SiliconExpert Podcast Episode 14 with Wilmer Companioni of Zuken - Transcription
Host: Eric Singer
Producer/Director: George Karalias
[00:00:00] Wilmer: I've worked with several data aggregators in the past that when I ask them really pointed questions, like where's the source of your data. They kind of fumble and stumble a little bit. And they're like, I've established your relationships over the last 35 years with the industry. And that's great. That's important, but that makes me feel like that just means you took your buddy out for lunch and he shot some numbers out at you.
[00:00:27] Eric: Welcome to the Intelligent Engine, a podcast that lives in the heart of the electronics industry brought to you by SiliconExpert. SiliconExpert is all about data driven decisions with a human driven experience. We mitigate risk and manage compliance from design, through sustainment, the knowledge experience, and thought leadership of the team partners and those we interact with every day expose unique aspects of the electronics industry and the product life cycles that live within it.
[00:00:54] These are the stories that fuel the Intelligent Engine.
[00:01:01] Today's spotlight falls on Zuken, a Japanese multinational corporation, specializing in software and consulting services for end to end electrical and electronic engineering. Joining us today is Wilmer Companioni. Wilmer. Thanks for joining us.
[00:01:18] Wilmer: Thanks. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here. I'm very excited to join this particular podcast of which I've become a fan of late.
[00:01:25] I think there's a lot of great content on here, so I'm very happy to contribute.
[00:01:30] Eric: Awesome. Well, we're eager to get your perspectives on all kinds of things, but I wanna start by asking you a little bit about your background, because I know that you are a self described engineer in recovery. So I'd love to know a little bit about your journey from being, being an engineer, an engineering student, and then an engineer.
[00:01:50] And then how you got to where you are today.
[00:01:53] Wilmer: Yeah. So my, I have a great deal of passion for science, technology, math, you know, all that fun engineering type of stuff. But then as after I spending a few years in design and I'm talking pretty hardcore deep into the bench, Messing with the ocilliscope and logic analyzers and all that fun stuff.
[00:02:13] On a constant basis. I found myself increasingly getting drawn into other parts of the business, particularly sales and marketing. And I had an opportunity after spending some years in engineering and design to go off and carry a bag and do sales and get a different perspective of the industry. And it's a perspective that not a lot of my colleagues share, especially those who love technology and design as much as I do, but I found myself being really drawn into the business side and even the street level side of things in the sense that I want to be out there meeting people who are tackling the same and different problems as myself and helping them find solutions. So in that, that pulled me into the sales side of things.
[00:03:03] And then after a little bit of time in. I really wanted to have control over the messaging. So then I was pulled into marketing and I spent seven years doing technical marketing for a component manufacturer in this case, a passive component manufacturer. And I tell you that was eyeopening how difficult it is to market what I describe as essentially nails, right?
[00:03:28] Nobody passive components. nobody really cares. About the capacitors and the conductors until they become a problem. And man, that is a challenge to make that interesting.
[00:03:41] Eric: Yeah, no doubt. When we talk so much on this program about sourcing parts. And a lot of times we're talking about the sexier parts, but especially in the context of supply chain management, Hey, if you're short, a capacitor, you're short a capacitor, and then it doesn't matter how sexy that part is, you're not gonna be able to produce your product.
[00:04:02] Wilmer: One of the times you'll see an engineer frustrated the most is when a half a cent or even a hundredth of a cent capacitor shuts down their line. It's almost like they'll accept it if it's your a hundred dollars F PGA, you won't really accept it, but you'll be like, you'll be a little more okay with it.
[00:04:19] It's just an it's. It's so much more frustrating when it's come on, man. This thing I can buy a thousand for a penny and my whole line is shut down because of this thing that's unfathomable, but that's how we design our tech. It's very, yeah, it's almost a, a weakest link type of situation.
[00:04:38] Eric: Right. The, these parts are almost an afterthought.
[00:04:41] Just the bare minimum. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We need that too. We need that. Where did you go after that?
[00:04:46] Wilmer: I find myself now here at Zuken at a CAD company. And the particular exciting thing about that is that you're actually closer to design. And engineers. We don't like to be taken around for a ride in a bunch of different places, right?
[00:05:02] If we're in the CAD tool, I wanna stay in the CAD tool. Don't tell me to go somewhere else for a thing that is at my fingertips CAD, essentially being the beginning of design it, we talk about the design process CAD is really at the front end of that. It's exciting to be in a position where. You're at the forefront of where engineering begins.
[00:05:23] Eric: Yeah. I imagine that must give you a very different perspective because of your engineering background and now being involved on the CAD side, where you're really thinking about the process from. The very start before prototypes before any of that, do you think that gives you a perspective that is broader and maybe even deeper than, than other folks might have in the industry?
[00:05:49] Wilmer: Yeah. It's an opportunity to put on the design lens, if you will. Having spent so many years designing things and wishing my CAD tool had certain features. Now I find myself having an opportunity to directly influence that. So that the, the next poor sap that's designing stuff, maybe their life is a little easier.
[00:06:11] not unlike the experience with, with marketing components. It's I want to hear certain types of things. About my challenges. Right? I don't want you to describe the rain. I want you to gimme an umbrella.
[00:06:23] Eric: Are there any examples you could give us of what you were just describing, improving a CAD program, adding features or anything like that?
[00:06:32] Have there been times where you've had opportunity to either yourself or because of a customer suggestion where you've been able to add functionality to the software?
[00:06:43] Wilmer: It's somewhat early days here in CAD, but definitely I wanna advocate for the engineer and for the people that are entering this experience, right.
[00:06:51] I found myself having the opportunity to completely revamp the experience that we give engineers as they're testing, evaluating some of our software. So I was fortunate enough to find the technology that allows you to run our software on a virtual machine. In a browser. So now you can actually try it, test it out without having to install anything.
[00:07:15] I don't want to go in and install and download and licenses and accounts and all that stuff. So now we've got three or four clicks and I can be up and running and that's the type of experience. And that's the type of influence I look forward to bringing and, and really. Saying, yeah, this an engineer wants this type of experience, not that type of experience.
[00:07:39] So I've been fortunate to start to influence some of that.
[00:07:44] Eric: That is amazing to me, that such a robust platform, we can actually start playing with that in nothing but a web browser. When you think about where we were 10 years ago, even five years ago, that feels unthinkable to me.
[00:08:00] Wilmer: I have to credit my 11 year old daughter for inspiring that because I watch her and I see some of the games that she plays online.
[00:08:09] Like these really immersive 3d games, and they're all running on Chrome and I'm like, come on, man. If you can do that, you can find a way to, to run something. That's just connecting wires, not to disparage what we're doing, but you can do a lot of really cool stuff in a browser.
[00:08:24] Eric: absolutely. But I love the way you describe that.
[00:08:28] Being inspired by kids games, because so many of the things in the industry have been a certain way forever and continue to be that way, because they've been that way forever. And I think we often get so siloed in, in our approach to, to design or just processes in general, that we fail to see an obvious solution.
[00:08:50] Like you just described that being said, it can't have been an easy process to, to, to port an entire design platform, uh, onto a web interface. Were you involved at all in that process, or did that predate when you arrived at Zuken?
[00:09:05] Wilmer: No, and it was really just a matter of looking for the art of the possible, and there's tons of technologies out there available.
[00:09:14] And it's really just a matter of taking a leap and giving it a try, having the open-mindedness to say, Hey, this might be possible. And sure enough, it was, and it wasn't particularly difficult. A lot of the technology is already there. Set. So why go out and build something new? When you can just work on work with what's already been created.
[00:09:35] It's it's really just a matter of, like you said, having your eyes open to the art of the possible.
[00:09:40] Eric: We've talked about this idea of sexy parts, unsexy parts, how they all fit into the process and the, how any disruption in the supply chain can derail the entire fabrication process. I'd love to tap into some of your expertise on supply chains and ask the silly question that of course everyone is asking, and it's only silly because we keep asking it every day.
[00:10:07] When am I gonna get my parts?
[00:10:09] Wilmer: I wish I could predict the future. Don't we all? All right. And the only answer I can really give is it depends. And that's the boring answer. That's the sort of the answer is like everybody rolls their eyes at it really does depend on a number of things, right? It depends on what, like you said, what types of parts we're talking about and what types of industries you're in. The headlines are full of automotive industry is, is gonna be still feeling a supply chain crunch for the next couple of years, 2023, or maybe even beyond. And others are like, yeah, it's tight, but it's not terrible. Unfortunately it depends. And I think that's a product of the nature of this type of shortage that we have. It's a little bit broader than things we've seen in the past in the sense that if you look, you know, back in 2018, it was very acutely little bit of passive component to general, but very acutely MLCCs.
[00:11:04] And then if you go back to 2011, the Japanese, the tsunami really affected the memory industry, memory and sensors and that type of stuff. Then, then you go back even further than that to '04 and the beginning of smartphones and everything, low power electronics were hard to come by. So those past shortages, if you will had, were very acute to one segment, and now here we are.
[00:11:33] Faced with a much broader type of thing, because there's a lot going on. It's multifaceted, right? You've raw materials are being affected. Logistics are being affected, and then you got demand all of a sudden in there at the same time. And it's, it kind of hate this term. It gets used a lot, but it's a perfect storm.
[00:11:50] So there's a lot to unwind. So to say, exactly what's gonna happen. Nobody really can. But I think suppliers are starting to get in front of it, or at least there's an understanding starting to develop that, Hey, we gotta work together to, to get whatever it is we can
[00:12:09] Eric: mm-hmm, be flexible. Be open to alternate approaches.
[00:12:13] Wilmer: I wish that could give you some sort of really advanced. AI driven technology solution, but good old fashioned relationship management. There's no substitute for that. Yeah.
[00:12:24] There's no question at some point that that parts order needs to go through a human being and you're gonna be best served if you've got a real relationship with that human being.
[00:12:34] Eric: yeah. And somebody who has, hopefully there's somebody who understands your business. And what I wanna get at is what this looks like from your perspective. It's a very different perspective. I feel like than a manufacturer's perspective or a, or an engineer's perspective for that matter.
[00:12:51] Wilmer: Yeah. So from the CAD side of things we mentioned earlier, that CAD is the beginning of design.
[00:12:59] So. In, in situations like this, like we find ourselves in right now that the industry finds itself in right now, the challenges that you might be seeing in your, the supply chain challenges you might be seeing in your selected parts. The sooner we can put that in front of the face of an engineer, the better, right.
[00:13:17] because in, in a little bit of the old, older, and under what we call normal circumstances, you've got your, you've got your AVL, you've got your part library, all that other stuff you drop in your parts. You hit go or you send it off and it gets built and everybody's happy. No, nothing much is going on. But from the CAD side of things, when the industry is in the state, that it is, it's it behooves everybody to place that information earlier on.
[00:13:46] As soon as you're selecting parts, before you go into layout and all that stuff, having a sense of, okay, I wanna design in this FPGA. PMA or something. Can I actually get it before I start sending this further down the pipe and getting into design and test and pro builds and all that stuff. So from the CAD side of things, we find that being able to empower our users with that type of data, with BOM risk analysis, data, and all that stuff, the good stuff that we get from SiliconExpert, putting that in front of their faces early.
[00:14:22] Really adds a lot of value to our tool. That's what it looks like from the CAD space. When things are like, this is being able to empower users with data that is of great value added proposition.
[00:14:33] Eric: The use of the word empowering there really sums it up. I think. So we've always done this to a certain extent where engineers have particularly in smaller organizations have had to be well, if not supply chain managers at least serve in a, let's say a purchasing capacity maybe in, in smaller organizations, do you think overall, are we gonna, are we seeing a trend now where engineers also have to think like supply chain manager.
[00:15:03] Wilmer: Yeah, I definitely think we do. And, um, and it's not just in these types of situations, right? It's not just when supply is hard to come by. I think it's gonna have to extend to all situations, right? Because if you look at the past history of supply chain and component capacity crunches, and things like that, the cycles it's all cyclical, right?
[00:15:24] And the cycles are getting tighter and tighter together. It used to be that 20 years will pass, will, will, everything will be hunky dory. And then. it's 10 years. And now if you look at the last two, right, 2020 that we're still dealing with, it was very short after 2018 when MLCCs were hard to get. So that was a scant four years.
[00:15:47] If that things being good or two years, yeah. Engineers are, are going to have to start having a bit of that present in their mind. Is the type of work that supply chain managers do, because if you can front load some of that work, it obviously makes it easier on the back end. And it actually, I think it's gonna work the other way as well.
[00:16:13] Not only will engineers have to put on their supply chain manager hat, but supply chain managers gonna have to put on their engineering hats and start to drill down into why did my engineer pick this part? And not that part. Right? The, we like to. Especially for passive components and some other common things.
[00:16:34] We like to think that they're the same, but they're not really. But having an understanding of why certain choices were made. It's really gonna make, it's gonna make the experience better, right? Not only supply chain choices, but also engineering choices. I think back to one of my times, I've been very fortunate to have really good supply chain folks and some not so good ones in past organizations that I work with and the ones that we were not so good, almost tried to apply downward pressure onto the choices that I've made as an engineer.
[00:17:07] So, I'm the supply chain guy. I control the AVL I'm I'm in charge of this. So you are limited to my choices and my opinions. And that was a very contentious sort of experience. And then I contrast with a different experience where it was much more collaborative type of thing was, Hey, you know, I've got my limitations, I've got my orders that come down from above, you know, how come you're really so interested in this part that is either not on the AVL.
[00:17:34] Or perhaps not on the AVL for, for this type of component. And that was obviously a much better experience. So this engineering sourcing relationship is definitely a key part to getting past this situation where we already mentioned how important relationship management is, and this is another one.
[00:17:56] So if we're
[00:17:56] Eric: gonna get our engineers out of their silo and get our supply chain managers out of their silo, get them talking to each other.
[00:18:05] Obviously that communication is really key, but also access to the right data is key, right? For each side of that.
[00:18:13] Wilmer: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And that's why I mentioned that from a CAD side of things. One of the things we can do is empower engineers with data, with the type of data that, that your particular organization provides and giving that to you on the forefront of the CAD tool.
[00:18:29] The cool thing is that data isn't always information, right? Just a slew of numbers. Doesn't tell you anything until you can put it into a method or into a platform that can be interpreted into actionable items. So that the data matters, but it really has to be good data. I've worked with several data aggregators in the past, if you will, that when I asked them really pointed questions, like where's the source of your data. They kind of fumble and stumble a little bit. And they're like, I've established your relationships over the last 35 years with the industry. And that's great. That's important, but that makes me feel like that just means you took your buddy out for lunch and he shot some numbers out at you, as opposed to, as opposed to some data sources like we got this data from the ECIA, or some other types of data gathering organizations that, okay, now we're talking, this is good stuff. So you know that the quality of the data matters. I'm reminded of a circumstance, particularly recently when there was this critical shortage and I traveled to so a customer that was in involved in power supply design.
[00:19:35] And they couldn't get their ceramic capacitors. And on the output of one of their switchers, they had a whole bank of MLCCs just right there to filter some output. And obviously at the time they were really hard to come by, particularly some of the larger case size ones that were all just being gobbled up by the automotive industry.
[00:19:55] And I proposed to them, Hey, you know what, if we switch you over to a different technology in this case, a tantalum polymer technology. And that already put him on edge a little bit, right? Cause this is one of these, this was one of these gray beard guys that remember back in, I think it was early nineties or eighties.
[00:20:14] And I say, Lovingly. And it was in the early nineties or late eighties where people were paying just these exorbitant prices for tantalum capacitors because the supply chain, again, itself hadn't really been stabilized. And then the fact that some of the older technology tends to catch fire, right?
[00:20:30] Nobody likes that this is newer tech . And so I proposed to him, Hey, you see this big bank of MLCCs you got here? What if we, you know, replace it? I think it was two or three tantalum polymer capacitors. And it was like, no, what are you talking about? That's crazy. I'm not gonna do that. And then he looks at the price and these things are like a dollar each.
[00:20:54] And they're like, oh my God. And then you're trying to sell me a dollar capacitor. You're crazy. And I'm like, wait a minute. Let's look at this. You need, you need all this capacitance. And you're paying for the, yeah. Maybe individually you're paying a lot less, but when you add up the whole solution, you're actually gonna be saving money when you switch to this other technology.
[00:21:17] And then that was like, oh, well then okay. Maybe, maybe I can entertain that. And on top of the fact you can actually get them. Right. That's another thing.
[00:21:26] Eric: That's a nice bonus.
[00:21:27] Wilmer: Yeah. When we're faced with supply chain crunches, like we have, we gotta get creative with our solutions and explore things that maybe we wouldn't have thought of before.
[00:21:39] Right. Because these events are rare and our friends in distribution, they're very good. At producing and, and studying things when it's, when circumstances are normal and they do their linear regressions and they do all these analyses, that gives you a sense of what can be expected. But when you're trying to do statistical analysis of rare events, there's a whole different type of statistics that you gotta use, right.
[00:22:06] Posan regression as opposed to linear turning to different things for different circumstances.
[00:22:12] Eric: Yeah. And boy, talk about trying to predict what's going to happen next and what an insanely complex ecosystem it is. It's more like meteorology than economics. certainly these things have been historically rare, but do you think.
[00:22:32] We need to adapt a mindset of just being ready. Is this going to be a fact of life in the future with the, just the insane demand you mentioned briefly how much the automotive industry has impacted availability for those of us working in other industries. Do you think we just need to get used to that?
[00:22:54] Wilmer: Yeah, I think to an extent we might have to get used to it and getting used to it is interesting.
[00:23:01] We did a webinar recently where we polled the audience and asked the question of how many of you are building redundancies into your designs in anticipation of stuff like this. And the response was. 66% of them two thirds were saying, yeah, I'm building redundancies. And I honestly, I wasn't expecting that because everything right has to be so rock bottom and building redundancies sounds inefficient expensive. right. But now redundancy is, seems pretty smart at this point. Yeah. And it makes sense, right? Because it's, it's gonna keep you running. Yeah. You're open to new technologies like that gentleman, I was discussing different capacitor solutions with maybe you build alternative footprints into your lineup so that you could place different things, or maybe you put in a redundant switcher, a redundant LDO, or it's like that in, just in case.
[00:23:58] And that. The type of mentality. I think we're gonna have to develop because of the cyclical nature of these things. These cycles are getting tighter. If you're in a program that's expected to last five or six years or more, then this flexibility is gonna help. We're going to have to be creative with our solutions and the way we design things and the way we find and search for things.
[00:24:20] There's so many choices out there right now that. Some are good, some are bad, and we're gonna have to get really creative and also really judicious with what we put into our designs. And it's it overall makes us better engineers. And I think we're gonna have better products at the end of the day because of it.
[00:24:40] Eric: Wilmer. Thank you so much for an amazing discussion and for being our guest today.
[00:24:47] Wilmer: Thanks. Thanks for having me. This is, this has been a lot of fun on this end and I look forward to a future episode.
[00:24:52] Eric: I'd like to thank Zuken for sponsoring this episode of the Intelligent Engine podcast, and a special thanks to you, our audience for tuning into this.
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