EMA: Helping Technologists Manage Disparate Data


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Today’s EDA tools are better than ever, but managing design data, from schematics through Gerbers, can be an unwieldly task. I recently interviewed Manny Marcano, president and CEO of EMA Design Automation. He discusses EMA’s approach to managing a variety of types of complex data, the need for seamless data processes, and the future of compliance-aware design.

 

Andy Shaughnessy: Why don’t you start by giving us a little background about EMA.

Manny Marcano: EMA was started in 1989 when I was selling P-CAD software in upstate New York. In 1998 when EMA had grown to about 10 employees, we signed on as a Cadence Design System value added reseller (VAR) selling Allegro PCB design tools in the New York and mid-Atlantic area. That went well, and in 2003 Cadence chose EMA to be the exclusive provider of OrCAD software in North America. EMA expanded quickly and began working with customers to understand their processes and their challenges. This led to a tight working relationship between EMA and various functions within Cadence, including both their product marketing and R&D groups. EMA also began creating custom software to solve specific customer challenges, which later became generalized and turned into products that complement the OrCAD offerings. Through it all, EMA has operated on the premise that EMA’s success is directly tied to Cadence’s success, and that concept has created the positive and successful relationship we have with Cadence.

Shaughnessy: What are your customers’ biggest demands when it comes to managing data?

Marcano: Customers want a complete solution to manage all the work-in-progress (WIP) PCB data before it is released to manufacturing. This can be the design files themselves as well as the BOM, netlist, Gerber, simulation results and even specifications or datasheets. Everything that goes into designing that PCB should be put under data management, or users end up creating workarounds and storing files locally which breaks down the effectiveness of the system.

Customers also stress that the experience for the end user needs to be seamless. In the past our customers have tried to use ad hoc processes or connect with external systems to manage their PCB data. While this is better than nothing, it requires extra manual effort from the engineering team to go outside their CAD environment to push and pull data. Without any checks or processes within the native CAD tool, design teams will often use the data management system haphazardly or forget for a couple revisions then push an update. This is especially prevalent when deadlines are tight or something needs to be done quickly. The extra effort and steps to manage the data are ignored in favor of speed which can have serious consequences later on if data is lost or accidentally overwritten. PCB design teams really need data management to be a natural part of the design process.

Shaughnessy: What kinds of PCB data are the toughest to manage?

Marcano: One aspect that makes PCB data tough to manage is the fact that a lot of the design files themselves are in a proprietary or binary format, which makes change management difficult if you don’t have a way to read those files. PCB design is also very iterative in nature, which creates large volumes of data during the design phase that needs to be revision controlled. All this data is typically broken up into lots of different files that are all derived from or related to each other in some way. Files like the netlist, models, Gerbers, and simulation results all need to be tracked with the core PCB files from which they were generated. Without having an understanding of the file associations inherent to the PCB design process, things can quickly become out of sync.

For example, you can be doing a great job of posting your PCB files to the shared drive or repository when you have finished editing them, but if you are not also tracking the file outputs along with those revisions there is a serious chance you may inadvertently send an old version of the BOM or the wrong Gerber file. So even though your core design files were managed correctly, the outputs from those files that drive manufacturing and purchasing could be incorrect, leading to re-spins, a bad board, and late nights trying to figure out what went wrong. More importantly, this results in higher cost and lost market opportunities.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the November 2015 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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