The IT industry has revolutionized many traditional manufacturing process during the latest decades, with the expansion of numerical simulations and design, accelerating innovation in many processes. While being accessible to elite engineers due to there cost, and complexity, these tools are expanding fast, and could soon run for free on a Desktop PC.
The Open impact
These projects have been decried many times but have had an unexpected impact on there capabilities to enable a small group of people from which we are part of to design an effective toolchain to freely design advanced datacenter technologies from servers to the building level. This work is in progress, performed by talented engineering resources spread around the world, and is currently exponentially growing from an adoption and feature rates.
Where do we stand ?
Some people will say far away from professional solutions, and they are wrong , the latest achievements are just tremendous for free and open source solutions. We believe that we are about 18 months from being able to achieve our primary goal, which is to provide a full free design toolchain including simulation tools to any Open Hardware community member.
Engineers from Horizon have been able to design advanced PCIe Gen3 board using KiCAD. The design is more than 10 layers, needed trace length matching as well as controlled differential impedance management. The layout has been performed on a standard Desktop PC, and the CAD conversion has been run on the same machine through the StepUp plugin which allows to bridge KiCAD to FreeCAD. Modifications performed within each tool can be sent backward to the other, easing the design process, and lowering design issues between CAD and EDA.
Efforts are currently made to provide efficient CFD / Thermal simulation coupling within FreeCAD at chip, board, system, datacenter level. These efforts are made using Elmer solver, SMESH from Salome plateform, and supporting hexahedron meshing technology, as well as automatic defeaturing of the CAD model. We are expecting live demo of the solution for the next OCP summit. In the meantime here is a small video of Elmer thermal / CFD capabilities in 2D which are just amazing compared to professional codes.
Why should you join the effort ?
Controlling the toolchain, and it’s capability to support new features like EMI simulation, or multi-physics coupling is the only way to provide efficient innovation in Open Hardware. It is also the best way to understand how a computer is designed and enable wide spread of the technology it relies on to next generation of engineers.
Building a global toolchain with standard file format allows to expand product lifecycle and reduce waste generated by the IT industry by reusing from design to design parts which have different lifetime, like power shelf, racks, server chassis, cables, or even motherboard by reallocating them to new tasks. IT industry is one of the most polluting in the world, and reducing our carbon footprint is a primary goal that we shall all target within our infrastructure choices.
Getting access for free to schematic and drawings allows local engineers and technicians to provide fast efficient support, avoiding to trash a board for a 10 cents dead capacitor.
Even if you don’t design today, the cost reduction and the flexibility such tools allow you to gain will change the way you think about IT or design. Generation Z engineers are trained using Fablab, quick turn, and collaborative approach, adapting your process to them is key to your future capability to attract the best talented one.
Next steps ? From virtual prototyping to real life …
With the expansion of Open Source design tools, and rapid adoption of additive manufacturing capabilities (3D printers), some really innovative PCB and PCBa machines manufacturer starts to cut the cost of there quick turn machines allowing us to start coupling the design toolchain to PCB and PCBa workflow in an automatic manner. This will allow to design and produce a PCB in days or weeks instead of months. This quick turn approach will also enhance innovation by validating or not ideas in quick way at a lower cost.
The tools designed to sustain this effort are impacting other industrial sectors like automotive (Open Source Vehicle), machining (Open Source Ecology Project) and many more to come. There impact will be wider than expected and we are at the beginning of an industrial shift, which will requires any industrial to adapt. Is it time to do it now ? It is up to you to decide, but only the one who adapt will be the winners of tomorrow.
Nothing will stop this revolution to happen, this is just a matter of time now, and adapting. We are believing at Horizon this is the time to embrace it, and that is why we are committed exclusively to it in the IT sector by enhancing design tools, providing support and deploying Open Hardware around the world