My Favourite “Easy®” Button

Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I have to admit that I don’t like that ratio very much. Perhaps I don’t aspire to be a genius. I would much prefer to spend more of my time on project work thinking and planning rather than doing. Unfortunately, by its nature, IC design includes many repetitive tasks – tasks so mind-numbingly boring that I can’t help but turn my brain off and switch into auto-pilot. These mundane tasks are so completely hypnotic that by the end of the day, I realize I’ve only blinked twice, my neck is sore from keeping my head 15 cm away from the monitor, and my shoulder aches from excessive mouse usage. On occasion, I arrive at work the next day to find that while my brain was on auto-pilot the day before, I did something I should not have, and I can look forward to spending at least part of my day in re-work. Yes, I am pretty sure I’d rather spend more of my time thinking than doing…

…which brings me to the topic of design automation. Automation, when used with care, can make life easier even with the most precise design requirements. We have a team of CAD tool experts who understand this very well. My favourite utility they’ve created so far is one that automatically creates wires and labels in a schematic simply by clicking on an instance. While it won’t draw the whole schematic for you, the time you save by not having to type in the net names is incredible! We also have a navigation tool that eliminates the need to constantly change the zoom level in the layout. Another tool creates what we call “special pins”, which are really not so special at all, but special enough that standard EDA tools couldn’t do the job we wanted. This tool allows us to drop an array of odd or even numbered pins at a user-defined spacing.

I find that my design team is much more tolerant of manual processes than I will ever be. I am trying to find ways to motivate them to look for ways to improve efficiencies through automation. I recently purchased an “Easy®” button from Staples. If you’re not familiar with it – every time you push it, it says “That was easy!” Any time one of the designers either suggests or implements a new idea for automation, they get to push the button at our group meeting. I am sure this tactic will soon lose its lustre, but my hope is that the seed is planted in their minds to look for efficiency rather than sticking with brute force design methods. My next step will be to get the team thinking more about how automation can be used during the evaluation phase of projects.

What do you think? Do you have a favourite “Easy®” button?

Paul

About Paul

Paul has been at Teledyne DALSA since 1995, first as a designer of CCD-based cameras. He made the jump to CMOS in 2001, working on the design of image sensors for 1D and 2D scanning applications. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his family and playing soccer. He is a long suffering fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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