Manufacturers incessantly prod designers to get products to market faster. So startup Aptix Corp. has unveiled a high-tech method for a relatively low-tech but time-consuming chore: developing printed-circuit boards.

Circuit boards provide the network for chips to send signals back and forth. Today, the boards usually are created first as computer simulations, then turned into a prototype for testing. Typically, a bug will be found, because the simulation software doesn't spot all the defects in highly complex boards. Companies then revamp the design and make another prototype. Often they repeat this several times, with each rerun adding days to the process. Such delays can be especially galling when products contain multiple circuit boards.

Aptix' solution is to move the prototyping to the designer's desk--via a "switchboard" that functions like a telephone exchange. Called FPIC, for field-programmable interconnect, the switchboard's grid can be programmed to route each wire from every chip to its particular destination. Should a bug--a faulty connection--be detected, it can be fixed on the spot just by reprogramming the FPIC, using a special $15,000 tool from the San Jose (Calif.) startup.

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