Undertaking product development in a rapidly changing technology environment
A veteran user of Zuken’s desktop PCB design software, CADSTAR, dB Broadcast’s products division has been trusting CADSTAR to support product development in a rapidly changing technology environment for three decades. The company designs off-the-shelf products for the broadcast industry, supporting its parent company in the growing ‘Video over IP’ market.
dB Broadcast is engaged in many aspects of broadcasting and its services include consultancy and broadcast system design and installation, from complete turnkey TV and radio studio projects to playout, transmission systems and outside broadcast vehicles. The company also designs and manufactures products for the broadcast industry. Most products take the form of cards for racks, and all PCB design work is performed in-house. Others are standalone units for which dB Broadcast does the electrical and mechanical designs.
As a small company that needs to be nimble and lean, at the top of dB Broadcast’s PCB tool requirements are factors such as ease of use, reliability, and support.
Nigel Hoyland, dB Broadcast’s Development Director, explains: “Compared with larger companies, we have a relatively small design team and we design only a few new PCBs per year. We, therefore, rely on the ease of use CADSTAR affords. We can go for a period of time without using the tool, safe in the knowledge that it will perform when needed and that we have access to great technical support if required.”
Virtually since its foundation in the late eighties, dB Broadcast has been using Zuken’s CADSTAR. Hoyland recalls: “It was very much an analog world thirty or so years ago, and TV and terrestrial broadcasts were achieved exclusively through AM and FM transmission and reception techniques.”
The switch to digital and mixed-signal boards came about in the 1990s and board layer counts increased to facilitate connectivity between components with increasing pin counts. As the digital age progressed boards began carrying devices to enable product integration through network connectivity, e.g. Ethernet. Digital also enabled boards to handle more video bandwidth.
“Where complexity has increased most is with respect to accommodating more mixed-signal,” says Hoyland. A point in case is the Cardinal range of intelligent Mains Distribution Units which is one of dB Broadcast’s highest volume products. A Cardinal unit provides 12 separate mains outputs, a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) interface, and email messaging facility.
“The mix of mains voltage channels alongside sensitive digital circuitry presented a few PCB routing challenges, which CADSTAR took in its stride,” recalls Hoyland. “The tool has also supported us well during a series of updates to the Cardinal iMDU, one of which was to increase the number of I/O.”
Another product for which CADSTAR was heavily relied on was MERlin, a self-contained receiver for continuous off-air demodulation and monitoring of DVB-T and DVB-T2 signals. The unit monitors input RF modulation parameters and signal performance metrics.
“MERlin has a single PCB,” says Hoyland. “It uses a dedicated DVB chipset and has components on both sides of the board. We’re bringing frequencies of up to 1GHz onto the board plus we have some relatively high-speed digital on the board, including ASI data streams at 270Mb/s and Ethernet at 100Mb/s.
CADSTAR performed well during component placement and on all routing tasks. Indeed, most challenges associated with the board were related to its manufacture.”
Today, dB Broadcast’s products division is actively engaged in designing new MDU products and is on-hand to support the parent company as it pushes further into the ‘Video over IP’ arena. Here, dB Broadcast already has an enviable reputation for its system-level integration expertise.
“The mix of mains voltage channels alongside sensitive digital circuitry presented a few PCB routing challenges, which CADSTAR took it in its stride. The tool has also supported us well during a series of updates to the Cardinal iMDU, one of which was to increase the number of I/O.”
Nigel HoylandDevelopment Director, db Broadcast
Established in 1989, dB Broadcast is an independent UK-based system integrator of broadcast systems and has been recognised in the 2013 and 2018 Sunday Times Tech Track 100 listing as one of the fastest growing technology companies in the UK.