DesignCon is the premier high-speed communications and system design conference and exposition, offering industry-critical engineering education in the heart of electronics innovation in Silicon Valley – Santa Clara, CA. The event was very well attended with a very busy day on Wednesday in the exhibition and technical sessions. Check out our DesignCon Photo Gallery.

I most enjoyed the Wednesday keynote, “Enabling Autonomous Robotics Through Electrical Engineering” given by Devin Billings, Associate Director of Electrical Research and Development at Boston Dynamics. He went through the various design challenges and tradeoffs they make in developing various robot platforms. The dog-like robot, Spot, even visited the stage and showed off its moves and ability to avoid objects. The robot is being used for inspection and observation type applications in environments where it is difficult for humans to access or visit safely.

The Engineer of the Year was Steve Sandler, Managing Director at Picotest and Signal Integrity Journal Editorial Advisory Board member. There were a lot of great nominations this year, so Steve was honored to win.

The conference was three days with 14 tracks. DesignCon addresses chip, board, and system challenges facing design engineers and sessions are provided for all levels of learning. The DesignCon conference areas included:

  • Signal and power integrity
  • Chip I/O and power modeling
  • Photonics and wireless in electrical design
  • Materials and processing for PCBs, modules, and packages
  • Advanced I/O interface design
  • High-speed link design
  • Signal processing, equalization, and coding/FEC
  • Power integrity in power distribution networks
  • Electromagnetic compatibility and interference
  • Test and measurement methodology
  • Interconnects modeling and analysis
  • Machine learning and AI
  • 5G and communications

About 140 companies were exhibiting in the Expo and made the rounds to gather the following summary from the companies we visited:

Altair was featuring PSIM has been a leading power electronics and motor drive simulation and design software for over 25 years. With an intuitive, user-friendly interface and a robust simulation engine, PSIM is the all-in-one solution that meets users’ simulation and design needs. PSIM can handle quick power converter loss calculations, motor drive efficiency calculations, conducted EMI analysis, and analog/digital control. PSIM also offers automatic embedded code generation for rapid control prototyping. Additionally, with PSIM’s various Design Suites, users can design power supplies, electromagnetic interference (EMI) filters, and motor drive systems quickly and conveniently. PSIM also integrates seamlessly with other Altair products (Activate, Embed, Flux/FluxMotor, MotionSolve) and with third-party software, and offers an integrated solution for multi-domain, multi-physics systems.

Amphenol was showing their OverPass cable system that offers a board range of capabilities that allow customers to efficiently transmit high speed signals from near an ASIC to anywhere in their system. There are external I/O, cabled backplane, orthogonal and internal routing options.

Anritsu Company showcased solutions, technologies, and methodologies to verify high-speed communications designs accurately and efficiently in some of the other company’s booths. The company had product demonstrations on advanced testing approaches that address complex designs. Two test solutions to be shown in meeting room MR1462 are: PCIe® 6.0 Rx Compliance Test – Anritsu demonstrated a single-instrument PCIe solution featuring its Signal Quality Analyzer-R MP1900A and Signal Integrity Test – To characterize high-speed interconnects, PCBs, backplanes, fixtures, packages, and probes up to 70 GHz, Anritsu showed its VectorStar™ 4-port broadband VNA. VectorStar can conduct accurate and repeatable single-ended, balanced differential, and mixed-mode S-Parameter measurements.

Avishtech announced the launch of two new low-cost toolsets, Gauss SI and SI PRO, that provide a clear and easy-to-use pathway to rapidly construct PCB stackups and simulate for impedance and loss with a few quick clicks. Both tools are lower-priced with Gauss SI Pro being slightly higher priced given its deeper S-Parameters, Frequency-Dependent Properties and Uncertainty Analysis capabilities. Avishtech featured leading PCB industry expert, Lee Ritchey in its booth noting, “Starting with traditional stack-up design, the primary concern was getting the impedance right and having enough layers to hold the signals. So, most engineers put the burden of getting the impedance calculation right on the fab shop. Hidden from view was that the fab shop engineer dealt with all of the manufacturing issues. With modern board design there are several other issues that must be accounted for including path loss, skew and very complex power delivery engineering. None of these are fab engineers capable of dealing with. As a result, the SI engineer has to take charge of the stackup design. Now, the SI engineer has to be the one responsible for manufacturability issues such as resin starvation, via reliability, glass stop, etc. This is what Avishtech’s Gauss Stack addresses.”

Companies designing complex PCBs are faced with power integrity (PI) and signal integrity (SI) issues driven by increasing data transmission rates combined with decreases in power-supply voltages and denser, smaller geometries. Increased functionality and smaller product geometries are making PCBs more complex. To address these issues, you need advanced PI and power-aware SI tools that can be used throughout the design process.

Cadence was featuring SI and PI solutions in addition to others like thermal system design. Their PI solutions, based on Sigrity™ technology, provides signoff-level-accurate system-level power integrity analysis for AC and DC power of PCBs. Each tool seamlessly interfaces with our Allegro PCB design solutions. Cadence power-aware SI tools provide signoff-level accurate SI analysis for PCBs. Signoff-level SI accuracy requires modeling and analysis of not only the signals, but also the power/ground network that provides the current return path. Our power-aware SI tools interface seamlessly with our Allegro PCB physical design tools to create a complete power-aware design and SI analysis solution for the entire design team to understand SI design considerations. A new capability they were discussing was Optimality. The Cadence Optimality Intelligent System Explorer is multiphysics optimization software that enables analysis and optimization realization of electronic systems. With the increasing complexity of electronic system design and greater performance requirements, Optimality Explorer breaks through the limitations of the conventional human-intensive optimization process by replacing a traditional interactive flow of design, test, and refine loop with AI-driven technology that results in the optimal system design solution expeditiously and without compromising accuracy.

CarlisleIT’s Card Edge Connectors Contact System is designed for high-speed, high-density applications. Card Edge Connectors have a smooth mating surface area, which reduces the wear and tear of contacts and increases the durability and lifespan of the contact system. They also lower insertion and withdrawal forces while supporting data rates up to 32 Gbps with excellent signal integrity. These connectors are suitable for multiple applications (like cable-to-board and board-to-board) with various PCB thickness profiles. In addition to increased durability and extended lifecycle, Card Edge Connectors Contact Systems offer superior electrical performance (e.g., lower insertion loss, low return loss, and perfect impedance matching), compared to similar contact systems. They were featuring newly released 90-degree board connectors operating to 50 GHz at DesignCon.

Hyperlabs now has broadband baluns, bias tees and DC blocks to 110 GHz and power dividers and splitters to 67 GHz. The HL9409 Balun industry leading bandwidth from 500 kHz to 110 GHz with excellent amplitude and phase match. The HL9449 Bias Tee operates from 160 kHz to 110 GHz with excellent passband flatness. The also had a demo using their cable skew tester running which is a cost-effective system for testing phased matched cable sets. Hyperlabs has greatly expanded their portfolio and offers a large number of products in these areas including instrumentation.

Isola was featuring their TerraGreen® PCB laminate engineered for high performance applications such as power amplifier boards for LTE base stations, internet infrastructure and cloud computing. TerraGreen features a Dielectric Constant (Dk) that is stable between -55 and 125 °C, up to 20 GHz. TerraGreen is a lead-free assembly material and is easy to process. This high-performance material utilizes a short-lamination cycle; the product is easy to drill, does not require plasma desmear, and the prepreg shelf life is similar to FR-4 materials. TerraGreen is suitable for high-layer count, high-speed digital backplanes and is compatible with Isola’s FR-4 materials for hybrid designs.

Junkosha showcased its wide range of cabling solutions – including the MWX001, MWX161, MWX6 Series and MWX2 Series – all designed to meet the demands of a 5G/6G digital future. Junkosha is leveraging its pedigree in analogue microwave and mmWave transmission performance and adapting it to the digital world. Cabling solutions like Junkosha’s MWX001 cable assembly feature the lowest insertion loss among any cables for test measurement applications that demand signal stability while providing the physical cable flexibility required for test set-ups. Cable insertion loss is minimized due to its cable structure, which is optimized for measurement up to 110 GHz with 1 psec skew matching. MWX001 also exhibits excellent phase stability, leading to high quality signal transmission complete with predictable skew performance, a prerequisite for signal integrity applications.

Keysight Technologies announced the Electrical Performance Scan (EP-Scan), a new high-speed digital simulation tool that supports rapid signal integrity (SI) analysis for hardware engineers and printed circuit board (PCB) designers. After completing a PCB design, hardware engineers hand the design over to SI specialists to validate its performance before going to prototype. SI specialists perform simulations on a large number of nets, which can take days to weeks to complete. As a result, hardware engineers have difficulty predicting how much analysis time it will take to find errors or performance issues in the design. Uncertainty about the length of the SI analysis phase creates a bottleneck in the design cycle and delays time-to-market. An impressive demo was the “Pathway to 1.6 T” setup using an Intel chip to verify 212 Gbps transmit and receive signals.

Langer EMV was featuring their HR-R 8-1 Near-Field probe. It is a passive near-field probe for measuring magnetic fields up to 40 GHz. The measuring tip is decoupled from the cable shield by special damping systems. In addition, the probe contains a current attenuator for precise measurement on single conductor tracks to locate magnetic field sources.

Menlo Micro introduced a new 2x DP3T switch at DesignCon. The MM5620 switch provides the highest performance and data rates for high-speed differential data applications. It offers parallel testing on space-constrained final test and probe test for mobile phone, graphics, network processors, as well as microprocessor and high-speed memory products. Based on Menlo Micro’s industry-leading 32 Gbps MM5600 DPDT switch currently in production, the MM5620 2x DP3T switch offers next-generation, high-speed operation from DC to 20 GHz with high data rates and RF signal linearity, delivering up to 64 Gbps (64 GT/s) of high-quality data signal integrity. The MM5620 switch’s system-in-package (SiP) solution fully integrates the switch driver and charge pump, along with loopback capacitors, offering significant board footprint reduction for high-volume production test solutions.  They were demonstrating how it provides a complete, end-to-end TX to RX differential loopback solution, including integrated decoupling capacitors, while also providing multiple high-speed connections back to the user test equipment.

Rigol was featuring the DHO1000 Series that provides improved signal integrity and value with their latest oscilloscope technology. The UltraVision III platform combined with a new ASIC chip design that provides true 12 bit samples makes the DHO1000 a great solution for benchtop applications where noise and accuracy are paramount. With bandwidths from 70 MHz to 200 MHz, these 2 and 4 channel oscilloscopes have our best signal visualization capabilities. They also were featuring the DHO4000 Series that is a great solution for high speed, high signal fidelity applications. With bandwidths from 200 MHz to 800 MHz, these 4 channel oscilloscopes have our best signal visualization capabilities for design and debug. Combine 500 Million points of memory, the new Ultra Acquire burst capture mode, and advanced analysis functions for the best signal fidelity value.

Rogers Corporation highlighted some of its high-performance circuit materials. John Coonrod, Technical Marketing Manager, presented “Overview of PCB Fabrication Influences on RF Performance for Millimeter-Wave Radar” during the Drive World – Advanced Automotive track. The company featured Radix™ 3D Printable Dielectrics family of products that is the first available material featuring a dielectric constant of 2.8 and low loss characteristics at microwave frequencies. These printable dielectric materials give RF designers new design freedom in creating new components, eliminating the need to consider typical manufacturing design constraints. Also featured were Rogers Kappa® 438 laminates that are now available in 10 mil; SpeedWave® 300P Ultra-Low Loss Prepreg; and COOLSPAN Thermally & Electrically Conductive Adhesive (TECA) that is a thermosetting, epoxy based, silver filled adhesive film used in bonding high power circuit boards and has a storage life of up to 12 months from date of manufacture.

Rohde & Schwarz brought a new way to experience and demonstrate solutions for high-speed digital applications. Visitors were able to put their design knowledge to test with the Rohde & Schwarz Digital Debug Design challenge. The challenge included a series of lab tests that evaluate attendee’s measurement skills in signal integrity, power integrity, and EMI debug. It was a great way to engage people in the booth. In addition to the Digital Debug Design challenge, Rohde & Schwarz highlighted multiple demonstrations including a 112 Gbps PAM4 copper channel analysis using the R&S ZNA high-end VNA. Another setup featured the R&S ZNB vector network analyzer performing multilane compliance automation using R&S ZNrun VNA automation suite. And the R&S FSWP phase noise analyzer was carrying out jitter and phase noise measurements.

Samtec always has a major presence at DesignCon. Samtec has written about and demonstrated their Flyover QSFP cable assemblies to route data above more lossy PCB traces, extending signal reach. The modular design enables optimized systems that improve heat management, increase signal integrity performance, build in scalability for future updates and reduces costs by creating a multifunction board. It supports up to 400 Gbps aggregate (112 Gbps PAM4). They also showed off their extreme density cable-on-substrate connector with .025 pitch. It is the highest density 112G PAM4 cable system with BGA solder ball attach and 34 AWG ultra-low skew twinax. Another high performance product is their Novaray panel mount I/O assemblies. They feature 16 and 32 differential pair configurations and cable-to-cable bulkhead panel connection using Flyover cable technology. The external cable is 28, 30 or 34 AWG tinax and internal cable is 34 AWG twinax. Another display featured their phase and insertion loss stable high-frequency cable assemblies. The improved stability addresses common industry concerns of phase length and delay, loss and shielding effectiveness. They come in Low-Loss, Ultra-Low-Loss and Phase Stable types to balance needs with cost.

SIGLENT was featuring several new products including the SDS6000L series Low Profile Digital Storage Oscilloscopes provide up to 8 analog channels + 16 digital channels in a space-saving chassis size. This series is available in bandwidths of 2 GHz / 1 GHz / 500 MHz, feature a maximum sample rate of 5 GSa/s (10 GSa/s ESR) for each channel, and a maximum record length of 500 Mpts/ch. The SDS6000L series employs Siglent’s SPO technology with a maximum waveform capture rate of up to 170,000 wfm/ s (normal mode, up to 750,000 wfm/s in Sequence mode), 256-level intensity grading display function plus a color temperature display mode.

Sonnet Software was featuring v18 with TrueVolume, a major breakthrough for both Sonnet and for EM simulation. It allows the use of 3D, fully-volumetric subsections within the context of a 3D planar framework, so that volumetric behavior in all three dimensions can improve circuit modeling. It is particularly useful in areas with strong coupling between thick cross-sections. Many other features were released in v18.

Swift Bridge was featuring their FastEdge flexible and low loss test cables utilizing air-enhanced PTFE dielectrics and precision RF connectors. These high-performance RF test cables are optimized for their specified frequency range. This durable RF interconnect solution with standard connector interfaces comes with custom molded flex reliefs and an abrasion resistant polyurethane jacket. Time delay matched pairs to within 1 ps are available. They also noted their ExpressRF cables that are flexible, low signal loss with a broad frequency range, DC through 65 GHz. Cable sizes compatible with all connectors designed for RG402 and RG405 coax. These entry level cables are for cost sensitive applications that don’t require the highest level of performance. Time delay matched pairs to within 1 ps are available too.

SV Microwave was showing their SOSA aligned products for embedded computing systems. SOSA members include producers of the smallest sub components all the way to defense industry end users. SV Microwave constantly creates new prototypes and validation data to share with committees to ensure the most reliable, cutting edge and cost-effective solution are available. SV supports the entire RF signal path from sensor/antenna to an optimized board launch footprint with the technical expertise and application knowledge needed for an industry expert. This also includes VITA 65 and 67.3 SOSA Aligned Products.