First Timer Perspectives from Zuken Innovation World Conference

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How often do you get out of the office and meet the people you’re coding, creating, designing or managing for?

As part of the Technology Research Team at Zuken Technology Centre (ZTC) Bristol, my role is to innovate and improve on Zuken’s routing and placement tools using new technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. This is extremely interesting work – especially as it allows me to develop areas I touched on during my Ph.D. research. One downside is that I have less contact with Zuken customers than I’d like. This meant I jumped at the chance to attend Zuken Innovation World (ZIW) UK last year, for the first time.

One of my office colleagues, Wade Colclough, was also a first-timer at ZIW UK. As an applications engineer, he has a lot more customers contact through his role supporting next-generation CADSTAR. Day-to-day his work varies from QA testing to second line support, with no two days being the same.

Given the contrast between our roles, our different perspectives and takeaways from the event may be interesting to you if you’re considering attending one of our annual global innovation events for the first time. With locations across Europe, US and Asia, there’s bound to be a location that’s convenient for you.

Overall impressions

This was my first ever experience of a customer event with any company, and I was impressed by the amount of effort and resources it takes to market a product to customers. The event was well thought out and customers certainly appreciated having a direct line of communication with Zuken’s technical experts and managers. I enjoyed finding out about Zuken’s electrical products from the E3.series team since there isn’t any overlap with my day-to-day work.

Wade also found it refreshing to be part of such a customer-centric event that shared a glimpse of upcoming products. He really enjoyed networking with Zuken end-users. He also felt it offered a change in philosophy from his previous experiences at other companies, where the customer interaction was limited in both direction and scope. The event’s collaborative spirit made networking and sharing as a group a fun alternative to speaking to customers one-to-one.

Surprises and takeaways

Before attending ZIW, we both had our own impressions of what the event would be like. Both of us found our expectations upturned, but in different ways.

As I mentioned, hearing perspectives from customers was a new angle for me. It was also an interesting opportunity to align our R&D priorities with the customers and hear about the impact that new functionality might have.

In the next-generation CADSTAR presentations, customer questions were firmly focused on how the new product would impact their budget, and how much time it would take to train or retrain users on this platform. There was less focus on functionality – which was quite a useful shock, as a developer! It also underlined the importance of understanding customers’ needs within the context of their own industry.

This made me wonder whether we need to work harder to communicate many of the advanced routing and placement features in Zuken’s products and if we should consider designing these features in a way that helps overcome user resistance.

Wade’s biggest surprise was realizing that ZIW is not a marketing event. Instead, it is entirely user- and product-focused. Most of the attendees are the engineers who directly use the software, and not managers or purchasers. This gives Zuken flexibility to talk about some of the more ‘extracurricular’ activities, with interesting presentations by the University of Wolverhampton Racing, and by Ralf Bruening on SI/IP design for IoT.

Resonances with day-to-day work

Working for a global company, ZIW was also a great opportunity to speak to Zuken colleagues from other areas about my recent research efforts in the areas of machine learning and AI. It was encouraging to hear that they are aware of what we’re doing (not always the case in a large company!) and want to get involved in our work.

Wade’s interaction with customers is typically indirect, either via second line Hotline support or through issuing training materials. He was thrilled to witness feedback first-hand from customers in many of the sessions in the next-generation CADSTAR track. The positive feedback from many CADSTAR customers during the live demo session, and their apparent eagerness to receive an evaluation, were highlights for him. He also caught up with someone he had collaborated with on a project with his former employer, who was interested in getting ‘hands on’ with the new product.

Safe to say, I’d recommend attending your local ZIW – whatever your role.

Chithrupa Ramesh
Chithrupa Ramesh
Machine Learning Engineering Consultant
Chithrupa Ramesh works in the Technology Research Team in ZTC, Bristol, where she identifies, develops and applies machine learning research to problems in PCB design automation. Her work focuses on adapting the automation software to the customer's design process and removing the need for repetitive work. She obtained a PhD in Automatic Control in 2014 from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and has held research positions in the Automatic Control Lab in ETH, Zurich, and the Laboratory for Information and Decisions Systems in MIT, USA.
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