This article begins a series of six that will discuss a variety of PCB design and manufacturing problems, and possible solutions. I will kick off the series by discussing management of intellectual property.
Typically when we hear the phrase intellectual property (IP), our minds immediately think of two words: “theft” and “protection.” We have in our minds that IP is a valuable resource of an electronics company, second only to its people, and that we must protect it from compromise. What we often forget is that IP, being a valuable asset, is of little value if it cannot be used efficiently: created, controlled, accessed by designers, and leveraged to improve the competitiveness of that company. This all leads to effective management of the IP within the infrastructure and organizations of the company.
This management of IP is especially complex in today’s global environment, where an electronics company may have several locations worldwide that must work together to bring a product to market. These locations may have design teams that specialize in different technologies (analog, digital, RF), or must collaborate to bring together a critical design resource mass, or must design in a “follow-the-sun” methodology to get the product to market on time. For the highest performing, most competitive product, it is essential that these design teams work efficiently with seamless access to the company’s IP.
What Constitutes IP
IP in the electronics design process consists of many elements – some created prior to the start of the process, some created and shared during the process, and some saved and managed for future products. Basically IP falls into two categories: static and dynamic. Static IP is created prior to the design process and accessed by the team. Dynamic IP is created during the design process (work-in-progress). Figure 1 illustrates these two categories and some of the IP associated with each.
Figure 1. IP management is at the hub of the PCB design process and contains both static and dynamic forms of data.
Component libraries are IP elements of high value. Companies invest heavily in qualifying parts and then entering them into globally-accessible libraries. A central component library system that enables productive input of part data, control of that data, and global access to the data by various design teams can significantly improve both the time-to-market and the quality of the product. But this data is not just a mass of component information stored in a relational database. It must contain a level of intelligence to be truly valuable.