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Going Global

Zuken Expands Scope and Reach

Most of us have heard of Zuken.  They have always been one of the quiet companies who made PCB layout software – and who was not Mentor or Cadence.  If we decided to upgrade our board design capabilities, they were on the list of suppliers we’d consider.  Nothing about Zuken particularly grabbed our attention other than the assumption that they could help us bring some order to blank FR4 just as well as the next guy. 

In Japan, however, Zuken was certainly not just one of the pack.  In Japan, Zuken has had dominant market share for years.  If you designed boards in Japan and used anything else, you just might be eyed with some suspicion.  Zuken was founded in 1976 and has over a thousand employees worldwide, so they’re hardly a new kid on the block, and they are a substantial EDA company by any measure.  Being headquartered in Japan, however (and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange), they don’t show up on radar quite the same way as most of the rest of the EDA industry.

Well, Zuken is no longer content to be just “big in Japan,” apparently.  And, they’re not content to be just a PCB layout player, either.  The company has launched a major expansion – both geographically and technically – that warrants some re-working of our view of them.  Zuken is now tackling our electronic product design well above the board level, and they’re dramatically increasing their presence – particularly in North America, where they’ve historically drafted quietly along behind Mentor and Cadence.

Evolving from a “PCB Layout” supplier to an “Electronic Product Design” partner requires an ambitious expansion of scope.  As we all are acutely aware, our electronic products span far more than just a PCB.  To get our widgets to market, we have to consider supply-chain issues, multiple PCBs, multiple design domains – including digital, analog, RF, power, packaging, cabling and more – and a host of logistical issues that go far beyond the world of blind vias and edge connectors.  For most of us, our products are designed by large, diverse teams at multiple locations, and our design tools have to support that reality.

Zuken has attacked that problem with a lucid, deliberate approach.  The company’s CR-8000 (sounds like a new “Terminator” model, doesn’t it?)  “Multi-board System-Level Design Tool” incorporates a “System Planner” that does what the name says – it combines a “Design Gateway” that bridges the gap from system planning to detailed implementation, the traditionally-strong “Design Force” implementation tools, and a “DFM Center” that brings design-for-manufacturing into the picture.  CR-8000 is a fairly new code base, so the underpinnings are able to take advantage of the performance capabilities of modern computing hardware and the latest in data model design for smooth inter-tool integration. 

The board design package has been rebuilt from the ground up to take multi-board systems into account.  It handles rigid, flex, and rigi-flex boards, as well as IC packages, and includes native 2D/3D packaging and PCB design with 3D ECAD/MCAD co-design.  The suite also features native multi-site library and design data management with extended enterprise integration.  In other words, Zuken offers a comprehensive enterprise-class system that spans the gamut of board-based system design.

Most of us are designing systems that don’t end with electrons, however, and Zuken is ready to help those parts of your team as well.  The company’s E3.series designs wiring, cabling, fluid, and control systems.  The system handles wiring and harness design, cable assembly design, control system design, panel and cabinet design, and hydraulic and pneumatic design – all with support for manufacturing documentation and change information management.  This broad-scale integration supports collaboration between aspects of design, linking 3D mechanical data for wiring harness creation and product lifecycle management.  Your whole project – including electrical and fluid design – can be managed and tracked from concept to manufacturing.

One issue with this ambitious approach can sometimes be the “too many cockpits” syndrome.  One challenge when bringing multiple software systems into a complex environment is that each system is designed to be the center of your universe.  You can end up with different systems competing to be the center of control of your design process, and this can interfere if you’ve already got established processes in place.  We haven’t seen yet how smoothly Zuken integrates into environments where there is already a multiplicity of tools from various vendors.

In support of their increased emphasis on US-based customers, Zuken is opening a new US office this month in Silicon Valley that is slated to grow to 30 people within the first three years.  Those technical boots on the ground should give some reassurance to North American customers who are sometimes squeamish about having an ocean, a language, and ten or so time zones potentially separating them from support for their most mission-critical design services.  Zuken appears to understand the service component of this expansion as well, with a heavy “partnering” mindset in evidence.  This is particularly crucial with complex software systems that span an entire engineering enterprise as this does, since the true capabilities and limitations are never known until your team is knee-deep in alligators in a critical phase of your project.  No matter how thoroughly you have evaluated a tool suite prior to purchase, you will inevitably run into something you didn’t anticipate midway through your design.  At that point, you want a supplier who is committed to your ongoing success, and not just to closing the deal.

It will be interesting to watch the effect of Zuken’s increased global ambitions on the overall market and the response of competitors such as Mentor Graphics, Cadence, and Altium.  In recent years, board design tools have shifted back away from “commodity tool” status to a thriving, competitive, capability-based market.  With the fresh demands we all place on these systems – expecting everything from system-level design and project management to bleeding-edge signal and power integrity and sophisticated board and package support, most teams are no longer in the “cheapest solution wins” mentality when choosing an EDA partner in this arena.  Mentor and Cadence, of course, also bring massive arsenals of IC design capability to the table, and that breadth could be either an asset or a distraction, depending on your company’s needs.  

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