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Herbert Truppe, director, austriamicrosystems

Herbert Truppe, director, Product Management & Application, austriamicrosystems, talks to New Electronics about how he believes improved pcb design capability has given austriamicrosystems the edge.

austriamicrosystems is a global leader in the design and manufacture of high-performance standard and customised analogue integrated circuits (ics). Many of its components find their way into mobile handsets, mp3 players, mems microphones, blood glucose measurement units, sensors and sensor interfaces, power management units, and numerous other products.

austriamicrosystems says it stakes its reputation on delivering components that operate 'right first time' to its customers. Because its customers are under pressure to deliver more complex products in shorter time frames, austriamicrosystems strives to provide them with reference designs and application samples to help them to reduce their component design-in times.

"If we were to supply ics only to our customers, they would not be able to keep up with the ever-shortening product life cycles in their markets," explains Herbert Truppe, director, Product Management & Application, austriamicrosystems. "All semiconductor companies are faced with the challenge of investing more and more into system level design, which is basically a service to help their customers get quickly up to speed and meet short design deadlines."

austriamicrosystems had used a range of pcb design tool chains over the years and had experienced difficulties with conversions, where data from one tool was extracted and imported into another tool which was incompatible with the first. The company needed an integrated pcb design tool chain that was reliable, accurate and easy to use.

Two years ago, austriamicrosystems began the migration to Altium Designer for all in-house system level and pcb design instead of using separate tools for schematic and board design. "I don't like conversions because they're always buggy," Truppe says. "Even when you convert a schematic from a tool chain to Altium Designer, you can never be sure that this really works. So we stay in one tool chain from the very beginning, from concept until we provide the Gerber data to the pcb manufacturer."

According to Truppe, Altium Designer proved to be the ideal unified solution for the entire design process that austriamicrosystems was searching for. It provided engineers with an intuitive link between block diagrams and project hierarchy. "Altium allows design methodology which really gives you a quick access to the system level," says Truppe. "As you go through the pages, you come from an abstract, very compressed view of the system level into all the details nice and quickly."

One of the main requirements was that the tool would enable austriamicrosystems engineers to design and create pcb prototypes even more quickly than before. "Altium Designer really helps us with our speed of execution and to be extremely fast with pcb turnarounds," says Truppe. "It is easy to use; it is an enabler. There's enough work to do to debug an ic and get it working in a complex system like a mobile phone. Getting stuck at the pcb level design stage verifying and debugging the pcb because your tool chain is not reliable is the last thing you want."

Other design tools that the company's engineers had used previously had resulted in corrupted databases being delivered to the pcb manufacturers. It took them weeks to discover an array of failures, which delayed the process of verifying ics and delivering reference boards to customers. Now, using Altium Designer, Truppe believes engineers can be more confident that these sorts of incidents are a thing of the past.

"Altium Designer's 3d simulation capability allows us to keep the product's form factor as compact as possible," says Truppe. "When we show the customer a housing for a mobile phone, an mp3 player or an active noise cancellation ear plug, we need the sample to resemble the final form factor as closely as possible. You never have a second chance to make a first impression on a customer."

austriamicrosystems designers use the 3d analysis feature for complex placement of components on a reference design pcb. "Because we have discrete components close to the ic, we really have to take care where we place components such as coils, so that they will fit later on into a housing or a shielding or wherever necessary to make the application work," Truppe says.

Altium Designer's flexibility has given austriamicrosystems design engineers the freedom to be creative, says Truppe. "For example, our application engineers are using the integrated bus simulation capabilities for many different applications, not only for simulating bus speeds," he says. "There is a collection of very nice features that other tools do not offer, which allow you to quickly design filters and other things."

Truppe remarks that austriamicrosystems design engineers found Altium Designer very intuitive to use and became familiar with the software's features very quickly.

"Usually we would do some training internally to get them quickly up to speed," he says. "But in a couple of weeks they were already doing their own designs using the package. They don't have to read 1000 pages of a manual and have five training sessions until they can get going. They play around with the system, start with simple designs and the speed of execution. The time it takes until they can do larger designs is surprisingly short compared to other tool chains."

"One of the things we like is that Altium keeps developing and enhancing its products," Truppe notes. "They even take examples from ic design tools which are better developed or more enhanced in certain areas. That was another reason why our engineers quickly fell in love with Altium Designer."

"Some other vendors would see pcb design capability in a pool of products with less focus. PCB level design is Altium's core competence and that, along with ease of use, reliability and very good support, has been key for us."

Chris Shaw

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