Advertisement

Blog

Designers Need to Be in the Lab

What happens when new silicon comes out of fabrication? Do the designers go to the lab and start evaluating the new silicon, or do they wait until the product engineer or lab tech takes the data and presents the results? My hope is that the first situation is most common. However, I do realize that many engineers are busy and sometimes rely on the second option to get the data off the silicon. I think this is a mistake.

Valuable insight is gained by going into the lab when the first silicon comes out to evaluate the results. If problems occur, the designer of the blocks is the best person to assess and draw conclusions on what might be happening with the circuits that were designed. In addition, by looking at the first silicon results in the lab, the designer can establish the correct procedure for ensuring the part is tested correctly. The problem with turning the first evaluation over to a tech or other engineers not familiar with the designs is that the results may not reflect the intended results, because of setup issues.

Furthermore, having the designer of the various blocks in the lab capturing that first silicon data helps solidify in the designer's mind that the circuits work as planned. If the circuits do not work, the designer can start the debugging process early on and gain valuable insight into what may be the problem. The development of skills offered by hands-on evaluation of the various circuits and interactions with the package and board is gained only by taking the time in the lab evaluating what you developed.

The idea of having designers in the lab was commonplace years ago where the development of the circuits was at the board level with individual passive and active devices laced out on a circuit board. (It still is commonplace today for high-frequency RF circuits.) For these type of designs, a designer could easily see what was being designed and could directly test the various nodes of the circuits being designed, provided the circuits could tolerate probing. However, improvements in technology have moved many of the functions once designed on the final board into the integration environment. This means that testing or at least having access to test every node is becoming more difficult.

As a result, I believe, designers are losing the feel for the interactions that occur on the boards used in the final product. I believe the designer is losing the ability to understand how the board interactions affect the circuits being designed. In addition, the designer who does not go to the lab to learn these valuable lessons loses the ability to design circuits that are robust enough to interact with the board and may create inferior products.

I am not saying that the designer who goes into the lab becomes a superior designer to one who never goes into the lab. However, I am saying that the experience gained from lab evaluations and understanding how circuits interact with the board is invaluable. The knowledge gained from board and outside environment interactions will help the designer understand how to make circuits work. In addition, the experience gained by looking at circuits to understand why they do or do not work on the evaluation and/or production board is important in becoming a much better designer. As I have stated, I believe the lab experience cannot be replaced and is extremely valuable to the engineer's growth in a field of expertise. Futhermore, let me say from experience that the lab can teach you things about circuit design you cannot gain anywhere else.

Do you agree with these statements? Do the engineers you work with go into the lab to evaluate first-pass silicon results?

47 comments on “Designers Need to Be in the Lab

  1. Myled
    July 25, 2014

    “Do the designers go to the lab and start evaluating the new silicon, or do they wait until the product engineer or lab tech takes the data and presents the results? My hope is that the first situation is most common.”

    Brandt, you are right. Actually the best way is to get or wait for the third party evaluation results, so that its credibility is more. It have more  value than individual evaluation.

  2. Myled
    July 25, 2014

    “I am not saying that the designer who goes into the lab becomes a superior designer to one who never goes into the lab. However, I am saying that the experience gained from lab evaluations and understanding how circuits interact with the board is invaluable.”

    Brandt, No doubt about that. But how many designers and engineers are doing it? I know only the new joiners and freshers are interested for such hands on efforts. Other are just getting the work done through juniors.

  3. amrutah
    July 27, 2014

    Brandt,  I agree and unfortunately, I belong to the second group of engineers.

      With the next project being scheduled, next set of training assignments leave me no other option other than depending on the test group.  Though I spend time in lab, but not a justified amount of time.

      On the other hand, I completely agree that every designer has to spend quality time in lab and understand the passives on board, get a feel for the board parasitics, see how the critical parameters match the simulations that was done.

  4. amrutah
    July 27, 2014

    “Valuable insight is gained by going into the lab when the first silicon comes out to evaluate the results”

      I understand and agree here.  We had designed a set of IO, the specification had considered the capactive load, VOH, VOL and so on, but the customer had never mentioned about any transmission line parameters.  When the silicon arrived, we started seeing the effects of TX line in lab.  Isolating the problem, esitmation of the TX line parameters was the next thing considered for the next silicon spin.

  5. fasmicro
    July 27, 2014

    >> Do you agree with these statements? Do the engineers you work with go into the lab to evaluate first-pass silicon results?

    Absolutely. I do not leave my career in the hands of the testing team. I do go there and see the data directly with scopes and probing stations. If you do not do that, you may lose the understanding necessary to revise the next run. 

  6. fasmicro
    July 27, 2014

    >>  Actually the best way is to get or wait for the third party evaluation results, so that its credibility is more

    Yes, that is important for a very big project. But that does not mean the designer cannot take time to probe a unit that may be a suspect in a big project. I have seen where the testing team blew a good design due to lack of understanding what was happening in the system. It comes down to getting the testing team involved early in the product development phase.

  7. geek
    July 28, 2014

    “I believe the lab experience cannot be replaced and is extremely valuable to the engineer's growth in a field of expertise.”

    @Brandt: I agree with you. I think the lab experience can actually help the designer better conceptualize how the product will eventually turn out to be. Just staying in a design environment and designing can only give a very myopic view to the designer. A more holistic experience can enhance the vision of the person and that comes from working with people in the lab from different areas.

  8. geek
    July 28, 2014

     

    “With the next project being scheduled, next set of training assignments leave me no other option other than depending on the test group.  Though I spend time in lab, but not a justified amount of time.”

     

    @amrutah: I think that's a pretty common situation particularly in companies where there are a lot of projects and not enough time to allow the design resources to be also work with the production teams. I think that leads to an overall reduction in quality in the long-run and the bridge between the design, test and production widens if there's little or no collaboration.

  9. Myled
    July 29, 2014

    “Absolutely. I do not leave my career in the hands of the testing team. I do go there and see the data directly with scopes and probing stations. If you do not do that, you may lose the understanding necessary to revise the next run. “

    Fasmicro, I think such cases are very rare and in exceptional cases. Majority are getting done such testing works through their juniors or subordinates.

  10. Myled
    July 29, 2014

    “Yes, that is important for a very big project. But that does not mean the designer cannot take time to probe a unit that may be a suspect in a big project. I have seen where the testing team blew a good design due to lack of understanding what was happening in the system. It comes down to getting the testing team involved early in the product development phase.”

    Fasmicro, in real scenario either TL or PM won't have enough time to do all these things, especially with small companies. Their peoples always have multiple roles and closely tight with schedules. In such cases end results and deliverables are more important

  11. amrutah
    July 30, 2014

    @tzubair:  I agree with you that there needs to be an efforted collaboration between all wings (otherwise the flight will be jittery) of a product, but I partially disagree when you say “reduction in quality”.  As far as the quality, it is defined by the specification parameters and as long as we are within the boundary the product is still good.

      More than the quality, its important for the overall growth of the designer, for he needs to understand the application/system, the test procedures.

  12. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014
    @Brandt, thanks for the post. I am curious to know if there is any checklist that can be followed when designers are interacting with the test team ?
  13. Sachin
    July 31, 2014

    Every design engineer would love to be present at every stage of the design process right from the inspection of the material but because of time constraints it is simply not possible in most cases. For large projects, the best alternative that should still achieve the same goal would be to llok for more design engineers, who should know as much as the lead engineer or be as qualified, and then specifically delegate to them the specific task of inspecting new materials. With this level of specialization, it will be like the same designer going through all elements of the process in person and should be very effective- if the team is chosen right.

  14. geek
    July 31, 2014

    ”  More than the quality, its important for the overall growth of the designer, for he needs to understand the application/system, the test procedures.”

    @amrutah: I agree. When all areas like production and testing are available in that environment, it makes the understanding of the process much clearer. The designer can broaden his horizon in that case.

  15. SunitaT
    July 31, 2014

     I think such cases are very rare and in exceptional cases. Majority are getting done such testing works through their juniors or subordinates.

    @Myanalog, but that is not always the case because many comapnies do outsource the testing job to other compnaies in order to reduce the cost of the quipments.

  16. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    @SunitaT0: Not always. Most of this evaluation is done before supply chaining, and wihtout repeated checks, faulty silicon may get incorporated into devices which will result in bad remarks from customers. Recently hard drive manufacturers seagage had to pull out a batch of their 1TB 7200 hard drives because of the faulty silicon. 

  17. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    @Tzubair : Trial and error is not the common model followed by developers when they are working on modulated outputs but massive outputs. If they are dealing with massive outputs the testing is done only after a batch of work, and errors are avoided as much as possible.

  18. yalanand
    July 31, 2014

    @SachinEE : And for this reason GE has developed the industrial internet, where every developer has access to real time data right in their smartphones as long as they have access to the cloud of the company. When a developer creates something which goes onto mass production, workers in every state leading to the assembly lining test the product and uplaod the evaluations to a cloud, which can be accessed by deveopers who can instruct if the workers should stop the production or let the product go into the supply chain.

  19. goafrit2
    August 5, 2014

    >> I agree with you. I think the lab experience can actually help the designer better conceptualize how the product will eventually turn out to be. 

    That is one of the reasons why the MOOCs, the online courses, are becoming fads. It is still a waste of time to think someone can master chemical engineering or civil engineering by simply watching videos. The same applies to electronics. You need to do some real works.

  20. goafrit2
    August 5, 2014

    I think the main problem is not lack of time by the designer. In most companies, designers are highly elevated. That makes them think they are superior to any group. They rarely invite the test team early in the product development phase in time and wait until things have gone deep into development to let them know about the products.

  21. goafrit2
    August 5, 2014

    >>  I agree. When all areas like production and testing are available in that environment, it makes the understanding of the process much clearer. The designer can broaden his horizon in that case.

    There are many assumptions here. Under most cases, designers have tight budgets on time and hardly have time to do their jobs. Anyone that expects them to be available for all product meeting will be wasting his or her time.

  22. goafrit2
    August 5, 2014

    >> but that is not always the case because many comapnies do outsource the testing job to other compnaies in order to reduce the cost of the quipments

    May not be the cost of equipment. Most times, it is the cost of the testers. If you look at it, it takes 6 months to design and one month to test. You always have testers to be redundant. So, the best is to outsource testing.

  23. goafrit2
    August 5, 2014

    >> Recently hard drive manufacturers seagage had to pull out a batch of their 1TB 7200 hard drives because of the faulty silicon. 

    That may not be testing problem. That is a qual issue. In some industries like automotive and health, you have to TEST all parts one by one before you ship. In the consumer market, anything goes. They might have used a sampple in a lot and missed trends here.

  24. goafrit2
    August 5, 2014

    That is indeed an innovation, to have the testing data sync'd in the cloud where designers can have access to them in real time. I hate it when I have to wait for weeks to get data for a bad chip when availability of the prelim tests would have shown me that the design was bad.

  25. Myled
    August 7, 2014

    “but that is not always the case because many comapnies do outsource the testing job to other compnaies in order to reduce the cost of the quipments.”

    SunitaTo, that's also true. I know many testing companies and their clients.

  26. Davidled
    August 9, 2014

    When kickoff meeting starts, all team members should be participated so that they understand agenda and the roadmap of project. During the meeting, the future testing plan might be reviewed with other engineers. Then, they might get other idea for evaluation of system.

  27. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    That is the overall goal of outsourcing. Sometimes, you outsource to reduce the fixed cost and avoid the trap of building competence in non-critical areas.

  28. fasmicro
    August 9, 2014

    Within the limits of time available for projects, it makes sense to engage all the people that will work on projects at the early phase of product development and evolution. However, that is never the case. While design is thinking over strategy, they cannot talk to testing team when they are not even sure the roadmap to pursue.

  29. Myled
    August 13, 2014

    “That is the overall goal of outsourcing. Sometimes, you outsource to reduce the fixed cost and avoid the trap of building competence in non-critical areas.”

    Fasmicro, companies may have different intentions while outsourcing. For some companies it may be due to lack of expertise or infrastructure, at the same time for others it may be a cost effective solution or time.

  30. Myled
    August 13, 2014

    “I think the main problem is not lack of time by the designer. In most companies, designers are highly elevated. That makes them think they are superior to any group. They rarely invite the test team early in the product development phase in time and wait until things have gone deep into development to let them know about the products.”

    Goafrit2, as a designer, I never felt like that. But I normally felt that my responsibility is more than others because any flaw in design can cause everything spoil at later stage.

  31. fasmicro
    September 6, 2014

    >>  For some companies it may be due to lack of expertise or infrastructure, at the same time for others it may be a cost effective solution or time.

    That is true but when you look at it, lack of expertise or infrastructure is a cost element since you can build that with money. Directly or indirectly, outsourcing is about cost reduction. Do not spend money in areas that the long-term value cannot be maximized.

  32. fasmicro
    September 6, 2014

    >> as a designer, I never felt like that. But I normally felt that my responsibility is more than others because any flaw in design can cause everything spoil at later stage.

    It is not about the designer, unfortunately. It has to do with the comany policy. We understand that a flawed design cannot be salvaged in test. So, the focus is how to make sure the design is good to start with. The respect accorded to designers is due to the strategic position they occupy in product development. No matter how much money you budget for marketing, a bad design is a bad product which may never succeed.

  33. Myled
    September 10, 2014

    “That is true but when you look at it, lack of expertise or infrastructure is a cost element since you can build that with money. Directly or indirectly, outsourcing is about cost reduction. Do not spend money in areas that the long-term value cannot be maximized.”

    Fasmicro, now a day's issues with outsourcing is keeping privacy and business secrecy. Sharing business works can make others to look into such corners.

  34. Myled
    September 10, 2014

    “It is not about the designer, unfortunately. It has to do with the company policy. We understand that a flawed design cannot be salvaged in test.”

    Fasmicro, how it related to company policy?

  35. Myled
    September 10, 2014

    “So, the focus is how to make sure the design is good to start with. The respect accorded to designers is due to the strategic position they occupy in product development. No matter how much money you budget for marketing, a bad design is a bad product which may never succeed.”

    Fasmicro, yes if design is right and accurate, then others (developers and engineers) have to just follow it.

  36. fasmicro
    September 10, 2014

    >> Fasmicro, now a day's issues with outsourcing is keeping privacy and business secrecy. Sharing business works can make others to look into such corners.

    There is no complexity in that. For the fact companies still have core competence and areas of specialty, outsourcing will always take place.  Privacy, trade secret etc will always be concerns but it will not stop companies for shopping for ideas and better production values.

  37. fasmicro
    September 10, 2014

    Companies respect their designers more than their testers. It may not be in any company policy book, but everyone knows that is the fact in our industry.

  38. fasmicro
    September 10, 2014

    Fasmicro, yes if design is right and accurate, then others (developers and engineers) have to just follow it.

    You have explained and answerred the question you asked before. In many companies I have worked, when a design is right, a project takes a very good roadmap to production and market. In a case where a design is flawed, there is nothing you can do to change that fact – the project will fail.

  39. Myled
    September 12, 2014

    “There is no complexity in that. For the fact companies still have core competence and areas of specialty, outsourcing will always take place.  Privacy, trade secret etc will always be concerns but it will not stop companies for shopping for ideas and better production values.”

    Fasmicro, that's true. It's all based on trust on each other. Recently Volkswagen made a complaint that some of their Chinese outsourced companies have leaked their new design and technology for the local companies.

  40. Myled
    September 12, 2014

    “Companies respect their designers more than their testers. It may not be in any company policy book, but everyone knows that is the fact in our industry.”

    Fasmicro, that's true and no doubt about that. Design is the initial step of any project and all other departments are building the project over designs.

  41. Myled
    September 12, 2014

    “You have explained and answerred the question you asked before. In many companies I have worked, when a design is right, a project takes a very good roadmap to production and market. In a case where a design is flawed, there is nothing you can do to change that fact – the project will fail.”

    Fasmicro, am a good designer and tester; so I have the answer for both. I have to completely agree with you.

  42. fasmicro
    October 1, 2014

    For some companies it may be due to lack of expertise or infrastructure, at the same time for others it may be a cost effective solution or time.

    Absolutely, there are many reasons for anything. I understand the need to get something done without investing in building internal capacity. But if you look at it critically, the overriding goal for outsourcing is cost-savings!

  43. fasmicro
    October 1, 2014

    Recently Volkswagen made a complaint that some of their Chinese outsourced companies have leaked their new design and technology for the local companies.

    What China is going through is typical of most emerging and developing nations where rule of law is still developing and have not fully evolved or matured. China is this regard cannot be expected to be like Uk or USA. These things take time. Of course, for China to keep MNCs operating in its country, it needs to improve.

  44. fasmicro
    October 1, 2014

    Fasmicro, that's true and no doubt about that. Design is the initial step of any project and all other departments are building the project over designs.

    That explains the challenge when companies put marketing before design. In companies like Apple where design is king, you see product evolution advance. But when marketing is the king as in some companies, you see cost minimization strategy driving product development because the MBAs are dictating everything.

  45. Myled
    October 10, 2014

    “Absolutely, there are many reasons for anything. I understand the need to get something done without investing in building internal capacity. But if you look at it critically, the overriding goal for outsourcing is cost-savings!”

    Fasmicro, there are many methods to reduce the cost. Now a days you can start IT companies without any infrastructure through cloud. there won't be any requirement of office too.

  46. Myled
    October 10, 2014

    “What China is going through is typical of most emerging and developing nations where rule of law is still developing and have not fully evolved or matured. China is this regard cannot be expected to be like Uk or USA. These things take time. Of course, for China to keep MNCs operating in its country, it needs to improve.”

    Fasmicro, in most of the cases Chinese engineers are doing reverse engineering. They are learning from marketed products and just duplicating it with their own components.

  47. Myled
    October 13, 2014

    “That explains the challenge when companies put marketing before design. In companies like Apple where design is king, you see product evolution advance. But when marketing is the king as in some companies, you see cost minimization strategy driving product development because the MBAs are dictating everything.”

    Fasmicro, both are required. Good designed products at a fare price; majorities are looking for that.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.