25 years of DesignCon

Article By : Kenneth Wyatt

DesignCon showcases the latest high-speed technology for data communications and this year they celebrated the 25th anniversary.

DesignCon is one of the largest engineering technical conferences in the U.S., with around 5,000 attendees, a dozen simultaneous technical tracks, and just under 200 exhibitors. Their tagline is “Where the Chip Meets the Board,” and this year, they celebrated their 25th anniversary.

DesignCon 25th anniversaryThis year, DesignCon celebrated their 25th anniversary with cake and champagne!

DesignCon was actually started as an invited technical conference co-hosted by Hewlett-Packard in Colorado Springs and Hewlett-Packard Labs in Palo Alto, California, in the early 1990s. It was a way to invite educators and industry together to discuss common issues in high-frequency signal propagation and measurement. It was held in Colorado Springs for the first few years and then started rotating to different locations around the U.S. The management of the event was eventually sold to a few other companies, ending up being managed by UBM for several years and now owned by Informa Markets. For years now, the conference has been held at the Santa Clara Convention Center on the last week of January.

Santa Clara Convention CenterThe show was held at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Technical tracks include an emphasis on signal and power integrity, PC board design for Giga-bit data rates, test & measurement, modelling high frequency data channels, advanced PC board materials, and EMC. Technical papers, tutorials, and “bootcamp” sessions are popular. The toughest challenge is creating a personal schedule that usually ends up so packed you may find yourself hustling from one talk to another. Recently, their free custom phone and tablet app has helped with this.

DesignCon Eric BogatinDr. Eric Bogatin, signal integrity expert and technical evangelist with Teledyne LeCroy, always draws a large crowd. Here, he’s demonstrating the characteristics of differential pairs.

While EMC historically has taken a somewhat minor role in the program, I’ve been fortunate to teach a three-hour tutorial on designing for EMC, troubleshooting, and pre-compliance testing for several years. Lately, I’ve been teaming up with Dylan Stinson, RF product applications engineer from Tektronix, who has been assisting with the presentation and live demos.

Wyatt Stinson EMC presentationKen Wyatt and Dylan Stinson teach how to troubleshoot radiated emissions and perform low-cost pre-compliance testing. Image courtesy of Chris Loberg

The technical sessions always start off with a morning keynote speaker. This year’s speakers included Chris Cole, VP Luminous Computing, speaking on the future of fiber optic communication; Warren Savage, visiting researcher, University of Maryland/DARPA, speaking on designing for security using smart silicon; and Zaheer Ali, senior manager for the USRA Science and Mission Operations/NASA and chief science officer of AIXIA Global, speaking on microchips in space and how new sensor design enables amazing astronomy as a result of NASA’s SOFIA mission.

Two of the most interesting presentations at the show were from Warren Savage and Zaheer Ali. Savage presented multiple methods of cyber-attack methods for extracting “secure” data from computers and storage systems. Scary stuff!

Warren Savage keynoteWarren Savage explained how various cyber-attacks can extract secure data.

Zaheer Ali keynoteZaheer Ali demonstrated some of the enhanced magnetic flux imagery of the galactic center of the Milky Way black hole captured by improved sensors. Shown is a composite of magnetic field lines and optical imagery.

Of course, we have fun, too, with “Mr. Chiphead,” as well as a 1990s-themed welcome reception and daily exhibitor “booth bar crawls.”

Wyatt EMC doctor ChipheadHere’s a photo of the “EMC Doctor” with Mr. Chiphead.

The conference also recognizes the engineer of the year. This year Istvan Novak was recognized for his continuing contributions to signal integrity. Several best paper awards for the previous year were awarded and best paper nominees for next year were also recognized.

Istvan Novak engineer of the yearIstvan Novak was recognized as engineer of the year for his outstanding contributions to signal integrity through the years.

Simonovich best paperLambert (Bert) Simonovich was awarded best paper from 2019 for “PCB Interconnect Modelling Demystified.” Image courtesy of DesignCon staff

Dannon best paperBen Dannon was one of several best paper finalists this year for his paper, “Signal Integrity Characterization of Via Stubs on High Speed DDR4 Channels.” Image courtesy of DesignCon staff

The exhibit hall is one of the places I like to visit, as this is where you’ll learn about all the very latest high frequency measurement instrumentation, the latest GHz PC board materials, and associated high data rate components. With nearly 200 exhibitors, it’s often a challenge to visit them all!

DesignCon exhibit hallHere’s a typical view of the exhibit hall taken during the 2019 show. This year, there were 186 vendors showing their latest technology.

I find one of the more important activities in any technical conference is the chance to network with my peers, catch up with colleagues, and meet new friends. This year, I met several of my connections on LinkedIn and others who have corresponded via email. It’s always nice to put a face with the name!

One such notable connection is Judy Warner, director of community engagement with Altium, maker of a popular electronics schematic and PC board layout CAD tool. We’re planning to present a “live stream” over the internet this year on PC board design and the implications for EMC. She’s also produced a short video highlighting some of the activities and presentations during the show (see it below and in the references).

Wyatt Judy Warner AltiumHere’s the author with Judy Warner, director of community engagement at Altium.

To sum up, DesignCon has become one of the leading conferences showcasing the latest high-speed technology for data communications and it attracts the “best of the best” in hardware engineers and vendors in the fields of signal integrity, power integrity, and (to a lesser degree) EMC/EMI. Hope to see everyone there in 2021!

Kenneth Wyatt is principal consultant of Wyatt Technical Services LLC.

References

  1. DesignCon web site
  2. NASA’s SOFIA Mission
  3. DesignCon: Personal Reflections on the Last Twenty Years, Istvan Novak, Signal Integrity Journal
  4. Istvan Novak’s personal web site with his technical papers
  5. Design Con 2020 25th Anniversary Highlights- OnTrack with Judy Warner (video by Altium)

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