Caveat Lector
Portrait photo of a smiling Mike Buetow
mike
buetow
editor-
in-chief
Content is King
W

hy does Siemens want a content company?

In an era where new packages are coming online quickly, and the number of parts available is staggering – major original component manufacturers can have more than 100,000 items on their line card – human management of all this takes supernatural powers.

And that begins to explain why Siemens is paying $700 million (what?!?) for Supplyframe and its platform for component data, sourcing, and trends.

Indeed, the real value Supplyframe brings is not just access to spec sheets and parametric data, but real-time data trends. What’s available? What’s ramping in demand? And for how long? Supplyframe says it can aggregate use patterns across its 10 million-engineer-strong database to determine answers to these and related questions. It can also drill down by sector and geography to ascertain which components are ramping or stagnating in demand. There’s obvious value in that. That scale is impressive.

Now, one could argue that even real-time data are reactive, whereas what the supply chain needs is predictive, as in forward-looking. No word as to the degree Supplyframe customers have been bowed by the intense and building pressure on component inventories over the past nine months. We’d like to know.

But for design engineers, there’s unquestionable value in being able to access all these data in their preferred CAD environment. To that end, Siemens has already moved to add Supplyframe data to its Xpedition and Pads Pro lines.

As a review of the relatively recent history shows, ECAD companies have long known this, as the battle for content ownership has been ongoing for years. Almost a decade before being bought by Siemens, Mentor purchased PCB Matrix, previously known as PCB Libraries, which focused on land pattern calculators and library generation. In the era of Big Data, that move seems almost pedestrian in hindsight.

In 2015 Altium bought Octopart, significantly upping the ante due to the latter’s integrated sourcing capability. In 2016, EMA, the primary distributor of Cadence’s ORCAD tools, acquired Accelerated Designs.

Those all were smaller acquisitions. By snatching up the notably larger Supplyframe, Siemens has considerably raised the stakes. (The deal is set to close this quarter.)

Your serve, ECAD industry.

Whither Altium. The ECAD space continues to be interesting. Autodesk’s bid for Altium in June – declined so far – took me by surprise. In retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have.

As I’ve noted many times, I fully expect Altium to be acquired. It’s just I was looking more in the direction of Dassault and PTC. I should have kept Autodesk in my field of view, especially after it acquired Eagle five years ago. Perhaps I was lulled to sleep, as that was a small acquisition, and Autodesk hasn’t made much of a push since to burrow into the ECAD space.

The proposal was hefty, valuing Altium at $3.91 billion. That’s not much lower than Siemens paid for the considerably larger and more profitable Mentor Graphics in 2017. Yet Altium thinks it can do better.

It just might. Autodesk’s bid prices each Altium share at AU$38.50, a 41.5% premium over Altium’s closing price on Jun. 4 and a premium of over 47.4% to the one-month volume-weighted average price. Prior to the offering, however, Altium’s stock had peaked at a 52-week high of AU$39.34 last October. At $38.50, Autodesk was actually underbidding a bit.

An Autodesk-Altium merger wouldn’t immediately change the face of the ECAD industry. Altium would still run neck and neck with Zuken for third place in revenues behind Cadence and Mentor, but it would give Altium the backing of an industry leader in 3-D CAD, and accelerate the inevitable MCAD-ECAD merger.

Passings. On a sad note, Intercept founder Steve Klare passed away in June. The company in the 1990s had some promising tech, especially for RF, but couldn’t muster the scale needed, and rejected acquisition attempts. It’s been essentially nonexistent in the market for most of the past decade. Still, if you believe like we do that innovation moves fastest in a crowded market, the loss of a company – not to mention a genius engineer – is always a sad day.

Mike Buetow
P.S. By the time you read this, Printed Circuit University, our online education platform, featuring tutorials on a range of printed circuit design, fabrication and assembly matters, will be live. Take a look at printedcircuituniversity.com. You may recognize many of the instructors from our PCB East and PCB West conferences. Registration for the latter, which takes place in October at the Santa Clara Convention Center, is now open at pcbwest.com. Check out the program beginning on page 17.