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OPC tool aims to cut IC manufacturing time

Posted: 14 Jan 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ic layout? aprio technologies? opc tool suite? halo tool suite? tool suite?

Promising to eliminate weeks or months spent rerunning optical proximity correction on IC layouts, startup Aprio Technologies Inc. will introduce its first product this weeka "reconfigurable" OPC tool suite aimed at manufacturing groups.

The Halo tool suite, which includes an OPC generator, simulator and calibrator, claims to offer the first OPC engineering-change-order capability. It lets engineers quickly process a change to mask data without rerunning the entire OPC all over again, as required by existing tools. The result is a 30x speedup in implementing a design change in mask data, the company said.

That translates quickly into dollars at a time when a single OPC run can take days at 90nm and possibly weeks at 65nm. "If it's taken six weeks to get something out and you need to make another change, you don't want to go through another six weeks of OPC processing," said Randy Smith, Aprio's VP of sales and marketing.

Aprio was founded in January 2003 by Clive Wu, CEO and CTO, and Daniel Ho, VP of engineering and operations. Wu, an expert in convex optimization, was previously the Engineering VP at design-for-manufacturability pioneer Numerical Technologies Inc.

Starting with an idea developed by Wu, a 10-person engineering team at Aprio built the Halo suite in about six months, Smith said. He noted that convex optimization played a role in Aprio's reconfigurable OPC technology, which permits incremental updates.

"The incremental process is a convergence problem much like Spice is," Smith said. "You make some changes to values, do simulation, compare results and make corrections. Getting that to converge more quickly is a big value."

Also key to Halo is Aprio's Trinity data model, which understands circuit, geometry and process information. Trinity, said Smith, is a very efficient database that understands hierarchy and makes incremental OPC changes possible. In the future, Aprio plans to use Trinity as a springboard to offer "manufacturing-aware" tools to IC designers.

The Halo suite starts with Halo-OPC, which provides full-chip, model-based optical proximity correction while claiming a threefold speed increase over existing tools. Halo-Sim offers full-chip silicon simulation and verification, while Halo-Cal provides model calibration.

While Halo-OPC could potentially replace existing OPC software from Mentor Graphics or Synopsys, Smith said, that's not Aprio's strategy. Rather, the company wants to complement existing tools. If a design has already gone through another vendor's OPC tool, Halo-Cal can generate models for Halo-OPC and Halo-Sim that are compatible with that tool. Users can then make an incremental OPC change in the same style as the original tool.

In the first release, Smith said, Halo-OPC can replace previous OPC results in a given area and "stitch in" any needed layout changes. "You replace the part that's changed with the correct OPC in the new area and correct boundary conditions for the old and new areas," he said.

Future releases, he said, will go beyond this "change-by-area" technique, possibly allowing users to identify a critical path and process topology differently along the path. "You may want to employ different OPC settings for different types of geometry, or distinguish power nets from signal nets," he said, "but that's not in the first release."

Next up: GUI

Also currently lacking, Smith acknowledged, is a graphical user interface. "We're looking to partner with [GDSII] viewing companies. We're running through a TCL script right now," he said.

Still, Aprio is convinced enough of Halo's value to set a starting price of $380,000. The tool suite is available now on 32bit and 64bit Linux and Solaris platforms.

While Halo will be sold to manufacturing groups, Aprio's next step is getting tools into the hands of designers. "The type of application layer you need for use by designers is different than for the manufacturing side," said Smith. "Right now we're working with a couple of different use models." He said Aprio hopes to demonstrate tools for designers at the Design Automation Conference in June, with a release by the end of 2005.

- Richard Goering

EE Times

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