Zuken Comfortable in the Ring with EDA Heavyweights

Company hopes to spread its success in Japan to the west with 3D tools.

The most advanced production car in the world, the Tesla, is more a computer than a car. The old heart of the automobile replaced by batteries, chips, circuit boards and wiring. These days, a car will have 70 to 100 electronic control units (ECUs), which are based on microprocessors that sit on boards and boxes scattered throughout the vehicle, all connected with wires. For pure mechanical engineers, who in their heydays were at home among gears, pistons and shafts, life has become more complicated.

Zuken's CR-8000 software shows electronics in 3D, helping engineers

Zuken’s CR-8000 software shows electronics in 3D, helping engineers “drive the air out” of products like this digital camera.

While no one software vendor can supply state-of-the-art tools for every system in a modern car, there is one company that claims to have every design tool for all the electrical and electronic systems—and that plays well with the other software toolmakers.

I’m at Zuken’s Innovation World 2016, Americas, which repeats in sunny San Diego, California. I am told Tesla is among the 120 or so attendees, but there are plenty of big-name companies.

Zuken’s E3.series for electrical design and wire harness, and its more modern rendition for PCB design, CR-8000, are used to pass electrons around in chips, in chip packages, through PCBs, out of PCB boxes and through the wiring that emanates from the boxes. For data management, Zuken provides DS-2, a “work-in-process” library and design data management for small to enterprise level companies.

Users rely on Zuken’s third-party relations with companies like PTC, Siemens and ANSYS to round out the rest of the design, including airflow and vibration simulation, enterprise level engineering data management and product lifecycle management (PLM), etc.

Short History

Zuken came of Yokohama, Japan, in 1976, so that it dominates printed circuit board (PCB) design in Japan should come as no surprise. “We are the dominant PCB software tool for Japanese electronics firms and every Japanese automaker uses Zuken for wire harnesses,” said Kent McLeroth, CEO of Zuken USA, who hopes to bring the same level of success to the West.

Zuken’s share in Asia has been steadily growing, according to Laurie Balch, chief analyst for Gary Smith EDA. In 2014, Zuken was ranked second in PCB market share in Europe, according to Balch. Zuken’s total revenue derived from North America appears to have risen significantly from its level five years ago.

While the North America user meeting attracts up to over 100 people, the one in Japan is said to be attended by more than one thousand.

Zuken has had a U.S. presence (Zuken America, now Zuken USA) since 1983. Zuken USA has built a substantial marketing and sales effort in the U.S., with offices in the Boston and San Francisco areas. The number of U.S. companies in attendance at the user meeting does attest to Zuken having successfully jumped its borders, as have what seems to be a substantial domestic (U.S.-based) staff. There are presentations from Lockheed Martin, Applied Materials, Northrop Grumman. A number of other companies spotted declined to be named.

Zuken trots the globe with user conferences in Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the UK.

Headed by Engineers

For many engineers, it may come as a bit of surprise that engineering software companies are not typically led by engineers — as if the business of engineering software is too important to be left to engineers. Zuken begs to differ. McLeroth, who has been with Zuken for 20 years, was a design engineer at Magnavox (known by consumers for its electronics, Magnavox also had a defense business that ended up with Raytheon). 

At Magnavox, McLeroth used Zuken software. “I loved Zuken software,” he said. This led him to seek a customer support role at Zuken, then he moved on to its data management tools, followed by a move up to head the development department and another to become the company’s CEO in January of 2015. McLeroth now presides over Zuken’s $200-million-plus business. 

Zuken boasts many engineers in key roles—even marketing. Bob Potock, vice president of marketing for the Americas, who flanks McLeroth during our interview, has a degree in electrical engineering.

Mid-Weights and Heavyweights of EDA

In the EDA landscape, Zuken exists somewhere beneath the canopy of the towering giants and above the weeds. Cadence had revenue of $1.7 billion its last fiscal year. Mentor Graphics made 1.8 billion in 2016. Far below are dozens of smaller EDA vendors, some opensource, some point solutions.

Being a specialist with electrical and electronic software, I had to ask Zuken’s leaders if they are bothered by their CAD partner companies who also offer their own electrical software. Siemens, an electronics and electrical conglomerate and one of the largest companies in the world, has Siemens PLM, which creates software. PTC has Windchill and Siemens has Teamcenter, both of which offer PLM capabilities far beyond what Zuken can provide.

Bob Potock gives Zukens’ view on ECAD and MCAD co-design and PLM versus engineering data management (EDM).

“MCAD partners share data with our wire harness and PCB tools to provide a robust ECAD/MCAD co-design solution,” said Potock. “For instance, Siemens NX and Solid Edge are both strong wire harness and PCB partners. Also, Zuken offers EDM which works closely with the authoring tools for PCB and wire harness – change management, library management, where-used, circuit block management. Zuken does not consider itself a PLM provider. EDM integrates with the PLM systems to provide a robust and reliable manufacturing release process. So we see EDM and PLM as very complementary.”

Both companies also offer wire harness and cabling software. However, McLeroth seems confident in his company’s strength and position. “Only Zuken has the full electrical and electronic design toolbox,” he said.

While the big companies may have some of the same tools, Zuken’s focus is its strength. Zuken sees CAD and CAE companies as cooperative partners with complementary solutions. A company like ANSYS, for example, can do the thermal and fluid analysis so vital for closely-stacked electronics. (more on that later).

Size Is an Advantage

While PCB design is a mature technology, the big, established players may be getting long on the tooth. “We have the only PCB tool made in this century,” said McLeroth, speaking of the company’s CR-8000, its latest PCB design platform.

“We are positioning CR-8000 as a 3D product-centric design platform versus the traditional 2D single PCB-centric design process, adds Potock. “Some of the differences are the CR-8000 has a native 3D kernel (we can generate a 3D printer file directly from our PCB tool), 3D multi-board design, IC packaging in the same PCB tool, hardware architecture design and lastly, wire / harness integration.”

PCB design, having been around for a few decades now and a mature technology, is in danger of having an aging community of practitioners. The future belongs to the more complicated board and system design, much of which is being driven by consumer electronics, which increasingly seek more processing power inside ever smaller and denser packages.

“Take, for example, this projector,” said McLeroth, pointing to smallish projector between us in the conference room. Projectors used to be beasts—huge, hot and loud.

We no longer can be concerned with just one board at a time. Electronic devices are an assembly of boards, connectors, switches, fans . . . the works. With our software, we don’t have designers in isolation working on one board at time who throw their schematics over the wall, only to receive boards that can’t connect because connections don’t line up, or boards that interfere with their enclosures—or each other.

This process, commonly known as “spin,” has been so common that it became part of the routine of electrical design. However, with Zuken software, electrical engineers and designers send their electrical data in 3D form, to their mechanical counterparts. Zuken software interfaces with SOLIDWORKS, PTC and Siemens CAD formats, as well as STEP format. 

On the mechanical side, the software can also be subjected to computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and shock and vibration analysis. If changes are to be made electrically, let’s say components on a board have to be moved to prevent interference or to be in better airflow, mechanical data is passed back to the electrical side. Design changes can be accommodated before parts are made, in theory a far less expensive and less time consuming arrangement.

Additionally, the boards themselves are increasing in complexity. “We saw people using Visio to make schematics!” said McLeroth. You can’t do that except with the simplest PCBs. But we have multilayer boards, flex circuits . . .These days you need modern PCB software and 3D.

Two PCBs are placed in close proximity in a digital camera body.

Two PCBs are placed in close proximity in a digital camera body.

Indeed, the need for 3D, even for a class of software that was once best known for flat, 2D schematics, has intensified. PCBs can get stacked so tightly in modern consumer electronics that the height and position of components on multi-sided boards can interfere with each other.

Electrical schematic gets 3D representation with Zuken’s CR-8000 PCB design software.

Electrical schematic gets 3D representation with Zuken’s CR-8000 PCB design software.

Only visualization in 3D with a visual or automatic clash detection can prevent that interference. In addition, physical connections between boards, connectors and switches can be specified and completed on 2D schematics, only to become tortuous or impossible when it comes to their physical assembly.

For more information on Zuken, see the Zuken company website.