CELUS Brings Modern Concepts and AI to Circuit and PCB Design—Exclusive
CELUS aims to revolutionize the electronics industry with a new design flow for circuit design and PCB development. All About Circuits met with CEO Tobias Pohl to discuss their tools and future plans.
Most All About Circuits readers are intimately familiar with the circuit design process. Draw your circuit schematic, make component and device models, wire everything together, simulate, iterate, and then start laying out your printed circuit board. For most of us, it is hard even to imagine a different approach. But that all may be changing.
Time for a Revolution
CELUS was a company built out of personal frustration when developing a system for an electric vehicle. Why did it take more time to design, layout, and manufacture a simple PCB system than to develop the complex software associated with it? Is it really necessary to manually select every component, draw every schematic connection, and trace every wire on the circuit board?
This circuit design process has not changed much over the last several decades. Tobias Pohl, founder and CEO, thought it was time for a change. Six years and “over 50,000 hours of research and development” later, the CELUS software system leverages AI to generate schematics, create PCB floorplans, and develop a bill of materials (BOM).
Tobias Pohl, CEO of CELUS, holding a PCB designed using their tools. Image used courtesy of CELUS
A Better Way to Design Circuits?
Pohl explained that CELUS is proposing a very different design methodology. “Think in functions, not in components.” Since new design concepts often start as block diagrams on a whiteboard or napkin, why not actually start the design process the same way?
The CELUS Supernova GUI supports block diagram design. Image used courtesy of CELUS
The CELUS Supernova tool is a GUI-based product that uses abstract engineering data to optimize and find the circuits and components needed to complete a design. This automates the process from conceptual drawing to PCB floorplan with outputs to native EDA formats.
A design flow featuring CELUS Supernova. Image used courtesy of CELUS
By automating the many manual steps in the design process, their goal is to reduce development times by up to 90%. To demonstrate during our conversation, Pohl held up a PCB for a battery management controller that “took about a half hour to complete.”
As we discussed the traditional design process, Pohl pointed out that component and chip companies have all of their internal engineering product information in digital formats but then present it to engineers in datasheets. Those engineering users then take the datasheet info and convert it back to a digital format suitable for their engineering design efforts. “It’s absurd,” exclaimed Pohl.
While it will take time, CELUS is working with many distributors and manufacturers to create what they call Cubos. The Cubo format contains detailed electronic component design information, including ECAD data, a bill of materials (BOM), port and connection info, and usage specifications.
Cubos are fundamental building blocks of the CELUS design ecosystem. Image used courtesy of CELUS
The Cubos are used by Supernova to create the designs. Their other primary tool, Orbit, provides the library and know-how management for components, footprints, and Cubos.
CELUS has partnerships with Avnet, Kyocera AVX, Molex, and Würth, among others, to create a rich library of Cubos. The Cubos allow designers to quickly develop new products using their flagship Supernova design tool. Pohl could not provide details yet, but he also mentioned that multiple big-name semiconductor partnerships are coming soon. Eventually, the goal is to have component manufacturers create the Cubo elements as part of their new product introduction (NPI) process.
When asked how they expand the Cubos library as these relationships develop, Pohl mentioned that they have a couple of shortcuts in the interim. CELUS can convert existing reference designs into Cubos with portions of the process automated, like recognition of I2C interfaces. They can also scan datasheets and extract some of the required information.
The Cubo format is proprietary to CELUS, but they are “not protective” of it. They recognize the benefits to the industry as a whole as Cubo adoption increases.
Design in the Cloud
The CELUS design flow is 100% in the cloud. While this presents opportunities for easier global collaboration, it also creates challenges. We discussed two of these challenges: version control and security.
CELUS Supernova PCB floorplanning. Image used courtesy of CELUS
Orbit supports “rich workflow engines” for library item creation, reviews, approvals, and team lead sign-off for full release. It provides full version control with history. In Supernova, every design has one project master to prevent design conflicts.
Pohl was clear that “security is a huge factor for us.” CELUS is “working with the best cloud providers, using dedicated hardware, and supporting two-factor authentication logins.” Because the design information is “incredibly important” to our customers, the CELUS cybersecurity document “is probably several hundred pages,” added Pohl.
A History of Growth
As CELUS has developed its product line, there have been several important milestones along the way. Pohl proudly remarked that the first circuit board that completed a full design cycle using their tool is still hanging in their Munich office.
Commercial success began to ramp up in 2020 with the completion of the first commercial product. Larger users coming on board in 2021 and 2022.
Now, after closing a €25M funding round earlier this year, they are actively hiring. In fact, Pohl joined our meeting after just completing another interview. CELUS started the year with about 28 employees and hope to finish 2022 near 80, with the majority of their staff focused on product R&D. This is in line with the company's consistent growth, as Pohl indicated that they typically double or triple in size annually.
Looking ahead to 2023, they expect to continue their aggressive growth, including opening an office in the United States. Pohl and the team recognize that their “window of opportunity is now” in an industry that is ripe for change.
When asked about the technology focus for 2023, Pohl mentioned growing the library and improving overall performance. This means handling more users, running iteration loops faster, supporting new design structures, and consolidating Cubos.
As we closed the discussion, Pohl emphasized that CELUS would be happy to demonstrate its tools to anyone who would be interested in learning more.