Open-Silicon .:. Silicon Innovation with New Business Models and Design Strategies…
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Silicon Innovation with New Business Models and Design Strategies…

Taher Madraswala, President and CEO of Open-Silicon
12/14/2015 11:33 AM EST
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We need to rethink the way we approach design so that designers can pursue the best design instead of settling for the safest.

The largest challenge the semiconductor industry faces today is slowing silicon innovation. Although there is no shortage of ambitious designers, the process for developing and executing new ideas is longer and more capital intensive than ever. Consequently, semiconductor industry growth has decelerated to half its long-term growth average. The industry is rapidly approaching the point where it is prohibitively expensive to try new things.

Addressing this problem will require a reexamination of current business models and the reasons behind sky-high design costs. We need to rethink the way we approach design so that designers can pursue the best design instead of settling for the safest. Companies like Open-Silicon have stepped up to the plate by modifying industry design flows and introducing new business models that reduce the risk involved in innovation.

Holistic design approach with experienced ASIC partners
Rethinking the design approach is the best strategy for lowering expenses without compromising product integrity. The problem with the traditional method, where the majority of front-end design happens in-house and outside vendors handle the physical design and manufacturing, is that the overall success of the chip’s design is dependent on the front-end design process. With a more holistic approach, companies can anticipate physical design and manufacturing challenges from the beginning. This approach gives careful consideration to each design phase and reduces costs by addressing problems early in the design cycle.

Understanding chip design phases is as important as strategically selecting design partners with the appropriate expertise. A partner with the right experience could reduce the cost of the design by as much as 30 to 40 percent by reducing the number of re-spins. It is crucial to utilize on the efficiencies companies have developed over many years completing various designs for different applications. Experienced designers provide valuable guidance regarding which IP or protocol will work best and where to take risks.

In addition to conventional partnerships, the advent of semiconductor start-up incubators like Silicon Catalyst is a huge step towards capitalizing industry expertise. Semiconductor start-ups face challenges including fierce competition for funding and complex processes for bringing new designs to market. Incubators can reduce these challenges by building an ecosystem of companies that provide start-ups with the funding, resources, and support they need to navigate the industry, build their business, and deliver innovative ideas to market.

Leveraging new design methods
Experienced designers with the right resources are finding new ways to produce less expensive designs, for example 2.5D and 3D stacking. Stacking creates ways to mix and match chip components meaning products can be divided into multiple dies so that some functions can be made at less expensive process node mixed with other functions that require a high frequency or new low power technique. While 2.5D and 3D stacking may not be the solution for every complex SoC design, it is a customizable option with a lower cost of development.

Virtual prototyping is another expense saving design option. Traditional prototyping methods require major development efforts and are expensive to replicate. The key benefits for an alternative or complementary virtual prototype are faster time-to-software-development, improved software quality, and lower development costs. In the last few years virtual prototyping has become a mainstream part of SoC design. Companies who invest in the right virtual prototyping tool are finding that they can quickly develop fully functional virtual prototypes with moderate effort. Consequently, software quality is improving because virtual prototyping systems allow more lengthy automated software testing.

Delivering innovative ideas
In an industry dependent on continuous innovation, we can’t allow costs to keep us from pursuing the development of more complex architectures. There are enough visionary designers and industry newcomers with innovative ideas that could change the world. Our job is to reduce the risk of trying something new so that they can translate their ideas into real platforms. By understanding and streamlining the design process and partnering with companies who have years of design and manufacturing experience, the semiconductor industry can continue to innovate and evolve.

—Taher Madraswala is president and CEO of Open-Silicon. Taher contributed his technical and business experience to building Open-Silicon’s full turnkey ASIC offering with flexible engagement models. Prior to joining Open-Silicon in 2003, Taher spent twelve years at Intel corporation designing VLIW video processor for the DVI platform and microprocessors where he contributed to logic, circuit, layout, and post-silicon debug of 486, Pentium, Pentium-MMX, Pentium-3, and Itanium processors. Taher has a Master’s in Computer Engineering from University of Louisiana, Lafayette and an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Aligarh University.

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