CA Design’s Bob Chandler on Training PCB Designers


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CA Design of Santa Rosa, California, is one of the country’s leading—and the most interesting—independent design service bureaus that I know. Owners Bob Chandler and his partner Robin Reynolds have worked together for many years, preaching the “gospel of Bob,” which is based on the theory that all PCB designers need to be properly trained. Part of that training has to include a complete understanding of the process of creating PCBs. I caught up with CTO Bob Chandler about design, training, and what we have to do to improve the designer/fabricator relationship.

Dan Beaulieu: Thanks for spending the time with me today. First, can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

Bob Chandler: My pleasure. I have an MBA in operations management, and I started in 1980 with a contract manufacturing company. I became interested in mechanical design and went from there to design, layout, and PCBs, of course.

Beaulieu: Why PCBs and design in particular?

Chandler: I was working for in the drafting room of a large military contractor, which exposed to me to PCB design. Someone I know suggested that I start doing design full time and join him and his company, so that’s what I did.

Beaulieu: After working in that for a while, you started your own company—CA Design. What drove you to go into business for yourself?

Chandler: My Dad died at a relatively young age, and that was an eye-opener for me. It made me reflect on my own life and I realized that it was better to call my own shots than to work for someone else. So, I hung my shingle, which is the nice thing about being a designer; it’s very easy to start your own business—especially today—because you don’t need all of the equipment we used to need to do designs and layout.

Beaulieu: Back in the day, you needed an IBM mainframe to do designs; now, you just need a good laptop.

Chandler: A couple of large monitors help, but that’s pretty much right.

Beaulieu: Where were you located when you started the company?

Chandler: I was in Silicon Valley, and luckily, so much of the PC business was there. A few years ago, we moved to Santa Rosa in the wine country north of San Francisco. With the internet and screen-sharing software, I can and have worked with clients all over the world from India to Italy, Australia, Texas, New York, and even across the street. It doesn’t matter where you are anymore as long as you are online.

Beaulieu: You do a lot of training. Has that always been the case?

Chandler: Yes, I enjoy it and know it’s important. Both a proficiency in the software tool and also basic knowledge in design principles are critical if you’re trying to get to market in a timely manner and come up with the most cost-efficient, reliable product. Companies are just not as focused on training their designers as they once were, and you can see it in the designs. Many times, younger designers have no clue what they are designing and how it all needs to work.

Beaulieu: I know exactly what you mean. I work with a lot of board houses, and the design data packages they are getting are worse than ever. One industry expert made the observation last year that less than 10% of the data packages that shops receive are flawless.

Chandler: I completely agree. Now, some companies want to get their engineers to start doing the layout and not even using trained designers to try to save money and short-cut the process as much as possible. In the end, that’s short-changing the client.

To read this entire column, which appeared in the August 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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