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EDA tools add MEMS capability

Posted: 02 Jul 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:EDA tools with MEMS capability? MEMS design tools? general-purpose modeling simulation tools? MEMS-specific analysis tools?

Why does every company making MEMS chips seem to have an expert? The answer, according to Mary Ann Maher, is that the current crop of EDA tools doesn't have built-in MEMS capabilities. The company she founded, SoftMEMS LLC, is looking to change that. It is in the business of adding MEMS capabilities to EDA software, thus mitigating the need for MEMS experts.

"Our tools add MEMS design capabilities to your existing EDA software," said Maher. "There will always be a MEMS guru somewhere in the value chain, but we allow them to co-design with the EEs. And for existing MEMS designs, our tools enable EEs to use that intellectual property [IP] without having to have the deep MEMS knowledge of a guru."

SoftMEMS' toolsets, called MEMS Xplorer (for Unix and HP platforms) and MEMS Pro (for Linux PC platforms), are plug-ins to EDA software offered by Cadence, Mentor, Synopsys and others. The tools add MEMS-specific menus that enable mixed MEMS/IC schematic capture and simulation; mask layout and verification; 3D-model generation and visualization; behavioral-model creation; and links to MEMS analysis packages such as IntelliSuite from IntelliSense Software Corp. and CoventorWare from Coventor Inc.

"EDA vendors don't really have tools that are specifically designed for MEMS. SoftMEMS focuses on adding design tools specifically for MEMS," said Jim Walker, VP of research in semiconductor manufacturing at Gartner Dataquest. "IntelliSense and Coventor focus on analysis of MEMS design; they have some overlap with SoftMEMS but do not really consider themselves to be in competition with SoftMEMS."

By integrating its tools with existing EDA toolsets, SoftMEMS claims to be uniquely positioned to enable EEs to co-design electronics-with-MEMS-chips from the comfort of their familiar EDA platform. SoftMEMS' tools enable EEs to use general-purpose modeling and simulation tools from companies such as Ansys Inc., but EEs can also choose MEMS-specific analysis tools from IntelliSense or Coventor. The products offered by the two companies are based on the pioneering MEMS analysis tools created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by EE professor Stephen Senturia in the 1990s.

MEMS Pro and MEMS Xplorer link to 3D tools. They bring schematic capture and verification to foundry flow.

"IntelliSense and Coventor are spin-offs from Prof. Senturia's lab at MIT," said Sandeep Akkaraju, CEO of IntelliSense. "More recently, we've worked together with SoftMEMS to make sure that our MEMS analysis, modeling and simulation tools work together with their design tools. We supply a complete MEMS toolset, and you can use our EDA Linker to create component models in VHDL, Simulink or Spicebut we now also work with SoftMEMS."

From here to there
Besides EDA tools, SoftMEMS' glue software can link to mechanical design and automation (MDA) tools from Ansys, Comsol Open Engineering, Dassault-Abaqus and MSC Software. General-purpose design tools from Ansoft, AutoCAD and Matlab can also be integrated with SoftMEMS glue software. "Our flows enable engineers to create MEMS chips that integrate with electronic circuits created with EDA tools and with mechanical devices made with MDA tools," said Maher.

"We also provide design kits and libraries that work with IC manufacturers' processes to enable engineers to efficiently realize MEMS chips at a variety of fabs," she said.

According to analysts, SoftMEMS is pioneering a category of design software. The success of that software could in turn drive the proliferation of MEMS chips in the marketplace. If MEMS chips become more common, more software vendors will likely enter the field, forging their development efforts along a path already pioneered by the EDA industry.

"The MEMS-specific software industry is still in its embryonic and development stage," said Walker. "SoftMEMS is one of the first companies to support MEMS co-design for electronic applications. But this emerging MEMS software market may run a parallel track to the MEMS hardware market, in a manner similar to how the EDA market follows the semiconductor market."

In addition to targeting design, SoftMEMS is beginning to diversify its capabilities by offering some of the analysis tools commonly found in EDA environments, such as the ability to perform cost analysis, create reusable libraries and ask "what ifs" aimed at improving yields.

"In the very beginning, most MEMS chips were being created by designers who had a very deep knowledge of silicon and who were used to a very long time-to-market," said Maher. "With so many MEMS chips out there now, and with engineers beginning to understand their basic capabilities, our customers are asking us how they can increase yields and shorten time-to-marketthe same questions EDA vendors have to address."

EDA vendors themselves have not added MEMS capabilities, according to Akkaraju, because MEMS solutions must work in mixed energy domains, including mechanical, electronic, thermal, magnetic and optical. MEMS design requires a collaborative multidisciplinary team that co-designs in all those domains simultaneously, thus forcing electrical, packaging, test and materials engineers to share tools with domain experts like biologists.

"The tools available in all these domains vary in maturity," said Maher. "In some of these areas, methods and tools are mature, but you have to do research just to get them to work with each other in other areas. Also, packaging has special problems that EEs don't often face, such as having a package that is open to the environmentthat can create a real challenge to packaging MEMS chips."

SoftMEMS is also adding capabilities that will permit EEs to evaluate MEMS chips made by other companies for possible inclusion in their system. The feature will let them do so from within the EDA tool that they are already using to create the electronics for their design.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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