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Specialty process expedites IoT design, rollout

Posted: 14 Jan 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TSMC? More-than-Moore? specialty process? smartphone? IoT?

A TSMC executive has revealed that the Internet of Things requires specialty processes, pioneered by smartphone chips, to create optimal IoT silicon. More-than-Moore technology sales, also known as specialty technologies, skyrocketed when smartphones began invading our lives five years ago. These devices complement the digital processing and storage elements of an integrated system by enabling interaction with the outside world.

Smartphones in particular, are like little specialty technology storehouses. Consider that the 1.24 billion smartphones that shipped worldwide in 2014 each contain ten or more specialty chips for microphones, cameras, gyroscopes, accelerometers and more. Rapid growth is expected in several areas such as image signal processors stacked with CMOS image sensors (CIS), mixed signal for fingerprint sensors, small panel drivers and embedded flash for NFC and touchscreen controllers.

Several emerging opportunities also rely on specialty technologies. Among those with the most potential is the nascent Internet of Things (IoT), ready to devour billions of ICs to fulfil its promise of connecting all our gadgets to us through the Web. The IoT presents the semiconductor community with nearly limitless opportunities thanks to specialty technology foundry services with the ability to integrate flash, CIS, RF, high voltage, power and MOSFET technologies.

Foundries are launching updated offerings and migrating select technologies to new process nodes that will trim power consumption and meet growing demand by increasing the number of die per wafer. TSMC, for example, introduces 30-50 additional specialty technologies annually and the manufacture of these devices accounts for 25 per cent of our business.

Designers need to evaluate several factors to select the right technology for a novel circuit designs. The criteria quickly come down to a discussion on the trade-offs between power, performance and area.

In addition to the fundamental process choices, the foundry offerings should be paired with a rich design ecosystem providing a comprehensive set of design libraries, third-party IP and EDA tools to best suit the chosen application. Key elements in the design productisation phase are design service, mask making/OPC, wafer fabrication and backend service.

Leveraging third-party IP is an intelligent and essential way for SoC designers to speed product development. An IP portfolio should be qualified for each process technology and include thousands of IP macros/libraries from dozens of third-party IP suppliers, as well as modern standard cells and memory macros for process-optimized library portfolios, all rated according to the foundry's quality standards.

Having easy access to IP quality data online can significantly shorten the SoC design cycle. Third-party IP providers should submit required data and silicon assessment reports that can be posted online after review. In this way, designers can compare results and scores to understand the IP confidence level and/or risk level of using the IP.

Proven specialty-technology processes, with the backing of a strong design ecosystem, can shorten development times with a variety of offerings to suit design needs for emerging markets such as IoT, and help companies successfully meet their time-to-market goals.

- Tom Quan
??EE Times

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