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Assessing the DFM impact

Posted: 27 May 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:EDA? DFM? Moore's law?

As designs progressed from the 130nm node in their quest to keep up with Moore's law, physics asserted its influence on circuits' behavior. The EDA industry, creative in finding timely solutions to the pressing problems of the electronics market, rose to the challenge and defined a new market segment, unfortunately labeled design-for-manufacturing (DFM). I say unfortunately because, as I have pointed out many times, we designed for manufacturing since the invention of the light bulb or even before that.

What is DFM?
To EDA vendors, DFM means inventing or developing tools that transform a logic design into a circuit manufacturable with acceptable yields. This is a means to ensure that a netlist developed by logic designers meets all the laws of electronic physics and other optical and structural requirements necessary to manufacture, gut and package a working die.

The segment gained a number of attentions from engineering entrepreneurs and the venture capital firms were quick to offer funds. It looked like one or more DFM companies could grow quickly to achieve the hundred million in revenue mark. Things did not well as envisioned by most. Instead, now it looks like Aart de Geus, CEO, Synopsys Inc., has been right all along since he predicted a few years ago that integrated flows would be the only viable solution to the design problem. He went on saying that it would be both difficult and expensive for a third party to independently integrate its tool into the flow of a major EDA vendor.

DFM market expansion
For the last two years, the DFM market has seen significant consolidation. Cadence Design Systems purchased ClearShape Technologies, Mentor Graphics bought first Sierra Design Automation and then just recently it acquired the assets of Ponte Solutions Inc. Meanwhile, there are strong rumors of an imminent offering from Synopsys addressing the DFM market, and Magma has Talus and now Hydra to help logic designers meet the physical requirements of semiconductors' fabrication.

At the onset of DAC, all four leading EDA vendors will provide an integrated RTL to GDS-II flow to their customers, without the need to integrate any third party tool for DFM specific analysis. The 45th Design Automation Conference, to be held in Anaheim on June 8-13, will offer both technical papers and panel discussion about the subject. This is a good venue for everyone to see the latest offerings in the area by the "Big Four", and at the same time to know what's up at Apache Design Solutions Inc. and Blaze DFM Inc.

Apache has diversified, especially after the acquisition of Optimal Corp., and now addresses both the power analysis market and the die/package/PCB system design and analysis. Its products are integrated with those of other EDA vendors, like Cadence, Agilent Technologies and Ansys Inc., to name a few, and revenues rely less likely on DFM specific tools.

Power trim service
Blaze DFM Inc., instead, has not shed the DFM part of its name because it continues to address this market. One possible reason is that one of its cofounders, Andrew Kahng, a recognized leader in the field, can provide technical insights that are often superior to those in competition. To be sure, the company has also looked for innovative ways to address the market. Two months ago, Blaze DFM announced an agreement with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) that the company called an innovative business arrangement. Under the agreement TSMC will offer its customer the "power trim service" an analysis run by its employees of the design before it goes into production to identify possible yield challenges, correct them and improve the yield. Both companies have chosen not to disclose the financial terms, although it is clear that Blaze DFM will benefit from the agreement, it is not possible to make any judicious revenue forecast.

I don't think of myself as a DFM technical expert, and neither Ponte nor Blaze have taken me into their confidence and shown the details of their technology. But I know how to tell the difference, and indeed there are differences between what Ponte has been doing, and thus Mentor acquired, and what Blaze does. But, how long will it last? Mentor has the advantage of having the entire picture: a tight technical relationship with foundries for manufacturing know-how, a leading OPC technology in Calibre, and the Ponte algorithms. Blaze DFM has Andrew and TSMC motivation to make "power trim service" a success. Time will tell if this is enough to motivate TSMC customers to take time and invest the money in the service.

One thing is for sure: no matter how big, how established, or what revenue height your company has achieved, there is no relaxing in EDA.

- Gabe Moretti
EDA DesignLine





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