Virtually every electronic device you can think of contains at least one printed circuit board (PCB), which serves to house and connect the various components that allow the device to function as a whole. While circuit boards are usually invisible to end users, they are fundamental to the world they live in, powering smartphones, cars, microwave ovens, garage doors and the entire connected world.
So the global PCB market is big business, expected to grow from a $60 billion industry in 2020 to $75 billion in 2027. And it is this sector that is located in Germany celus wants to benefit with an automated platform that covers the entire printed circuit board design process, from idea to printed PCB.
To accelerate its mission to “automate electronics design,” Celus announced today that it has raised €25 million ($25.6 million) in a series of A-funding rounds.
So, what exactly is the scope of the problem Celus wants to solve?
When designing a PCB from scratch, the engineer has to come up with the concept of the first circuit diagram, based on the components needed to power the final product, be it transistors, resistors, capacitors, fuses, sensors, batteries , diodes, and everything else. The problem is, there can be millions of different components to choose from, with different sizes and specifications from thousands of manufacturers. So selecting the right components for the job, at the right price and availability, can be an incredibly labor-intensive manual process, involving multiple disciplines from across the company working together to sift through thousands of datasheets and identify the right components.
Only then do engineers draw the actual circuit diagrams to bring all the components together, which eventually find their way to the final PCB. But if you think this is the end of the process, you could be wrong. Companies often have to redesign their printed circuit boards when certain components (such as chips) become difficult to obtain, a very common problem in the post-pandemic supply chainwhich may mean that engineers have to return somewhere close to square one with their design.
“Replacing an unavailable part with a comparable part is theoretically possible, but it results in a time-consuming and expensive redesign of the electronic circuit and PCB,” Celus CEO and co-founder Tobias Pohl told TechCrunch. “With the Celus automation platform, such a redesign process is taken care of within minutes.”
At its core, Celus has built an engineering platform that provides engineers with component data from electronic manufacturers, while adding its own dedicated automation sauce to the mix. Indeed, Celus automates many of the manual processes involved in circuit board design, including generating schematics – a conceptual drawing of how parts will be connected – then creating a PCB map showing where to place each part and how they will be connected.
“Our design canvas provides the drawing board to capture the product concept and automatically generates the circuit diagram from there,” explains Pohl. “Components are selected based on their best fit for the requirements and the automation even generates the first PCB. This saves engineers a huge amount of time, which means they can experiment, try different things and be creative.”
So with Celus, users simply describe their requirements, which are then automatically linked to a library of components to find the best solution. And this is what Celus strives to differentiate from others AI-powered PCB players — it prioritizes component selection and schematic design and makes it all available in an easy-to-use GUI.
AI is used not only when designing new printed circuit boards, but also when extracting information from existing unstructured data sources. For example, when engineers upload schematics and PCB layouts to Celus, algorithms interpret the information in these files to make predictions.
“Traditionally, people had to consume and interpret a lot of files used in circuit board design, but AI can really digitalize and interpret that kind of data through machine learning,” Pohl added.
It’s also worth noting that Celus can be used as a standalone system or integrated into an existing IT environment where the underlying AI smarts are put to work with industry-standard electronic design automation (EDA) tools.
All of this ultimately adds up to saving precious time, a priceless commodity in a world where there seem to be not enough skilled engineers to make ends meet. And with global events such as pandemics and war exacerbating this problem, Celus is well positioned to take advantage by promising time-pressed circuit board engineers the ability to redesign their products at the touch of a button.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented component shortages in the industry – while component obsolescence and supply chain issues have always been a concern, the magnitude of the current problem means electronic device manufacturers cannot” sit out,” and they are forced to redesign their products to stay in business,” Pohl continued. “Our automation solves that redesign challenge in minutes and makes product redesign a viable option.”
Founded in Munich in 2018, Celus had raised only about €5.4 million in seed capital in its four-year history. However, it has gathered a fair number of large customers in that period, including Siemens and Viessmanna German manufacturer of heating and cooling systems worth 3.4 billion euros.
Celus’ Series A round was led by Earlybird Venture Capital, with participation from DI Capital, Speedinvest, Plug and Play, and a host of investors, including former Rolls Royce CEO Sir John Rose and Paul Gojenola, who is VP of hardware development at Google’s Nest. With his new cash injection, Pohl said the company plans to open a new office in the US to “position it at the heart of the electronics industry.”
“We want to reach every electronics designer out there so they can spend more time on innovation and creativity, while our software reduces the tedious and time-consuming tasks they previously had to deal with,” he said.