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We need to talk about mobile phone design

Mobile phones let people talk; their design software needs to talk too, as

Tom Wilkie discovers B

uyers of mobile phones have an insatiable appetite for novelty. It is a characteristic shared across the

whole of consumer electronics – one need only to look at the production cycle of tablet computers for example. Te time for producing an upgrade for a given mobile phone can now be as little as three months, while consumers expect a step change in technology in as little as a year to 15 months. Such timing pressures place enormous

demands on the designers of consumer electronics, so the major manufacturers are becoming more and more reliant on design and simulation soſtware to help them bring new products to market faster. Jeff Brennan, of Altair Hyperworks, noted that use of simulation soſtware is growing rapidly across all industrial sectors, with an average increase in sales of about 15 per cent last year – but in electronics simulation, soſtware sales rose about 30 per cent. According to Manuel Rei of Dassault

Systèmes, the shorter lead-times from soſtware modelling can be dramatic: ‘A job that was done within a week is now done within half a day.’ But, whether it be a tablet computer or a mobile phone, electronic and mechanical modelling and optimisation are involved, so it is vital that the different soſtware packages used for different specialised parts of the design process are able to communicate with each other quickly and effortlessly. Take, for example, a problem such as how

to make a mobile phone or tablet computer as small as possible, while packing all the electronic components into the space as densely as possible. Te obvious solution is to use a flexible printed circuit board. Traditional rigid printed circuit boards


(PCBs) are essentially two dimensional surfaces, which limits the designers’ ability to pack everything into the small space available. Flexible PCBs on the other hand are

inherently three-dimensional – the flexibility of the board allows the designer to place different parts into different places in space. Rei explained: ‘When you take any mobile phone, any digital camera, any DVD or mp3

player, or any notebook, you have more and more flexible circuit boards – you don’t have the rigid boards that you saw in the past.’ Te manufacturers of such equipment can benefit from this capability. ‘Over the past 10 years, the soſtware industry has provided many improvements. For flexible printed circuit boards, we were able to divide by five the time needed to model and engineer a flexible board,’ Rei added.

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