the next-generation communication systems beyond 5G, the promise of massive connectivity to the internet with extreme capacity, coverage, reliability, and ultra-low latency, enabling a wide range of new services made possible through innovative and resilient technologies. The exponential growth in data speed and networking has introduced numerous design and analysis challenges across a system design. Design teams are challenged to deliver new, differentiated products faster and more efficiently, despite the ever-growing complexity of silicon, package, board, and software for many complex applications in the hyperscale computing, automotive, mobile, aerospace, and defense markets.

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All Systems Go!: Thermal Compliance of 3D-IC

06-24-2021

In the packaging world, we have been designing heterogeneously integrated multi-chip products for decades. As we know, smaller process nodes enable higher frequencies and save on die area. However, for minimizing the system size, we need to use advanced packaging technologies.

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All Systems Go! Ensuring Signal Integrity of DDR5 Interface

05-25-2021

The double data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory (DDR SDRAM) has evolved from a data rate of 0.4 Gbps to the next generation, DDR5, scaling to 6.4 Gbps. With DDR5, we can achieve higher bandwidth using less power per bit transferred, enabling us to do more computing on larger data sets.

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All Systems Go! EM Analysis for Today’s System-Level Designs

04-30-2021

There are two main reasons to do EM analysis: to see if the signals in the design will meet your performance specifications, and to see whether the design has unintended EM interactions in the circuit or system. Since domain-level requirements vary, not all EM solvers are the same.

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