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Acquisition brings MultiSim tool to NI

Posted: 01 Apr 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multisim? board-level simulation? labview? virtual instruments? data acquisition?

With a goal of more tightly integrating the often separate islands of design and test, National Instruments Corp. (NI) has acquired Toronto-based Electronics Workbench, purveyor of the popular MultiSim board-level simulation package.

MultiSim has about 180,000 seats, roughly divided between commercial PCB designers and professors and students in two- and four-year engineering schools.

NI, with sales of $514 million last year, derives most of its revenue from board-level "virtual instruments" and data acquisition boards that are controlled under LabView, its graphical development environment. The company has made several acquisitions in recent years to further its capabilities in dsp and electronic system design.

"National Instruments is showing a pattern here with these deals," said Daya Nadamuni, analyst at Gartner Dataquest. "It's part of their plan to move further up the food chain, from test and measurement into design."

While most of the major EDA players have concentrated on the RTL-to-gate design flow, NI's goal "is to innovate in this whole space of system design," said Ray Almgren, VP of product marketing at NI. National Instruments and Electronics Workbench have collaborated for three years in a mutual effort to bring simulated and measured waveforms together on the same screen.

At the NI Week corporate show, for example, the pair demonstrated how a bandpass filter design could be improved by comparing simulated and measured waveforms under LabView and its sister product, Signal Express.

The Electronics Workbench acquisition will further that vision of tying MultiSim-created simulations with measured waveforms, executives from the two companies said.

NI CEO James Truchard said engineers who simulate boards with MultiSim need to be able to "immediately compare the simulation with measured results. Time-to-market demands require that simulation and test are done in parallel. Engineers need to be able to set up testing as they complete the design, using the same algorithms and measurements."

MultiSim is primarily a board-level simulation tool with adequate schematic-capture and layout capabilities, said Dataquest's Nadamuni, while its competitors in the shrink-wrapped board tool market emphasize layout and routing rather than simulation. Cadence Design Systems Inc.'s OrCAD tools and Mentor Graphics Corp.'s PADS product line sell into this market.

Truchard and Electronics Workbench CEO Bill Wignall downplayed any competitive threat to the larger EDA companies, arguing that those vendors derive the vast majority of their revenues from tools that cost many times more than MultiSim. That product sells for about $1,500 to $3,000 per seat. The issue is sensitive because NI has cooperative relationships with several of the larger EDA vendors. "Those companies are optimized for $100,000-per-seat sales," Wignall said.

Nadamuni said Dataquest estimates that Electronics Workbench had revenue of about $7 million in 2003. "Electronics Workbench has been a relatively small player in PCB design, though their technology is pretty solid," said Laurie Balch, another EDA analyst at Gartner Dataquest. "The company's strength has been largely in the education market and they've had a difficult time breaking out into the mainstream."

For the immediate future, Truchard said, MultiSim will be sold as a separate tool, but with tighter LabView integration. "In this time frame, we are just tightening the relationship, continuing to sell MultiSim in the channel," he said. "We want to get more under the hood to tie both products [MultiSim and LabView] together with tighter efficiency. That way, the user interface is the same for the simulated and measured data."

Wignall said Electronics Workbench was solidly profitable. The relationship with NI, he said, would allow it to extend its technologies in ways it could never do as an independent company. For example, MultiSim supports co-simulation, the ability to simulate in SPICE alongside other simulation languages. Engineers who design an FPGA could write code in VHDL and test its accuracy not just in a VHDL simulation testbench, but also by using the simulation model inside the board-level circuit on which the FPGA will reside.

"We keep seeing this, the need for people to do the design and to also test and validate," Wignall said. "If you are an EDA company that doesn't own test and measurement technology, your abilities are limited. From our point of view, that's the biggest hurdle. You have to find a partner like NI that has that piece."

"This deal with Electronics Workbench is likely to result, longer term, in the test and validation tools being more tightly integrated with an entire suite of toolseven with the higher-end tools from Cadence and Mentor," said NI's Almgren. "We feel that the entire industry will benefit."

Almgren said another immediate goal is to improve the products used at both two-year and four-year engineering schools. MultiSim is used widely by circuit design professors, and NI sells a package of its LabView development software and prototyping boardscalled NI.Elvis (Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite) tailored for the academic market.

Almgren said NI and Electronics Workbench have collaborated for several years to improve engineering education. "In academia, both companies have strong commitments," he said. In the long term, "What we both believe is that integrating design and test in a graphical metaphor increasingly is the way designers will work."

- David Lammers

EE Times




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