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Challenges seen for seamless DFM, says expert

Posted: 11 Jul 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:dfm? eda? semiconductor? design-for-manufacturing? fabless?

The semiconductor and EDA industries have poured millions of dollars to develop new and promising technologies for the emerging design-for-manufacturing (DFM) sector.

One of the stated goals with these various DFM solutions is to bridge the worrisome gap between semiconductor design and manufacturing, thereby boosting chip productivity and yields.

But despite a flurry of new and promising technologies, economic and technical challenges still persist for DFM - more so for fabless and foundry companies verses IDMs, warned Ken Rygler, president of Rygler and Associates Inc., a consulting firm.

"DFM is becoming a critical enabling technology, which is being addressed by a diversity of semiconductor suppliers, including traditional EDA companies, numerous startups, photomask companies and equipment companies," Rygler said. "It is not clear who the winners will be and how they will make money at it."

DFM watch

Until recently, DFM was barely on the radar screen in the IC industry. Then, when chip designs moved towards the 130nm node, IC makers generally stumbled in ramping up these products and were caught flat footed in terms of bringing DFM into the manufacturing equation.

What's more, the semiconductor industry has been engaged in a "supply-chain disaggregation" shift for over 25 years. Semiconductor companies, which were vertically integrated in the 1970s, began to outsource equipment, materials, and photomasks.

This disaggregation peaked with the evolution of foundries and fabless companies, thereby completely cleaving IC design from manufacturing. The three major elements of DFM - design, photomasks, and manufacturing - became independent silos, without the means for effective two-way communications.

But the worrisome gap between these silos threatens the success of next-generation chip designs and their yields, prompting the need for new and breakthrough integrated DFM solutions.

At present, some 60 companies are separately developing various DFM solutions, including the major electron design automation (EDA) houses. Many leading-edge chip makers have also developed their own, internally-developed EDA tools for DFM applications.

While most agree that DFM is a critical part of the IC food chain, Rygler indicated that the technology remains in its infancy. The days of throwing the design over the wall are over, but the problem is that DFM developers have generally devised interesting "point solutions" or "pieces of the puzzle," Rygler said.

"Those solutions have to be fully integrated into a seamless design-to-silicon flow," he said.

So, point solutions are no longer sufficient in today's chip production, especially with the rising costs and complexity of next-generation designs, he said.

To put the pieces of the puzzle together, the IC industry, especially IDMs, are expected to bring more and more of the DFM-oriented technologies in-house. In other words, the industry is moving "towards a reintegration model, after 25 years of disaggregation," he said.

"Semiconductor complexity and the endless extensions of optical lithography will place a premium on technology development and integration, particularly as regards design-for-manufacturing," he said. "This will drive the industry towards reintegration verses disaggregation, and that having design, development and integration under one roof will provide an advantage to IDMs."

Despite being slightly behind the IDMs with regards to DFM implementation, foundries are also moving full speed with their fabless customers to deploy DFM. "The reintegration, however, may be via collaboration as well, which foundries like TSMC, UMC and others are promoting with their customers," he added.

- Mark LaPedus

EE Times

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