Keysight has announced PathWave, a new software platform for engineers to organize data management, workflows, and processes for every stage of design. The most remarkable claim Keysight's made about this new platform is that it is the first to integrate simulation, design, and test workflows, "eliminating the need to re-create individual measurements and test plans at each discrete stage of the process."
This is a reflection of a term that's quickly gaining traction among EEs—or, at least, among the companies that design tools for EEs: "unified design".
Collaboration between engineers has always been pivotal to design, but "unified design" implies a greater prominence of shared resources, including tools and processes. Keysight's PathWave is a prime example of such a shared resource, taken to an extreme degree.
All images courtesy of Keysight
Design Reuse, Democratized Access to Information
AAC had the chance to talk about PathWave with Darin Phelps, a Keysight Account Manager with a background in analog and RF IC design. Darin's career brought him to Keysight, where he's responsible for managing products used for circuit- and system-level simulation.
Phelps emphasized PathWave's ability to help engineers identify issues early in the design process, "You want to make sure that the values are correct before I spend a lot of time and take this out and go to manufacturing of a semiconductor," he says. This becomes even more important when allowing engineers to easily share circuit designs for reuse across products.
At Keysight World 2019, Phelps showed AAC's Bridgette Stone an example application of PathWave, the reuse of a chip design. "Through the hierarchy network, if I've designed this chip and someone else is going to use it in another sub-circuit module, they just grab that same module... and have access to the same information. [This preserves] the hierarchy of design because I might be designing this piece of the oscillator the next guy puts that oscillator in an output transmit module, which gets more integration. So they just grab this [design]... and use the results that they got from this altogether."
All of these features put together provides a clear look at what Keysight believes to be important to today's EEs, distilled down into three descriptors for PathWave: open, scalable, and predictive.
What Does the Modern Engineer Need?
Keysight designed PathWave with three major tenants on display: openness, scalability, and increasing efficiency through predictive data analytics.
When companies use the term "open" in this day and age, there's sometimes an assumption that they mean open-source, though this is not necessarily the case. In this instance, "open" appears to mean the ability to use multiple tools, hardware and software, and processes easily. Keysight highlights the ability for engineers to customize PathWave to utilize third-party programs and hardware.
Scalability is a pain point for many engineers. Teams of engineers, often spread across large physical distances, need the ability to share information and resources. PathWave's attempt at answering this need is the combo of local and cloud processing for testing and design.
Perhaps the most ambitious of this trio of goals is the ability to predict issues and speed up troubleshooting through analytics tools. Keysight claims that PathWave is capable of allocating computing resources, optimizing workflows through data analysis, and even predicting bottlenecks in an engineer's workflow. Integrated software tools are not completely new to EEs, but the ability to put design, test, and verification into a single program that could make prescriptive suggestions may be new for many.
Do All Roads Lead to Collaborative Engineering?
From toolsets to outsourced modules or services, many major players in the industry appear to be moving towards collaborative ecosystems to encompass the whole design process.
With design cycles tightening, pressure is increasingly placed on engineers to manage design information, testing data, and communications with colleagues.
From Altium's forthcoming Altium 360 platform (a serious analog to Keysight's efforts with PathWave), there's heavy investment in providing solutions to harried engineers who are being asked to take on more responsibilities in the design process.
An interesting point is that multiple test and measurement companies are developing these resources. One perspective that could help explain this phenomenon comes from Jay Alexander, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Keysight. When speaking about the various new technologies that engineers have created over recent years (such as AI and augmented reality), Alexander stated that these require "deep expertise across the whole design and test workflow, plus the measurement expertise to effectively implement them."
In essence, who better to develop design software than test and measurement experts?