Mentor Graphics is a company specializing in electronic design software. Mentor was founded in 1981 in Wilsonville, Oregon, and today employs about 3500 persons.

Mentor Graphics might be thought of as a company that tries to do everything when it comes to the world of electronics. They have software packages for analog, digital and mixed signal designs. They make programs capable of simulating a design and of routing a PCB. The degree to which Mentor is involved in your design process can vary from simply providing the tools for you to purchase to doing actual consulting work for your company. Mentor products also vary in size and scope. There are products suitable for individuals and for large corporations.

A design generally enters the Mentor Graphics software system in the form of a schematic. The company using the schematic software is generally responsible for creating a prime library from which engineers can select the parts needed to realize their design. Placing parts into a design is normally accomplished via a drag and drop operation from the library menu.

Once the parts have been appropriately placed into the schematic, the engineer may run the design through a packaging program. My place of employment uses a Mentor Graphics utility called Protoview Package. The packaging program is responsible for accounting for all the parts in the design -- making sure that every component is valid and associated with a geometry. When Package is finished running, the engineer may want to output a Bill of Materials, which is a useful document listing all the parts in the design and their respective part number, reference designator, geometry, etc.

After running Package, the design is fed into a third program called Layout. In Layout, the engineer arranges the parts according to how s/he wants them to be placed on the actual printed circuit board. Layout is a very important step in the design process, for it is here that the engineer discovers if all the parts necessary for the design will actually fit within the designated board outline. If space turns out to be a problem, the engineer can try going back into the schematic capture program and choosing parts with smaller geometries.

A very useful and interesting aspect of the Mentor programs I've used is a utility called strokes, sometimes referred to as gestures. A stroke is a motion made with the mouse while holding down the middle mouse button. It takes a while to memorize all the strokes, but many of them are quite intuitive; a large "D" drawn on the screen will result in a delete operation, and a large "C" will result in a copy of whatever is selected at the time. Other strokes allow the user to zoom in and out, open and close windows, and navigate through menus. When one becomes adept at using strokes, the mouse feels as if it has become an extension of one's brain, such is the speed and efficiency with which many basic operations can be performed.


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