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Jun Eto (Software Cradle, Software Engineering Dept.)
Development of PICLS

Jun Eto
Software Cradle
?Software Engineering Dept

[Vol. 2] PICLS is a computational thermal analysis tool designed for PCB (printed circuit board) design engineers, who may have little experience with numerical analyses. Intended for simple and quick execution of thermal analyses, PICLS uses an intuitive two-dimensional interface that combines the Preprocessor for controlling analysis model settings and Postprocessor for displaying results into one. The goal was “to create greater benefit for PCB design engineers by allowing them to evaluate thermal design ideas easily on the spot.” Jun Eto from the Cradle Software Engineering Department provides a detailed account of the development.

Development challenges and solutions

In order to develop a viable thermal analysis tool for PCB design engineers, we continuously collected their opinions and feedback during the PICLS development process. This enabled us to understand how countermeasures against thermal problems can be implemented in the early design phases.

We asked our customers to actually design and manufacture PCBs so we could validate the simulation's accuracy. We also joined their PCB design team to experience the entire production process. We attended PCB lectures and learned how to place wire inputs and how to mount devices. This was worthwhile research and enabled us to identify the software characteristics and requirements that would satisfy a wide range of customers.

Early in the PICLS development process we had to consider how to retain the strengths of the existing scSTREAM and HeatDesigner tools while reinforcing the potential extensibility.

In theory, the concept of creating a simple simulation tool while providing extensibility is an oxymoron. We explored new ways to achieve both capabilities. This was a new challenge for the project team. After much deliberation, we realized we needed to develop a completely new thermal analysis software from scratch, rather than using existing fluid analysis software methods and simply eliminating the fluid analysis capability.

In the past, we have developed complementary custom software as requested by our customers. These include a thermal analysis system that uses VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). However, we realized that this level of customization, would not be sufficient to fully engage the PCB design engineers. We had a clear vision of the ideal software: one that would be capable of intuitive operation and fast procession.

The PICLS development project was definitely challenging. We continuously sought input from our developers to ensure our expectations for the tool were realistic and achievable. We needed to maintain our determination and commitment to carry out the development until we achieved the goal.

When constructing the details of the user interface, my objective was to create an interface operation that closely resembled ECAD. I thought the PCB design engineers would be more comfortable with the tool if they could intuitively create models using simple shapes such as rectangles. Frequent visits with our customers and observing the actual PCB design processes were helpful. We made improvements that simplified the analysis model generation process from discussions with our customers.

Fig 4: Real-time analyses
Click to enlarge

Fig 5: Report output
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How to use PICLS

Model generation is performed using 2D operations. The process is simple: select the layer you will work on, then select and allocate components such as wirings and vias. Mesh generation, solver calculations, and postprocessor execution are all automatic.

PCB engineers can re-allocate components and wirings and make any other changes. Then they can immediately observe the analysis results. Changes to the temperatures are reflected in real-time. This enables the engineers to evaluate the effects immediately (Fig 4). Just clicking the output button generates an analysis reports in HTML format (Fig 5).

Fig 6: File I/O. Click to enlarge.

In addition, visual images can be imported as file I/O to determine component layouts (Fig 6). Output data can be exported as scSTREAM and HeatDesigner library files. Information about the components, wirings, thermal vias, material properties, and heat generation are all seamlessly transferred to system level models in scSTREAM or HeatDesigner.


Messages to customers

PICLS is a good example of a thermal analysis tool developed using a needs oriented approach. The voice of the customer was the voice of the PCB design engineers. For PCB designers who have not used the tool, I urge them to try it. You must experience how easy it is to evaluate thermal design ideas using PICLS. PICLS is a product like no other. It is simple for anyone to use and provides real-time analysis results.

As for future developments, PICLS will continue to serve as a tool that enables greater front-loading in the design process. At the same time, we will continue to extend its capability based on customer requests. We hope PICLS helps promote PCB thermal design. We also look forward hearing any requests or suggestions from our PICLS customers.

*All product and service names mentioned are registered trademarks or trademarks of their respective companies.
*Contents and specifications of products are as of July 1, 2015 and subject to change without notice. We shall not be held liable for any errors in figures and pictures, or any typographical errors.

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