Siemens Touts its Online PCBflow as “DFM for the Rest of Us”
Setting out to break down the barriers to design-for-manufacturing (DFM) for small design groups, Siemens is positioning its PCBflow service as an online DFM collaboration space.
We continue our coverage of this week’s Electronica trade fair with our interview with Siemens about the new features of its PCBflow online tool.
Today’s major EDA vendors—Siemens included—all offer high-end, advanced design-for-manufacturing (DFM) tools. Problem is that those tools are often expensive and intended for large, enterprise-wide design operations. With PBCflow, Siemens sees an opportunity to provide effective PCB DFM for small organizations and individual engineers.
At Electronica, All About Circuits Editor-in-Chief catches up with Siemens’ Susan Kayesar to discuss Siemens’ PCBflow online tool.
In this article, we examine PCBflow and its new features. And we share insights from our interview with Susan Kayesar, PCBflow Technical Product Manager at Siemens.
Unattainable DFM Goals for Small Players
Making use of the high-end DFM enterprise tools available today is really an unattainable goal for any small design house or individual engineer. PCBflow fills in that gap by providing what Kayesar describes as an online DFM and collaboration space.
“The first problem that PCBflow addresses is the collaboration and communication issue between PCB design and PCB manufacturing throughout the lifecycle of the PCB,” says Kayesar. As mentioned earlier, there is already software that will do that DFM analysis for you. The problem is they just aren’t suited to small organizations.
“They're really aimed at large corporations who have both the budget to implement them, roll them out, maintain them, and keep them updated and running,” says Kayesar. Even the initial set-up process often requires these corporations to bring in extra manpower.
With PCBflow, she says, they are trying to eliminate those hurdles. “We're trying to target the small and medium businesses—ones with fewer people and lower budgets—that are really making up most of the marketplace today,” says Kayesar. “We're seeing this shift in the marketplace to those smaller companies. Those smaller businesses are taking over the manufacturing world, even in the electronics industry.”
Ending Endless Back and Forth
A key part of PCBflows’ value proposition is in cutting back the seemingly endless back and forth that can occur between a PCB designer and a PCB manufacturer.
“Often you'll have a designer who wants to fabricate their PCB somewhere or assemble their PCB somewhere, and they will approach the manufacturer directly and they'll say ‘Can you make this?’ ,” says Kayesar. “The manufacturer will look at it and say: ‘Of course I can't do that’ .” There will be a back and forth with the PCB manufacturer saying what needs to be changed to make the PCB manufacturable.
PCBflow promises an affordable, online way for PCB designers to access the key rules and constraints that PCB manufacturers have upfront. Image used courtesy of Siemens. (Click image to enlarge)
All that back and forth can be avoided, says Kayesar, by providing a way to let PCB designers access all the necessary information upfront. “The manufacturers are the ones that know their own production environment,” she says. “They know what constraints they have. They're the best people who should be setting up their rules and their concerns about PCB designs that are coming into them.”
PCBflow addresses that by allowing the designers now to freely access those rules. “This lets them really access the data in the form of almost a digital twin of the production environment online so that they can test their designs in advance before they hand them off,” says Kayesar. And it’s a win for the manufacturers too.
“The PCB manufacturers are getting a more robust, mature design that is actually manufacturable, and the conversation switches to ‘How fast can you get it done?” rather than circling around.”
PCBflow Puts Itself in the Middle
In some ways, a key part of PCBflows' role is to put itself in the middle between designers and manufacturers. This relationship is helpful to PCB manufacturers as well because they don’t want to waste time with misunderstandings and unrealistic designs.
Time is a key factor for manufacturers. “Manufacturers are actually spending a surprising amount of time when they get a PCB design,” says Kayesar. “When somebody sends them some PCB Gerber files, they're spending a surprising amount of time and investment of effort to reverse engineer those designs and try to define the design intent, try to see what was intended, and whether or not they're manufacturable.”
PCBflow can ease that burden by transferring the data over in an intelligible, standardized format that the manufacturer can immediately use for evaluation. With PCBflow, the initial evaluation is done before it even gets there. “It's really smoothing the way, smoothing the hand off process and making it a lot faster,” says Kayesar.
Users interested in checking out PCBflow can access its free trial. The website offers a product demo that shows you how you can look through the various DFM violations that you might be seeing in the online viewer. You can upload your own PCB design immediately and go into the process of evaluating the tool for free. PCBflow has new interactive PCBflow results report feature. A PDF of a sample report is available.
Bringing People Together with DFM
The concepts of PCB DFM are far from new. But for a long time, it’s lived in that rarified air of large corporations operating with enterprise-wide DFM tools, while small organizations have had to make do with wrangling what they could get out of PCB manufacturers. Perhaps PCBflow is the right step in connecting the dots.
“We're bringing people together,” says Kayesar. “That's the purpose here. It's the ultimate goal of bringing people together within the industry. It's not just about technology. It's about making things accessible. And it's something that I really believe in: Making things accessible to everyone.”