I've always admired Phil Gibson's work and have often pointed to many of his accomplishments as best practices. This week, he did it again! On November 9, 2009, he unveiled the most sophisticated, yet simple to use Web dashboard that I have ever seen to help customers make buying decisions.
By turning a virtual knob to optimize for power efficiency, small footprint, and/or cost of a total bill of materials, design engineers can instantly generate and evaluate the most appropriate options among billions of power supply circuit designs. By turning the dial, or selecting different parameters or filters, engineers can visually navigate a bubble diagram depicting the choices that meet their requirements. They can zero in on a group of designs to compare. Or, by shifting their perspective or their parameters, instantly generate a new set of options. Designers can start from one point in space (input source, output voltage, and output current) and visually shape and navigate to their preferred solution. Phil calls it “designing at warp speed” because you feel as if you're in a spaceship jumping from one set of bubbles to another. The size of each bubble is its cost. The bubbles are arrayed along dimensions of footprint size, number of components, and efficient heat dissipation.
Phil Gibson is the VP of Technical Sales Tools at National Semiconductor. He is also in charge of National's award-winning Web site. Phil always amazes me with the robustness and completeness of the free Web-based tools he provides to prospects, customers, and partners.
Other e-business leaders may be happy when their customers can use their Web sites to quickly find and buy products. Phil isn't happy unless customers can use his Web site and tools to design, specify, simulate, and test complete circuitry, which they can then purchase either as a complete priced-out Bill of Materials from dozens of partners or purchase an evaluation board and components that are shipped overnight.
The new Visualizer tool is a Flex application that sits on top of a powerful real-time optimization engine. The underlying database includes 25 different switching power supply architectures and 21,000 components from 110 different suppliers (not just National Semiconductor's components), with feeds updating the pricing from a dozen distributors every hour. Engineers can navigate through billions of power supply design alternatives in seconds. In the past, the WEBENCH tool that Phil Gibson's team has been evolving since 1999 has enabled engineers to optimize one design at a time after they register on National.com. This new WEBENCH Visualizer lets engineers navigate and compare billions of design options without having to register first. Once you've selected the one or two designs you want to exercise and simulate, you can register to use the full WEBENCH toolset, which adds more functionality, including thermal simulation.
What interests me about National Semiconductor's WEBENCH Visualizer is:
1. It's a tool that enables customers to create better designs and to make better design decisions.
2. It's a tool that helps engineers (National's customers) do their jobs and helps them make trade-offs based on the criteria that matter most to their customers (electronics manufacturers like Nokia, Apple, and others).
3. It uses a variety of visualization techniques to let customers work the way their minds work (spreadsheets, dials, graphical bubble chart, circuit diagrams, parts and price lists, waveforms) all in one interactive dashboard.
4. It is interactive and iterative with real-time feedback. As I change my mind or try something different, I see the results.
5. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of data and number crunching going on to provide results that are optimized for my changing criteria.
6. There's an entire customer-centric ecosystem of suppliers, distributors and other partners integrated into this dashboard. Over 100 suppliers' products are integrated into one simple dashboard for customers to use to create their designs and their multi-supplier bills of materials.
7. Customers can share their designs with their customers and engage with them in experimenting with different trade-offs.
8. It's a powerful tool that is provided free of charge to customers because National Semiconductor has learned that the easier they make it for customers to design their products, the more of their business they get.
Here's a link to the demonstration on National's Web site: www.national.com/visualizer. That's Phil Gibson's voice you hear as you click through the different videos showing how to use the tool.