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Tool makes high-end PCB design affordable

April 29, 2015

Bernard Cole-April 29, 2015

Electronic design automation company Mentor Graphics Corp. (Wilsonville, OR) has a deal it thinks printed circuit board developers can't refuse: a new family PCB design tools based on its well-known PADS platform. At the low end, it is priced at half that of competing midrange suites. At the other extreme, it has capabilities previously only available on high-end design tools such as its own Xpedition Enterprise.

The midrange of the PCB design tool market has been in stasis for many years, with little or no significant change in pricing or design capabilities, said David Wiens, business development manager for Mentor Graphics' System Design Division, in an interview with EE Times. Most of the action has been at either the very low-cost, bare-bones functionality segment or in the expensive "all the bells and whistles" tools for large company design teams.

Wiens said that Mentor wants to change that by going after an underserved market that has been hiding in plain sight: independent engineers who need tools that allow them to work alone early in a products development, but which can be used to eventually take a design to production if need be.

The engineers Mentor is targeting are not the self-driven independent developers who want low cost above all. They are either engineers working alone at a small to mid-sized company or are members of an isolated team within a large enterprise. For them, both cost and functionality are important criterion in their choice of tools.

Independent engineers working alone or on isolated design teams exist at all levels within large and small companies.
Independent engineers working alone or on isolated design teams exist at all levels within large and small companies.

"These engineers are usually involved in doing PCB related activities outside a company's mainstream production efforts: building prototypes, validating reference designs, and performing manufacturability studies," said Wiens. "What they need are many of the capabilities of a full high-end tool for performing the complete design, analysis, and manufacturing data delivery of printed circuit board (PCB) electronic products. Not needed is the costly and complex usage arrangements associated with the high end."

Meeting the needs of PCB developers
To meet the needs of this ignored, but growing, category of developers, Mentor Graphics has expanded its existing PADS platform to offer three options: PADS Standard, Standard PLUS and Standard Professional. At the same time, it has dropped the entry point from the current $10,000 average in the industry to $5,000 for an unlimited usage license on its baseline PADS Standard.

"What we wanted to do with PADS is offer a PCB design framework that was attractive to the independent developer both in terms of cost and capability and that would not force him to make choices between the two."

Wiens also said that in the current PCB design tool environment, independent engineers had to make do with lower-priced or free offerings that eventually ran out of steam and were not able to support their growing needs. "While initially the design process may need no more than the schematic entry and layout of the PCB, it can very quickly evolve to a point where it will require detailed evaluation for signal integrity, thermal, design-for-manufacturability, and power distribution network integrity."

It can be a nerve-racking proposition for an independent engineer making the move from a tool set that was either free or cost no more than $500 to a more capable environment that in the past has cost in the range of $10,000. In the case of the engineer working alone or in a small company, it is impact on his or her own wallet. In the case of independent engineers in a larger corporate environment, it is the stress of dealing with the paper work involved in justifying such a purchase.

PAD Professional includes many of the capabilities of high end tools such as Xpedition Enterprise.
PAD Professional includes many of the capabilities of high end tools such as Xpedition Enterprise.

To reduce the nail-biting involved in making those transitions, Mentor Graphics’ new suite of PADS tools now includes three levels of design capability and pricing:

  1. PADS Standard – Schematic and PCB layout with starter parts library, part creation Wizard, and archive management priced at $5,000 including support.
  2. PADS Standard Plus – PADS Standard, plus advanced constraint management, high speed net constraints and routing, central library creation and management, signal/thermal/analog simulation, and variants design priced at $10,000, including support.
  3. PADS Professional – PADS Standard Plus, with the addition of high-end design tools such as sketch routing, simultaneous 2D/3D layout, hierarchical placement planning, component and net explorers, and manufacturing prep and design review/compare, priced at $18,000, including support.

Continue reading the next page on Embedded's sister site, EE Times: "High-End PCB design made affordable."

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