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Silicon Metrics: U.S., Taiwan alliance crucial in EDA, SIP advancement

Posted: 01 Oct 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:eda? sip? asic? automatic cell synthesis tools? embedded hardware/software design?

A decade ago, the PC industry faced shrinking profit margins due to heavy competition and high production costs. Taiwan stepped to the forefront to provide efficiently produced, yet inexpensive ASICs and PCBs. Today, the electronics industry is looking beyond the PC for new areas of growth, while the ASIC supply chain is undergoing significant restructuring. Likewise, the Taiwan manufacturing industry is in transition - preparing to meet the needs of a post-PC electronics market.

The ASIC supply chain is built of many links: application knowledge, silicon IP (SIP), manufacturing expertise, packaging, test, and distribution to name a few. Ten years ago, the components of that chain were provided primarily by the major, vertically integrated ASIC vendors. Today's landscape is more complex, with new categories of companies entering the market as the ASIC supply chain disaggregates and reintegrates in interesting ways. Though it is difficult to predict exactly how the "new" ASIC supply chain will look in five years, it is clear that some of the more important players will come from Taiwan.

For example, consider SIP. To make an ASIC you still need base-SIP in the form of a cell library. In the PC era, you usually got your library from your ASIC vendor. However, if you chose to work with a Taiwan foundry, your company was responsible for the physical design. So you went to COMPASS and bought a library. Currently you have a range of choices, from SIP vendors such as Artisan and Virtual Silicon, to automatic cell synthesis tools from the likes of Prolific and Numerical Technologies. All of these companies have deep ties to Taiwan's manufacturing community.

However, in the next decade, Taiwan could very well take a leadership position in the development of certain SIP. Building on its manufacturing prowess, Taiwan will step out of its narrow role as a provider of low-cost manufacturing to become a significant developer of SIP - both simple and complex.

We have seen a similar transition in Europe, for example Scotland, where countries that have traditionally relied on low-cost manufacturing to drive their high-tech economy have added contract design services as a means of feeding their domestic manufacturing industry. But while European industry focused on commodity chips like memory, Taiwan has focused on systems chips. This could give Taiwan an edge in the coming paradigm shift.

But that shift will not occur in Taiwan without partnership from American industry. Just as Taiwan joined with IC companies to provide cost-effective IC manufacturing at the beginning of the PC era and with IP developers to build the ASICs of today, Taiwan's industry will join with American EDA companies to implement their homegrown IP into tomorrow's electronic systems.

The original ASIC vendors invested millions of dollars and years developing an infrastructure to support customer-driven designs. Luckily for Taiwan, EDA companies like Silicon Metrics, can accelerate Taiwan's entry into the new ASIC value chain by supplying key infrastructure components off the shelf. Design tools, library development tools, and even product engineering and design for manufacturing technologies are all available from the commercial EDA market. By leveraging commercial EDA and SIP solutions, Taiwan semiconductor companies will be free to concentrate on developing those elements of the ASIC value chain that bring unique competitive advantage.

The story does not end with chip design and manufacturing. EDA technology is expanding its scope to include much of the system design problem. Embedded hardware and software design is merging with chip design to create the next wave of economic growth: electronic systems for the masses.

Again, the Taiwan expertise (this time in PCB development) will come into play, taking what was learned over the past decade and applying it to future electronic systems markets. In conjunction with its deepening relationship with the American EDA industry, Taiwan will continue to be a major force driving the recovery and renewed growth of the worldwide electronics industry.

- Callan Carpenter

President and CEO

Silicon Metrics Corp.

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