Since the arrival of electronic design automation (EDA) tools, the lives of design engineers have become much simpler. They can build their circuits accurately with the least amount of rework. Prototyping costs have come down and quality control has improved. But how have these tools advanced over time, and have they become simpler to use? Paromik Chakraborty of EFY Group caught up with Bob Williams, managing director and head of sales and marketing—Pulsonix brand, WestDev Ltd, to get the answers to these questions as well as to talk about the company’s latest release—Pulsonix version 10.0.
EB: What brings you to India?
Williams: I’m here to promote Pulsonix version 10.0 in the Indian market. I was in India earlier this year, in February, when we previewed it at EFY’s India Electronics Week, and now it has been released. We’re visiting customers to show them the product.
EB: How are modern EDA tools helping designers save costs and improve the quality of their designs?
Williams: That’s an interesting question. Over the past 30 years, the demand for EDA tools has changed dramatically. Originally, it was pure CAD—designs simply aided by computers. The engineers entered what they needed, and the CAD system helped them to design faster. These days, much more of the skilled work is taken care of by the EDA tool itself. Modern algorithms within the tool de-skill the general work, provided the engineer can enter the parameters or rules needed.
EDA tools are smarter than in the past and are getting better all the time. There is still a requirement for good looking designs created by a ‘PCB artist’, but most engineers can lay out a board now using the toolset within it with some level of creativity. With intelligent checking of rules in real-time, the quality of designs we see by even engineers with limited PCB skills is remarkable.
EB: So exactly how is EDA software improving in terms of performance, features and user experience?
Williams: Ironically, printed circuit performance hasn’t improved that dramatically in recent years, but what has changed is the EDA vendors’ ability to utilise what is available to them. Let me explain. You’ll find that the graphics the user sees on the screen has significantly improved. The Pulsonix team has written its own high-speed graphics to improve on what was supplied by the Windows operating system. Features have improved with many vendors, including us, rewriting existing functionality to speed it up and use operating features such as multi-threading processors. Overall, this means a much richer experience, especially for professionals who use the tools in their everyday life.
EB: What new underlying technologies are being incorporated to make these improvements happen?
Williams: Like I said, the improvements in graphics and the extensive use of multi-threading technologies have improved the user experience significantly. The use of cloud technologies for product activation, data sharing and storage has made an impact too. This has made the sharing of data and mobile product security much more accessible for users.
EB: Do shed some light on the latest Pulsonix 10.0 software version release—the applications, operations, features and ease of use.
Williams: We started our Pulsonix 10.0 journey back when we released version 9.0 and closely followed it with version 9.1 in 2017. With the introduction of a new technology engine and constraint manager, plus a significant number of new rule sets, Pulsonix 10 was well placed to grow. We structured a development plan over two years and over successive releases. We have now released a new 3D engine which allows our users to co-design in both the PCB and 3D environments. This close relationship cuts down on data exchange between the PCB and the mechanical environments. With the addition of enclosures, clash detection and the ability to move components and enclosures visually within this editor, there is less need to constantly transfer the PCB into the mechanical system for checking. For larger companies, where these are often different departments or even different sites, the time-saving is dramatic.
Naming rules have also been added to version 10. This adds intelligent rule definition for pre-defining the naming convention of styles within Pulsonix, which helps to ensure compliance to IPC naming standards. Multi-threading has been expanded, enabling multiple processes to occur at the same time. As an example, for the STEP model, we have seen a 90 per cent efficiency gain for certain designs. Dynamic Copper Pour enhances the ability to drag a trace or pad via/through a physical piece of copper and for it to automatically heal around the item, according to the rules defined.
EB: Do explain what input and output formats Pulsonix supports. Are there any plugin capabilities it offers?
Williams: As a modern product, Pulsonix supports all the standard output formats for manufacturing—Gerber, NC drill, Windows, Active PDF, OBD++ —plus additional formats like IPC-2581, IPC-356 for testpoint generation; STEP, DXF and IDF for mechanical interfacing, and JTAG for boundary scan technology. Pulsonix also has a report maker for customised reports, BOMs, net lists and outputs for manufacturing, such as pick-and-place and assembly outputs.
As for plugins, along with our comprehensive export formats, we also interface to many external resources, like the Specctra auto-router for users who already own it. We’ve worked with many other external resources to provide our customers the tool interfaces they require to enable them to work productively—FPGA interfaces with Xilinx and Altera, and Spice simulation interfaces with LTSpice and SiMetrix, just to mention a few.
We also have one of the largest and most trusted import filters on the market today, importing designs and libraries from tools such as Altium, Cadstar, Cadence and Mentor, to name just a few from our extensive range.
EB: What underlying engines or libraries do you use for your components library, schematic creation platforms and simulation tools?
Williams: As all EDA vendors will tell you, there is no single standard for component libraries. However, there are a series of component developers who can produce library content in Pulsonix format. This, of course, is in addition to the content we supply as standard, which you can use and modify as required. We work very closely with component content vendors such as SamacSys PCB libraries.
We have our own component search engine website resource, which has been released with Pulsonix 10.0. With this, users can access over 15 million parts that are ready to download directly to a Pulsonix design (as well as dropping into the Pulsonix Library at the same time). Where content doesn’t exist, users can request a build, and the component is then delivered within 48 hours, for free!
Pulsonix has many formats accessible to users for content creation as well as its own tools for editing and managing library content. Interestingly enough, the same library and schematic design can be used to generate the PCB design and be simulated in the schematic. This really is a big time-saver for users.
EB: What is the subscription/purchase model for your product? Is there a fixed price or is it customisable, as per users’ requirements?
Williams: We’ve kept the pricing model very simple, though many of the other EDA vendors have complex pricing models. In addition, all our licences are perpetual. Our PCB systems are delivered with a schematic editor and the Pulsonix Vault. However, schematic capture can also be a standalone unit as a cost effective option. We offer other plugins such as a corporate database connection, Spice simulator, and an interactive high-speed design option so that users can add these at any time when required. The licences issued are tied to the MAC address of the PC, the USB dongle, or as a server based floating licence.
The price of Pulsonix is very competitive and is available to customers at a very low cost, considering the performance and features they get. The annual maintenance cost is one of the lowest in the industry. We have been offering special prices in India to excite the market and generate interest, which we are getting a lot of. We also have great offers for educational establishments, from universities through to technical colleges and schools. Pulsonix suits people learning or doing research as it is easy to learn and pick up.
EB: In India, where do you operate out of? Are there any engineering/technical operations being carried out here?
William: Yes, local support is a must for us. We have both sales and technical operations based in the north and south of India in key areas, such as in the technology hub of India—Bengaluru. Although electronics is technically in English, with so many local languages and dialects being spoken in India, local technical support is essential. Our users are far more comfortable knowing they can communicate with the technical people here, using any number of local languages.
Apart from the technical resources for the Pulsonix product itself, the local support centres also have engineering, design and manufacturing resources to offer our users, (and even users of other EDA vendor tools). This expertise is key to an overall successful partnership with users and adds a great deal of value to our proposition.
EB: How important is India as a market for your business? Any estimates on the sales generated here?
Williams: India is a significantly expanding market in terms of its economy, technology and qualified engineering people. We have seen the most recent technology trends here and the inflow of investments following the national elections. So we see ourselves as a strong contender in the market. For us, Pulsonix 10.0 is the right product at the right time in India.
I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess about the exact increase of sales in India. Our sales have grown so rapidly, I couldn’t possibly say where they are headed! I can only add that we have seen exponential growth and heightened awareness about Pulsonix.
EB: Any expansion or new investment plans within India as of now?
Williams: Yes, we have ploughed a lot of time and money into India and have seen the rewards for our investments. EFY has been very supportive of us through both the magazine and trade shows, and we’re grateful for this. We are working with many establishments, both commercial and educational, so that our brand becomes well known across the Indian market. Awareness about our product is good, and many people now know of us. Even though we have invested heavily in India, we still intend to increase our investments in the foreseeable future.
EB: Who are your major distribution partners—globally as well as in India?
Williams: We have a vast distribution network worldwide and sell in 105 countries currently. Actually, apart from Antarctica or the Nicobar Islands, there are very few countries where our EDA tools aren’t in use!
EB: Tell us about your technology partner ecosystem and the role it plays.
Williams: We have a readily available set of functions to export Pulsonix data as well as developer-level code based tools. We work closely with our customers to provide them with access to Pulsonix at a low level so that they can closely integrate it with their own chosen tools. This level of accessibility and openness has enabled us to operate effectively. As a dynamic company, we are able to develop interfaces and tools quickly, based on user demand. We can roll out new partnerships and alliances very quickly without the need for a full product release.
EB: What are WestDev’s plans for the immediate future and for the long term?
Williams: We are rolling out Pulsonix 10.0 in the Indian market right now, which will keep us very busy this year. We also have version 10.5 being announced at Electronica in Munich, Germany in November this year. We will release this in Q1 next year, and launch it in India at EFY’s India Electronics Week in February 2019. As a company, we are expanding all the time, with new programmers getting added to the team last year and more joining this year. As we constantly look at the electronics market and work with our customers, we see some interesting developments on the horizon—which we have already started coding for!