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Wanted: New class of engineering generalists for DFM

Posted: 01 Nov 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:chip production model? ic design? photomask? fab function? eda?

The traditional chip production model is disintegrating, with the communications gap widening among the IC design, photomask and fab functions, equipment makers and EDA vendors warned at the recent Bacus Symposium for Photomask Technology in California.

The gap threatens the success of next-generation chip designs and their yields, and thus calls for breakthrough design-for-manufacturing (DFM) solutions, they said.

It could also call for a more generalized class of engineer, one Bacus participant suggested.

Thus far, DFM has fallen short of expectations in an effort to bring designers, mask makers and fab managers onto the same page, Bacus participants said. "Yields for smaller process nodes are lower, and yield predictability is going down," David Thon, group director for nanometer analysis and verification products at Cadence Design Systems Inc., warned in an interview at the symposium.

Dinesh Bettadapur, president and CEO of lithography-software supplier ASML MaskTools Inc., offered a human-resources solution to fix the chip-production model: hire and train more "tall and fat" engineers.

Bettadapur believes that the typical IC manufacturer is not a unified organization but, rather, a divided entity that he calls "Silos R Us." The conventional chipmaker has three silos: design, mask making and the fab. In each silo, the engineers and related personnel have become specialized--or what the ASML executive describes in figurative terms as tall and thin.

Chipmakers now require DFM engineers that can communicate and bridge the gaps from silo to silo. Tall and fat engineers, in effect, are trained in all disciplines.

"We need to bring down the wall between design and manufacturing," Bettadapur said, and that will call for "a new class of engineer."

There is still a need for specialists, or tall and thin engineers, within organizations, Bettadapur said, and tall and fat DFM engineers won't emerge overnight.

But don't bother retraining the specialized engineers, especially chip designers, some advised.

"The lithographers are slowly moving upstream into mask making and EDA, but it's a little harder for the EDA guys to move downstream," said Bob Naber, director of technical marketing at Sigma-C GmbH, a developer of simulation and analytical software for lithography and related applications.

Naber said the "disintegration of fab content" started back in the 1980s, when IDMs began to outsource their chip and mask production to merchant foundries and photomask shops. Chip production's shift to subwavelength lithography at the 0.25?m generation exacerbated the disintegration.

Age of collaboration

While outsourcing has its advantages and is here to stay, the breakdown in the chip-production model threatens sub-100nm manufacturing, Bacus participants said.

As a result, the industry must "reintegrate" and work together through collaborative partnerships among chipmakers, mask shops and EDA vendors, said Ken Rygler, president of photomask technology consultancy Rygler and Associates Inc.

"We are in the age of reintegration," Rygler said. "People won't be able to solve these issues by themselves."

- Mark LaPedus

Silicon Strategies

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