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DesignCon 2023 - A New Year Brings a Better Convention

Here we go again with another season of PCB design collaboration. This year’s well attended edition moved from the San Jose Convention Center to the one in Santa Clara. Good move. Both are ok, which is a few grades below San Diego’s location. I’m happy that it was just a couple miles down the tracks. DesignCon ‘23 met expectations and then some.

It didn’t take long to find the engineer who came up with the antenna for the original Chromecast device. We caught up while browsing around on a first pass. There were a lot of people there. The first impression was overstimulation not unlike walking into a Las Vegas casino. That much energy in one place is rare these days while working in a spare bedroom for the most part.

Figure 1. Image Credit: Author - Let’s go inside the 2023 version of DesignCon.

The “Con” stands for convention but it could also be for connectors in this case. I think the list of connector vendors who were not there would be shorter than the list of ones who were there. This is how it has been in previous years. What is different this year is that a lot of the PCB fabrication vendors have been squeezed out by other segments of the industry. There were a couple of big players and a few in the flex circuit niche.

I saw some board-to-board and board-to-wire connectors as expected. The breakout hit this year is the photonics spreading out signals from the ASICs. The data rates and other statistics are amazing. This is fancy stuff that has long been the backbone of the internet. Long live coaxial copper but I have to say that the growth industry on the scene was fiber optics. It is jumping from the last mile to perhaps the last meter. You think we’re connected now? Stick around.

Other large booths were occupied by test equipment companies. Their demos tend to focus on the data center market. Why not? Everything is taken to its extreme in those industrial computer warehouses. What was most recognizable were the row of little enclosures for transponders. That has always been an interest since my younger days assembling telecom equipment.

Figure 2. Image Credit: Author - One of many pieces of gear on display. I learned about the substrate business while doing my part to fill those empty sockets across the front.

Renting the test equipment gear to companies who prefer not to make that up-front investment is a cottage industry unto itself. A number of players in that space were on hand. Software companies want to speed up your processes, no matter what. Every facet of bringing your electronics to market can be digitally analyzed if not simulated. The hardware rentals and the software services took a share of the convention space’s smaller booths.

One booth, I forget which, had a hardcover copy of (Eric) Bogatin’s Practical Guide to Transmission Line Design and Characterization for Signal Integrity Applications. They were willing to trade a copy of the book for a slice of personal information. I’m not clear if it was going to be a real book or an electronic version.

Bogatin’s guides are great. He will dive into the underlying formulas of the subject matter so you can calculate the answers to your what-if scenarios.That’s too deep for me but a lot of you folks excel in math. I’ll leave it to Polar or Saturn to provide a handy tool for solving most of the classical calculations. (I wanted the book in any flavor but an earlier vendor needed my credentials to scan. I couldn’t find it again until I got home and emptied my goody bag.)

It was getting late so I had to visit with my base at EMA Design Automation. Sitting on their stool and spinning stories in real time led on to the happy hour. I eventually got up and met another journalist who was pretty ‘happy’ to see me. He wanted to interview me. OK. We shot the breeze while the venue closed down. He mentioned that we were “media” pointing to his badge and they were more than gracious, treating us like rock stars and letting us finish our interview.

Figure 3. Image Credit: Author - One of several talks given over the course of the expo.

So, in the aftermath, most of the people who scanned my badge will circle back and offer more information that I was after when walking through the doors. I can’t touch on the official lectures but the expo had the “ChipHead'' theater and numerous vendors giving live demos of their wares. Other connections were strengthened and the whole cycle of stoke will wash over my email account over the coming weeks. See some old collaborators, meet some new ones, call it good.

About the Author

John Burkhert Jr is a career PCB Designer experienced in Military, Telecom, Consumer Hardware and lately, the Automotive industry. Originally, an RF specialist -- compelled to flip the bit now and then to fill the need for high-speed digital design. John enjoys playing bass and racing bikes when he's not writing about or performing PCB layout. You can find John on LinkedIn.

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