Golden Gate Bridge

A PCB Design Journey from Sanssouci Castle to the Heart of Silicon Valley

Menu

Post-Covid Tradeshow Double Header this autumn Season

It’s been quite a while since most of us experienced ‘real’ trade shows and conventions with lots of attendees and in-person meetings, with face-to-face discussions, packed meeting rooms, and evening events. Even if that part of our electronic industry business life saw some kind of re-birth in 2021, we still had many Covid-19 restrictions last year and early into 2022. Personally, I have to look back to the pre-covid time (in fact, 2019) when thinking about the last events where I presented and discussed various topics of PCB design and analysis for signal and power integrity issues with the audience.

I was very excited that I recently had the honor to present at two PCB design-related conferences in a row within two weeks time, including traveling around half the globe from Paderborn via Potsdam (which is close to Berlin) to the Californian shores of the Pacific Ocean (and back or course).

30 years of FED conferences

The FED–a German Electronics Design Association–was holding their annual conference in the old residence town of Potsdam, a four-hour car ride to start my journey. Potsdam is a charming mid-size city. It is famous for plenty of medieval relics and historic districts like the Dutch quarter, lots of Hohenzollern heritage with the iconic Sanssouci palace, and its outstanding gardens, dating back to king Frederick the Great of Prussia. The palace and gardens are often compared to Versailles Palace in France in their beauty and splendor.

Ralf and a colleague on the Havel river in Potsdam.
Ralf and a colleague on the Havel river in Potsdam.

This year was an anniversary event, the thirtieth annual conference of the FED. Since 1991 (in 2020, there was no event because of the pandemic), FED has been the meeting point for PCB design engineers from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The event has established a combined technical exhibition and convention, tutorial, and workshop format over the recent years. It is meanwhile the key event for German-speaking attendees of the PCB design and manufacturing community.

Conference organizers invited me to present Zuken’s recent research activities, which are part of a three-year R&D project funded by the German government, where we investigate how AI/ML techniques can improve the PCB design process. In particular, in our dedicated domain of signal and power integrity verification of complex high-speed PCBs. I joined forces on this presentation with one of the project partners (Celus GmbH), finding quite an audience in a packed conference room and an interesting discussion afterward at our booth.

Ralf Brüning presenting at the 30th anniversary of the FED conference.
Ralf Bruening presenting at the 30th anniversary of the FED conference.

On the booth, which like in previous years, we shared with our friends from CSK (our German eCADSTAR distributor), we presented new features of the 2022 releases of eCADSTAR and CR-8000. Worth mentioning is the social event which brought us on a two-hour boat tour on the Havel river and the canals around Potsdam and its numerous historical sights and the various castles–quite impressive and just amazing (particularly because of the sun breaking through the clouds just a few minutes prior the departure of the ship).

The PCB Design community meets at PCB West in Santa Clara

Directly after the FED conference, I had to catch a plane for my second stop, PCB West, in Santa Clara, California. A bit of a funny coincidence, PCB West is more or less the same age as the FED conference: they also turned 30 last year. For more than a quarter of a century, PCB West aims to train and educate PCB designers, engineers, fabricators, and, lately, assemblers on making printed circuit boards for every product or use you may imagine. The educational conference attracts several hundred attendees every year while typically around 2,000 engineers register for the exhibition, which is a showcase for EDA vendors, PCB design service companies, and fabricators/assemblers.

Located in Santa Clara Convention Center in the heart of Silicon Valley, the conference attracts locals from all the tech companies around, along with visitors from overseas. On Tuesday, I had the honor of teaching a power integrity class under the theme: From DC to Daylight – Power Integrity and Decoupling for PCB Designers. Later that day, it was a pleasure to meet people again whom I had not seen in three years and whom I have known for a long time. My first PCB West presentation was back in 1999–Signal Integrity Primer–still a topic of high interest. Beyond my own presentation, I took the opportunity to listen to the talks of some of the icons of our industry, so I snuck into sessions given by Rick Hartley, Dan Beeker, and Gary Ferrari.

Ralf Bruening presenting at PCB West on the topic of power integrity
Ralf Bruening presenting at PCB West on the topic of power integrity

Sandwiched in the middle of all the conference days, the PCB West exhibition took place where I was part of the booth staff. I had the chance to talk to quite a number of visitors about our SI/PI analysis capabilities in both CR-8000 Design-Force and eCADSTAR. Especially some of my class attendees took the chance for a follow-up discussion and a live demo of how to tackle the theoretical aspects of PCB power integrity with numerical simulation approaches (like in the Zuken PI/EMI tool).

The Zuken Team at PCB West
The Zuken Team at PCB West

Besides all the business aspects, it was just awesome to be back in California after all that time–and the Bay Area showed all its sides to me; sunny and warm in the valley, chilly with the usual fog creeping over the mountains and into San Francisco to the extent that most of the Golden Gate Bridge was hidden in the fog. Only a day later, a blue sky was presenting an invitation for typical Californian beach life shining down on Halloween pumpkins and old Thunderbird cars cruising along the ocean drive and roaring voices of the sea lions populating the pier down below.

Thunderbirds on the pier.
Thunderbirds on the pier.

Finally, to finish a great journey, on the last day, while taking a rest for a late breakfast in Pacifica (just south of San Francisco), I spotted a humpback whale gliding in that coastal area on its way southwards winter migration, breaching a few times out of the water – a real terrific moment I’ll never forget!

The sun shining down on the pacific ocean.
The sun shining down on the pacific ocean.
Ralf Bruening
Ralf Bruening
Ralf Bruening is a product manager involved in the development and deployment of Zuken’s analysis and high-speed solutions for the past 20 years. Ralf works to improve customer design processes and solve complex technical challenges associated with high-speed signal transmission, power integrity problems, and EMI emissions. In his free time, Ralf likes to golf, cook for his family and listen to rock music.