Seen and Experienced On The Show Floor

Demonstrations and hands-on activities ensured plenty of tech insights at this year’s DesignCon.
  • This year marked the 25th anniversary of the official beginning of DesignCon. The show’s pedigree evolved from earlier roadshows and events by the pre-eminent design, test and measurement company known back then as Hewlett-Packard. As in the past, this year’s event provided presentations by experts, technical sessions and panels by peers, and useful demonstrations of design and measurement systems. And that’s not including the hand’s on experiences using actual hardware and software. What follows is a sampling of all DesignCon 2020 had to offer. 

  • Demos

    “Demos? You want demos? Look around -- you’ll find demos on high-speed I/O interconnects, thermal bridges, solderless connections, PAM4 error analysis and systems, the latest DDR5 memory, PCIe 5 receivers, signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) measurements and debug, 28G PHYs and MACs, S-Parameter tools, PCB boards and connectors of every type and function ….”

    -- Overhead between a vendor and a group of attendees

  • The Doctor is in the House

    You meet some of the most interesting experts at this event. Kenneth Wyatt, Principal Consultant at Wyatt Technical Services, may look like a crazed doctor, but he’s the kind of expert you want to fix your signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) design issues. Wyatt presented both a tutorial – entitled “Radiated Emissions: Debugging & Pre-Compliance Testing” – and a shorten-version of the same later at the Chiphead theater. He noted that many product designers in small to mid-sized companies are still getting their PC board stack-up and layout wrong for reduced EMI. What may have worked a couple decades ago is unacceptable with today’s high-speed clocks. This is especially problematic for mixed digital and RF/wireless designs, because the broadband EMI from on-board DC-DC converters and general digital bus noise can couple and affect the sensitivity of LTE cellular and GPS receivers.

  • Keysight Care-bot

    Here was the Keysight “care-bot." She greeted attendees at the booth by talking with them, taking their picture and even dancing. Such robot helpers have become more common at conferences. This one was the 5'3" Furo-D robot with a 32" touchscreen from ARS. The robot was controlled with a joystick and programmed to speak and interact with attendees. Cool, but not very autonomous for a robot. Still, the care-bot achieved its goal by drawing my attention to many of Keysight’s tech demos at the booth.

  • Hands-on The Factory Floor

    Nothing to see here – just an editor building a cool “Pong” game. Autodesk had this great factory experience on the show floor where attendees would put together and assembly their own one-dimensional “Pong” Game. Everything was designed and manufactured for this experience using Autodesk’s Fusion 360, which is an integrated CAE (electronics), CAM (board), mechanical design (packaging) – all in one package. It was a blast!

    My personal thanks to Autodesk’s Jonathan Odom, the Community Manager made this event and its success a reality and Joel (with the headset) who was continuously and graciously fixing all for the mistakes make by attends in assembling their game boards.

  • Hats Off (or on) for Si-Soft

    Brightly flashing hats were quite a sight as I rounded the corner into the Hyatt Regency lobby adjacent to DeisgnCon. Apparently, this was an annual event sponsored by Signal Integrity Software (Si-Soft). Doug Burns, VP and Director of Consulting and Support at SiSoft, was handing out the LED-ringed hats to appreciative customers and extra-curious bystanders. The company supplies Electronic Design Automation (EDA) simulation software, methodology training and consulting services for system-level high-speed design such as multi-Gigabit serial links, integrated signal integrity, and timing and crosstalk analysis.

  • Open Source S-Parameters

    As I stopped at Teledyne LeCroy booth to see their highlights for the show, I met the company’s VP of Advanced Technology Development, Peter J. Pupalaikis. He has just published a book through Cambridge University on, “S-Parameters for Signal Integrity.” Some of you my still remember S-parameters from math and circuit theory as a way to describe electrical behavior in electrical systems when stimuli are introduced. What makes Peter’s book unique is the accompanying open-source software, which provides a welcome alternative to existing proprietary software. Not surprisingly, Teledyne LeCroy offers scattering parameter (S-parameter) measurement systems to further aid designers and testers

  • Ghost(s) in the Machine?

    No ghosts – just IR sensors imaged onto a laptop screen. More specifically, this was part of a demo that VSI Labs had on display.  The company focuses on AV technologies in the automotive space. Sara Sargent, their Engineering Project Manager, spoke on the Chiphead Theater about the key building blocks of automated vehicles and was part of the “Women & Minorities in STEM” panel.

  • Less Can Be More

    Most engineers would agree that it’s better to have some test coverage than none at all. But it’s easy to become so focused on bleeding edge technology that you miss the broader market, noted Todd Westerhoff, High-Speed Design Product Marketing, Electronic Board Systems, Mentor Graphics (Siemens). What he meant was that sometimes designers get tripped up not by the harder, state-of-the-art stuff but by neglecting the common stuff. In this way, less focus on the bleeding edge and more on overall coverage was a good thing. One example he gave was that a fairly generic I/O modeling tool can be used for design analysis, trade-off studies and verification that will identify basic design issues without requiring sophisticated signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) expertise.

  • 5G – Great Benefit or Harm?

    One of the more controversial conversations occurred on the show floor’s Chiphead Theater during a panel on device design in the era of Industry 4.0. One of the seemingly inevitable questions arose about how 5G might affect device design or vice versa. During the ensuing discussion, Keynoter Zaheer Ali from NASA’s SOFIA, made these observations: “5G has many challenges that are not being well discussed. Lots of LANSats and other satellites will have problems because 5G will be broadcasting and create a shield over the spectrum over which they are trying to image the earth or weather. While that touted capability – speed and bandwidth – has great promise, there are many practical use applications in the US and Europe that will cause problems.” More on this panel will be covered in a future article.

  • DesignCon's 25th Anniversary

    DesignCon celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. No wonder the Chiphead guy was so excited. Suzanne Deffree, Brand Director at Informa Markets AMG, summed it up this way: “This celebration is less about the history of DesignCon and more about what has made this event so long-lived. It's about the incredible engineers and companies that keep coming back to show year after year to learn and share. So let’s raise our glasses for a toast to DeisgnCon’s 25th anniversary and to the next 25 years!”


John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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