Do you know your fabricator? Meet David Carmody, Division Manager and CID+ at San Diego PCB Design. As a service bureau, San Diego PCB works on a variety of PCB design projects. Learn why David says, “You gotta know who you’re fabbing with” and how he is using DFM Reports to help customers integrate design and assembly in this episode of The OnTrack Podcast.

Show Highlights:

  • Memorable designs in telecom space and the development board for Dragon II, a SpaceX project, for the capsule they hope to take to Mars
  • Package on packages, dropping the DDR - removing the burden on the designer
  • Palomar advisory program - student programs for learning PCB design
  • San Diego PCB acquired by Milwaukee Electronics, EMS and Engineering Services
  • DFM report - a “stoplight report” for customers before starting build - customers love it and it fixes issues proactively especially with packaging
  • A lot of engineers don’t know the manufacturing side and DFM reports can help with this
  • “You gotta know who you’re fabbing with” 
  • Will additive manufacturing processes be the answer? The business model remains to be seen.
  • 3D printing - you can’t print copper (yet)
  • Altium User Groups - have Altium in the title but we don’t run them! We’d love to support.
  • Altium User Group in San Diego is very active and supportive.
  • Advice from a Pro: Always keep learning, it will keep you fresh and make work more fun.
  • PCB design isn’t the only practice David has mastered - he’s a martial artist too

Links and Resources:

David Carmody on Linkedin

San Diego Altium Users Group Website

San Diego PCB

Milwaukee Electronics

Tecate, NM Manufacturing Facility


Hi everyone this is Judy Warner with Altium’s OnTrack podcast - welcome back. Once again I have another incredible guest to speak with us today, but before we get started please follow me and connect with me on LinkedIn. I try to share a lot of things relative to engineering and PCB design and on Twitter I'm @AltiumJudy and Altium is on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and if you'd please subscribe and give us some comments so we know what you'd like to hear more about that would be great.

So today again we have a great guest which is David Carmody of San Diego PCB David has a new title now: he is the division manager and he also has a CID. So David, welcome and thank you for joining me here at Altium today. So, we've known each other for a little while and I've had the benefit of being over at San Diego PCB and looking over your shoulder to some pretty wild complicated designs. So tell us a little bit about your day-to-day from the perspective of design bureaus and the kind of work that you see?

Okay, we do get a lot of different designs, a bunch of varied designs, so we see a lot of military application, we see a lot of new technology - wearable technologies and things like that as well; it is pretty much all over the map though. I mean we get a little bit of anything and everything just because of the the nature of the service entity. A lot of the more upscale - so to speak -designs are the real nanotechnology sort of stuff where we're cramming a ton of the little parts into a board that's less than a half square inch total in size, or we're packing everything into a big housing that has to get heat out somehow because, I mean, we're sending up high output micro processors into into space and there is no airflow so we need to get the heat out in other ways. So there's a lot of that sort of stuff that we do get to see and and play with and and learn from as well.

I think San Diego is kind of a neat place to work too because there is a lot of Defense here and there's also call comments and telecoms, and even in our local area, although I'm sure you see work from all over the country? We do we also have kind of some neat things right here in our own backyard.

Oh yeah.

So across that variety what would you say some of your more memorable designs would be?

I was gonna say we do have have some telecom stuff that's gone on and those are those are fun boards just because they've got big processors on them and lots of high-speed lines, things like that. Most memorable, for me personally, would probably be a SpaceX design. I was able to design the development board for the Dragon 2.

Oh my gosh!we’re not worthy! Do you mean the dragon heavy that they just launched - the second Falcon that ever went?

Yeah the the Dragon 2 which is the capsule that they hope to take to Mars one day.

Oh so that that one!

Yeah.  I did the development board for that so it's just basically a big processor board with a lot of RF communications on it and things like that and they're breaking out all the other boards from that, and that was a fun project. I got to be a part of that was really cool.

Yes, I sold some R4s to them and got to go through that facility a few times so I'm like a weirdo SpaceX geek and then we also sponsor the hyperloop pod teams for universities. So Ben that's helping us here with recording this; he and I got to go up and hang out at SpaceX and see them do that.

I saw some of those pictures.

So sorry for being so weird but I’m a kinda SpaceX geek.

Yes, it’s been fun. We do have a couple of space contracts we've worked directly with NASA and MIT and also with Space Micro so, we've definitely learned our way around the Class 3A specifications and we know that inside and out.

Not easy, really dense stuff. So you talked a little bit about the nanotechnology, is that where you sort of see the bleeding edge going? What are the the most challenging designs?

I was gonna say the packaging is actually changing quite a bit, we're seeing some things that the packaging is doing that's well, quite frankly, I'm not terribly happy with because it takes away some of our place - but things like package-on packages is coming around. That's really cool technology, I mean, you put down the DSP or the PGA - whatever it happens to be - and then you can drop the DDR right on top of it. There's nothing for us to do; it's purely an assembly process, if that.


So that stuff is definitely interesting and removing a burden, so to speak, on the designer but yeah, then the package size itself is just getting smaller and smaller. We're being pushed into HDI technology more and more often. 0.3 millimeter BGAs are pretty common, 0.4s are all over the place now. I mean even big ones. So the 0.3 three millimeter BGA's are getting common. I've been able to work on things as small as 0.15 millimeter though. So it was a flip chip sort of design where we're pushing the envelope on that thing so it was experimental, and things like that. I don't think they actually ever built it was costly, that whole get up then but that's that the trend we're seeing. Just everyone's pushing the package design more and more all the time.

Something I noticed I took a peek at, even though I've known you for a while - I took a peek at your LinkedIn profile. I don't know that I'd ever done that and I like to ask people a lot, how'd you get into this industry? Because most of us didn't start out this way, but we ended up here. So did you start out there? I notice you took courses at Palomar College which is local here, and I don't know if they still do, but they used to have PCB design courses?

That they do I'm actually on the Palomar Advisory Committee right now and we're helping to restructure some of that stuff and try to join up a little bit more, their student base through there. They've got a pretty good offering right now to make it better but yeah it's still active and it's it's one of the few places that you can really go for formal education. So it's good that they're there keeping it alive, and not just keeping it alive but updating it.

Right, and that's kind of where you started out was it not?

It was.

Or did you just join them recently as part of the Advisory Committee, or did you start learning design there?

I did technically start learning some design there but it was an accident really.

[Laughter] See, my point is, we didn't do this on purpose.

No absolutely not. Basically I had gone through their program and really gravitated - back then at least - 3d was just emerging. It was all in AutoCAD, there was no such thing as SolidWorks, it was just coming around. So I ended up jumping into AutoCAD 3d mechanical sort of stuff and and did my degree on that and then got on to nothing but waiting list after waiting list. So at that point I was talking to a guy that I was working with, he goes: call my brother in law, he does something in computers. And I talked to this guy, he was a PCB designer at Intel - I'm actually working with him now, we recently hired him, but yeah he's working out in our Arizona office but he gave me some excellent time; never actually met him face to face at the time but he gave me some phone time and told me what to look for, and what this industry had to offer and gave me a couple of places to go after. And I went after both - I ended up getting an offer from both of them, but I liked the smaller business so I took that side of things and spent 12 years back at an ‘unnamed company’ as the Design Manager.

Laughter, well not as awesome as Sandy Opie…

Well I don't know, it hasn't been a year yet, so San Diego PCB was acquired actually by Milwaukee Electronics right.

Yes it’s been about a year and four months now, time flies. So Milwaukee is a really capable EMS shop up in-  remind me?

It's Milwaukee.

Oh is it Milwaukee!

Yes, their primary branch is in Milwaukee - okay this confuses everyone - because we have multiple brands out there now. So our Milwaukee electronics brand has most of our engineering services and the EMS as well there. Up in Canby, Portland Oregon, now that's where we have Screaming Circuits - that is our quick term prototype house and there is also EMS there as well. Most people don't know that but the factory shares the floor for that and then we also have - actually it's also called Milwaukee Electronics - despite that, it's in Tecate Mexico but they've got a huge building down there and they're there literally clawing the mountain out from being behind this building.

Right I've seen photos of it, it's really quite lovely, at least the photos are, it looks really modern.

It's a very impressive facility. I was able to visit there and I had seen pictures of it when the shop floor was was only 50% filled; that place is full and like I said they're calling out the mountain now behind them, so that they can add on and I think gain about 30% more square footage. Growing like crazy.

How has that been, that acquisition, for your customers and for you, there's obviously synergy there between the two firms so how has that been for you?

The two companies, the acquisition itself was great, Milwaukee Electronics is a fantastic company to work for. I really enjoy all the people that are there. The synergy has taken some time to get things rolling, but I'm starting to see a little bit of a snowball effect and so we're starting to pick up some momentum to where Screaming Circuits is sending us customers back and we're sending them customers in and we're starting to get a collaborative database of the customers going right now, so that we can take a more active role on that and and really sell to both sides. There's been a little bit of crossover, but like I said, it took probably six months before I saw even the first crossover and right then another one happened, and then another one, but now we're up to where we're getting about at least one customer a week or something like that, that's doing some sort of crossover. so it's definitely building up speed. But it's still going to take a little bit more time.

So since our listeners and watchers here will are mostly engineers and PCB designers, what do you think the benefit is to collaborating design to EMS - what are the benefits you think that occur there?

When you're collaborating, one of the biggest things that's coming out right now, is basically  DFM report that we've been doing, it's something that I've been doing for years. Say a customer has their own design team, they want me to be a second set of eyes - something like that. I'll go through the design either on a cursory level if you just want me to look at DFM/DFA sort of issues. Do you want me to look at your circuits, do you want me to look at this whole thing - make sure that you placed it correctly? I coined that a ‘stoplight report’ a long time ago, and basically it's just - we give a nice little green note if it's informative only: this looks good it was done right, give a yellow note if, hey you might want to look into this, you might have some potential issues or, hey this part’s hanging off the board edge you're gonna knock it off, this needs a correction before it goes out - and those are obviously the red items - so customers seem to love that. I mean it's really easy, real clear-cut. They can kind of skim through it, hit the items that they want and that is really building up some speed right now with with a few customers because they've had an internal source for a long time. They've been using Screaming Circuits forever, but Screaming Circuits is going: okay you're going into bigger yields, you need to fix these sorts of items - let's fix them ahead of time and that's what we're being utilized to do.

That sounds absolutely incredible especially now, because in the marketplace so many engineers are laying out their own boards. They may or may not have time or access to spend a lot of time with their fabricators our assembler, so I think to have that sort of oversight would be very welcome. I don't know if that's what's driving it or just having a second set of eyes what do you think?

Probably a bit of both, I mean the engineers obviously get EMI and and EM theory, they do that really well, so they they always lay out the board well for that. But they aren't necessarily the best packagers, most PCB designers are puzzlers so, we do the packaging portion real well that's what we like to play with. But if you’re a good PCB designer you're going to know the EM side and you're also going to know the manufacturing side. A lot of the engineers don't know that, so they don't really look at that. I mean, I've been given boards that were completely routed and they said: rip out all the routing because this guy did it with 6mm vias with a 12mm pad on an 80mm  thick board and so, it's just wrong all the way around. And placement wasn't bad on that…

But the aspect ratio is the killer.

-and he used decent trace widths, but I mean, the most problematic piece of the board, and he killed it.

And like it's a good thing that companies like Altium and other EDA companies make such powerful, great software - but there's no place in the software that says: no, stop dummy,   you can run DRCs or whatever, but it won't necessarily flag it for for DFM if your aspect ratio is off or whatever, unless you've turned those settings on or off I can imagine right?

Yes but you can still improperly program DRCs too, you can say: hey I want 1mm holes on this board…

I've heard you and Mike Creeden say that a design tool is only as good as the designer.   

-yeah you absolutely need that and I mean, someday in the future would it be great to see the tools incorporate that sort of stuff? Yes, but at the same time you’ve got to know how your fab works too…

And you don't want to limit yourself either because you could potentially create self-limiting things that are really irritating...

-oh yeah.

So I think we're gonna just keep giving you powerful tools and you guys have to work it out.

Yeah I mean, we can just zoom up and zoom up and, hey that via looks plenty big enough to me, I could put my fist through it, but not in reality. The packaging thing that I was referring to earlier that is just starting to drive this industry just because of big 0.4 millimeter pitch BGA. I'm working with a fabricator that can't quite do the the latest and greatest and all of a sudden that pattern starts to become a challenge that’s almost impossible to break out.

Right yeah I don't know where this train’s going…

Yup I don't know - it will stop somewhere at some point…

I know, I know, except it seems like we just keep creating some breakthrough so I'm keeping my eye on things like additive manufacturing, whatever we could do it 1mm, controlled trace and pull it off but there's no clear front-runner.

Yeah, the additive processes are very interesting, haven't seen anyone really start pulling off a business model out of it. The 3d printing technologies is also very interesting but you can't print copper unfortunately, so they can't - yet at least - so there's some major hurdles there too that they have to go through.

It'll be interesting. Well I wanted to shift gears a little bit because you, along with your colleague Randy Clemens here in San Diego, run a really solid Altium user group here and for those listeners that don't know this, Altium User Groups, they have our name in the title but we don't run them - they're completely run by the users, for the users they're very democratic and we just lend support and it's something that we've been talking a lot about here, is that we would like to grow the user community and help people launch groups. So can you give us a little bit of background and give us the do's and don'ts maybe, if people that are thinking about starting a local users group from what things have worked, when things maybe haven't worked, and how do we get more people to launch user groups?

Just sign up - just for a little background on that - there was a user group that was here for quite a while that was run by Bill Brooks and it had some traction, it was running for quite a while and then either the community or whatever, started to kind of drop off a little bit. Randy and I saw that as a bad thing basically, and we talked to Altium, talked to a few people here, and then put together a general terms for the the group. Randy has always done Google boards, the blog and stuff, so he's very good at that, he's got a pretty major Altium tutorial board actually that's out there. So he took some of that and ported it over and turned it into a San Diego Altium User Group Board, you can just google that: San Diego Altium User Group and you'll find his board. If you sign up you'll get meeting invites so it's really that easy. All of our IP, as it were, is all up there and and I mean fully freely distributable so anyone can go ahead and take that as a template and start porting it over. Randy would probably help if anyone asked to set up or clone a board but Altim is really great on this thing, they're really helping us out, they help promote it you guys are actually doing lunches for us and all of that, so we really, really appreciate all that support. Lunch is a good way to get people out - just feed them and they will come.

Exactly, you feed them and they show up. So we were restarting the group, it had a little bit of a slow start and it's kind of typical. I think we had all of three people show up once plus the the huge group of Altium group and San Diego PCB group because we host the location but no I mean our last last attendance was in the 30s somewhere, so it's it's doing real well now.

What do you think the benefits are to the users that participate regularly?

One of the big things is we always bring Chris Carlson out for new updates and stuff so we can see things as they're coming out. He gave us a wonderful tutorial on 18 not long ago, really to help us all dive into it as as the interphase changed.

I thought Randy was gonna eat us alive - he came out he's like yeah bring him - he had a slide deck going, and ‘what about this?’  God bless Chris Carlson, our senior FAE, he addressed most of those things and just said, no Randy we just moved it over here, it's just over there and we tackle most of it. But what I really appreciate is that Chris actually took four things back to our R&D team, and I think that kind of real-time feedback, it helps us make better tools right? And if we make better tools we sell more software, it's not rocket science right?

Right and we're happier designers…

Right your’e happier and you’re productive and so I think it's a win-win and I think Altium is doing a good job culturally. So say you were in... I don't know... New Hampshire okay, and you knew there was a pretty good-sized design community what would you say the first steps would be to get something going?

First of all, probably to clone that board that we've already got…

And we will share this, by the way, in the show notes and we'll share that if you want to go take a look at it, because Randy has done a good job of kind of making a charter, it would be a good model to share.

-so it's a fairly basic charter but yeah, clone that board, start marketing it against that, call Altium…

Me, call me I will help you.

-so get them to put it out in a newsletter and a blog or something along those lines so you can start that foot traffic and then invite your buddies, invite your friends and get them to do the same.

I interrupted you there, so you said that Chris came out and you got to see the latest and greatest, Chris did a good thing on showing you AD18 - what other kind of benefits do you think the users see over time?

I mean we've already kind of hit on the the dynamic feedback and that's obviously great information, but just the user-to-user help is always nice too. I mean I've had people come in with a laptop and and open it up and go, look I'm struggling over here, what the heck do I need to do? What rule do I need to write to make this thing work right? And we can just basically rub shoulders and get things moving and get a workaround if it needs it just to move it along.

Well I've been really impressed since I've been down here for about a year now and just seeing the group it's just very active and it seems like a really healthy thing and yeah all I get to do, is use my card and buy you guys lunch and if you want a speaker we’ll send one, if you don't want one we won't interfere so I think that user-to-user and that you guys really get to own it, is sort of a powerful model because it's not like we're going to come down and spring a free sales pitch...

Yeah well, Altium doesn't go in they're not salesy.

Yeah but we try actually, not to do it.

No, it's been fantastic for that.

Well I wanted to bring this up because you and Randy spoke at AltiumLive and Randy took a little part of his time speaking to talk about the Altium user groups and I was so surprised! I'm like, well you can spend your time talking about that if you want Randy, but I didn't think there would be that much interest - but I happened to pop in the back door just to see how it was going and people were really engaged and then people came and talked to me after. I think there's kind of a hunger to do it. I'm just wondering... I just wanted you to share with our listeners, if people did want to do it they would see, oh here's some steps to take because I don't know, though, that maybe we've done a really good job of advertising it because we do want to stay out of it, we want to contribute but not inserting ourselves into an organic user’s group. So, thanks for sharing that part.

Hm-mm yeah, for the AltiumLive, Lawrence Romine asked Randy to do a little bit of a spiel on that and yeah, there were a lot of people from LA that sounded like they were going to be starting their own, or a couple of them, depending on the demographics or Geographics up there and then there were quite a few out of state as well that that sounded like they wanted to start one.

I went to one in Utah, which I guess has been going on for a while. So, I got connected with someone actually at AltiumLive and we ended up connecting and there was like 80 people there to see Ben Jordan talk about AD18, I'm like okay, Wow! 80 - it was huge, but I think that group has been very active and been around for a long time so it wasn't like a new thing and they actually come from Salt Lake and south of there, so it was almost like two combined groups. So anyways, thank you for sharing about that. Any final thoughts?

Nothing that I can think of right off the top of my head.

Well thank you so much for coming in today…

-Thank you

You’re a good sport and we really appreciate you in San Diego PCB and thank you for sharing. Oh one thing I wanted to ask you was because the upper-end (age-wise) is starting to kind of age out in the industry and we're getting new ones coming in, what is one - since you're sort of a veteran designer - what is say, one or two pieces of advice that you would give to a young designer?

The number one thing I would say is, never stop learning. I mean I got into a rut at one point where I wasn't learning I couldn't stand up on the the current trends, things like that, and that job got to be a drag, it really did because it's - overall - we did the same thing over and over all the time. It's very repetitive, but if you're standing up on the latest trends you always have something else to reach at and something else to go after. Always have the latest way to solve something too, so it just makes the job overall a breeze; makes it a lot easier to do day-to-day and keeps it fun and interesting.

Very good. Okay, last question: I said that was the last one but I like my very last, last question - I call this part of the podcast designers after hours okay - so there's people like you and I know in common, like Bill Brooks who started the Alts Music Group. There's the sculptor, I just spoke to Chris Hunrath earlier today, who's a scuba diver. So what do you like to do after hours?

Honestly Mike my side is a little sore right now because I did some martial arts last night so that's one of my little best-kept secrets, so to speak, been doing that for a long time done Tan Sido, got a third-degree black belt there, and then migrated over to Kung Fu and have a black sash.

Well, remind me to never make you mad! You’re so soft spoken and could kick my butt.


Pat's the one that always bounces that around the office but he's honestly the only one I’d ever damage too…


That's cool. See, another interesting after hour designer. Well David, thanks again and I know we'll see you soon again.

This has been Judy Warner and David Carmody of San Diego PCB. Thank you for joining us today we'll make sure to share our links below and please visit us again next time.

Until then, remember to always stay on track.

Share | Download(Loading)
Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App