Design Circuit: Competition as a Tool for Growth


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At IPC APEX EXPO in early February 2020, IPC announced our newest offering for the printed board design engineering community: IPC Design.

In the months since, we have made great strides in crafting IPC Design as a platform for the global printed board design engineering industry to connect and grow professionally, regardless of their skill level, country of origin, company, or age; all are welcome. The entirety of the IPC Design program model is well beyond the scope of what I would like to talk about here, but in a nutshell, printed board design engineers can affiliate with IPC Design by forming or joining an IPC Design Chapter or affiliating as an individual, member of a company group, or member of a STEM-focused student group—all at no cost. We are utilizing IPC’s existing web infrastructure to enable a “collaborative content model” in which designers can create and access design content—media, forums, recordings, virtual meetings, etc.

IPC Design is advised by the Design Community Leadership—a group of industry experts with decades of experience in printed board design engineering and related technologies. This group has been instrumental in guiding IPC as we build the structure and initiatives of IPC Design, and I am excited to continue to unveil these initiatives here as they become available.

The construction of IPC Design is scaffolded by the 3Cs: content, career, and competition. These refer to the mindset by which both the Design Community Leadership and IPC approach any initiative within IPC Design. Put simply, does an initiative produce or provide content to better the industry, produce or provide experiences and opportunities to better a board design professional’s career, or establish competition to engage and compel board design professionals? By examining IPC Design through this threefold filter, we have also identified primary initiatives that will act as “flagships” for IPC Design.

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Earlier this month, we began work on one of these primary initiatives that was suggested by the Design Community Leadership and was fully embraced by IPC—an international printed board design competition.

Before we start building any stackups, we should stop to examine the high-level reasoning behind why competitions are so darn good at enabling professional growth.

By focusing on the needs of the printed board design engineering industry, we can build a competition that is a venue for design engineers to showcase their skills and learn from others. Skill transfer is a diffusive process by which information flows from areas of high concentration to low concentration. Even the most evenly matched competitive landscape will have this information gradient; the loser of a competition can always learn something from the winner by reviewing the winner’s work.

Professional networking is a key goal of IPC Design and is imperative for the growth of the industry, as new contacts can mean new career opportunities, or simply the exchange of new ideas between design engineers; after all, we get by with a little help from our friends.

To that end, I would like to highlight the word “international” in the title “international printed board design competition.” IPC is an international organization, and IPC Design is an international program. The best ideas for a given design challenge may not live in one country or continent, and we would like to facilitate the exchange of those ideas.

Another benefit of design competitions is the possibilities for interfacing with student competitors to help inspire the next generation of printed board design engineers. The Design Community Leadership has made it a key goal of IPC Design to engage with academia, and establishing a student division of the competition will allow for seasoned industry veterans to provide insight and guidance to students as they learn about, and try their hands at, the design of printed boards. (More on that below.)

This will not be the first time that IPC has conducted printed board design competitions, and we are leveraging the past experience of IPC India and IPC China, who have successfully hosted these competitions since 2012.

Additionally, IPC and the Design Community Leadership have agreed on high-level goals for the competition. We believe that achieving these goals will enable the competition to benefit a large demographic of designers in terms of both geography and experience with board design engineering.

The student division will be open to teams of college-level STEM students who can enter as representatives of their institution or as representatives of a collegiate electronics engineering-focused student group, such as the IPC Education Foundation. The professional division will consist of printed board design engineering professionals who self-report as such.

Second, to accommodate international competitors and the restrictive travel budgets anticipated for much of 2020 and 2021, we’re planning for virtual challenges and remote judging. We envision that the student division competition will operate in the same manner except that the design requirements will be much simpler, and the students will be educated on printed board design topics beforehand and then connected with industry volunteers who can help with designs and field questions. Travel restrictions permitting, finalists will then be invited to defend their designs during an in-person event at industry events in key regions around the world.

As an example of one of these challenges, a professional challenge might consist of the library creation, mechanical creation, component placement, setup of constraints, routing, and generation of an IPC-2581 output for a 10-layer high-speed complex board based on IPC Class-2 standards. The competitors would be given four weeks to complete this challenge and then submit their design for judgment by a panel of industry expert judges.

Third, to complete their challenges, we would like to make sure that design engineers can use the design tool of their choice and are seeking and establishing relationships with tool vendors to accomplish this. By sharing our vision, I hope that any printed board design engineer excited by the ideas put forth in the preceding paragraphs considers donating their time and talent to be part of the competition planning committee, a future competition judge, or a competitor.

I look forward to sharing future updates on IPC Design here. If you have any questions, or if you would like to get in contact with me regarding the international printed board design competition, please email me at: PatrickCrawford@ipc.org.

This column originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.

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