Circuit Components

Looking to take the ASIC route? – Here’s what to expect from your chip supplier

This initial contact will normally satisfy By Richard Mount of Swindon Silicon Systems C

onstant improvements in Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) design, including an increase in

functionality and capability and a reduction in size, have made more and more companies across many industry sectors look to ASICs as a cost-effective alternative to more established electronic component techniques. This is particularly evident in sectors

such as automotive, factory automation and industrial controls where sensors and sensor interfaces are integrated with the latest wireless standards which provides a variety of “traditional” sensors the capability to operate and communicate in the ever expanding environment of smart and connected. The new emerging megatrends of

electric vehicles, autonomous driving and the smart factory is driving innovation in areas such as smart sensors, battery management systems and haptics, to name but a few, all of which are making widespread use of ASIC technology to provide higher performance and reliability that is required. This innovation provides the OEM with a competitive differential along with ensuring an enhanced end user experience. Tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS)

for example, now mandatory across much of the world, is just one of the areas where the ASIC reigns supreme. Another example is the rise of the hybrid and electric vehicle, which has seen the need to monitor individual cells in the multicell battery power pack and constantly communicate each cell’s State of Charge (SOC) and State of Health (SOH) status to the vehicle’s engine management system, evolve. This new generation automotive fuel gauge is yet another area where the ASIC solution is providing performance, cost and reliability advances whilst ensuring that stringent functional safety criteria (ISO 26262) are incorporated at chip level.

The benefits of an ASIC solution 1. Functionality, power, size and cost Today’s ASICs are being widely used wherever greater functionality, lower power, smaller size and lower cost are key requirements. An ASIC solution will reduce a user’s inventory and bill of materials (BOM) and hence increase the commercial attractiveness of the product. As a result, an ASIC approach can often be the only way to achieve overall project goals in many medium to high volume applications. The ability to perform in

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“rugged” environments is often another reason to go ASIC. 2. Intellectual Property One of the critical reasons why a company will commission an ASIC is to protect its intellectual property (IP). The wrongful use of its IP is a major threat to all technology companies and many methods are used to ensure the security of this valuable asset. The ASIC provides a solution where the reverse engineering of the device is difficult to achieve and through its basic physical design, the ASIC provides IP protection. 3. Obsolescence assurance Customers also choose the ASIC route to guarantee component supply for the lifetime of their product with no gaps in availability. ASIC suppliers achieve this with careful selection of the foundry processes that are chosen to ensure longevity of availability for a minimum of 15+ years. This can easily be extended by the storage of finished wafers in dry nitrogen cabinets, which can extend the life for as long as 30 years. This is in sharp contrast to a solution built using standard components whose manufacturers readily consign them to the obsolescence bin once they no longer reach a preordained annual sales value. So, you have decided to research the suitability of a mixed signal ASIC device designed, manufactured and tested exactly to your individual requirements. How do you choose the right ASIC supplier and what exactly can you expect from your new technology partner? Choosing a supplier that understands your application’s technical, commercial, qualification and functional safety requirements, from the outset, is crucial.

Potential ASIC partners Your market research will have provided you with a shortlist of potential ASIC partners and to move to the next stage you will need to begin a confidential dialogue based upon your system requirement. All successful ASIC based projects rely on the close intellectual co-operation between the customer’s and the chip supplier’s design team.

the customer that its application does, or does not, suit the ASIC route and that the chip supplier understands your requirement and has the expertise and capacity to complete the project. At this initial meeting, both customer and supplier need to be satisfied that the project has a commercial future. You should also be confident that your

ASIC partner has experience in your market sector and is geographically “convenient” for the meetings that will be necessary, particularly at the early stages of the design process. Determine if the company is simply a design house, will it sub-contract the production test and supply chain management to a third party or will it provide you with the full design and supply service using in house capability. Swindon is a fabless semiconductor company that provides what is called a full turn key (FTK) solution which starts with the ASIC specification, design, simulation, layout, verification, evaluation and qualification and production test (both wafer probe and packaged devices) of the ASIC. Wafer fabrication and packaging of both engineering samples, pre-production and production devices is provided as part of the development programme. This is then followed with our supply chain management team, which works directly with our customer’s purchasing and project teams to ensure on time delivery of 100% production tested devices to a place of the customers choosing. The FTK service is concluded with the ongoing Quality Assurance team that supports but also audits and monitors the foundry and packaging companies, which is the only element of the whole process that is outsourced.

Early decisions Below are examples of important points that need to be established right at the beginning of any development; • Feasibility and architecture definition of the ASIC • Selection of semiconductor process and package • Quality, test and manufacturability aspects • Planning and risk assessment • Development cost and production price

Before the second meeting, suppliers like

Swindon would have already fully analysed the new project and provided the prospective customer with a full technical report document on how their chip will be designed and highlighting where the potential areas of difficulty may lie and where further clarification is needed. Once both parties have agreed on the

content of the technical report then a full fixed price quotation will be provided. This highlights all parts of the development and the associated milestones. From this document, you will be able to determine the full external budget and timings of your project.

On-going processes ASIC design and production is a process taking months to complete. Regular customer review meetings will be held throughout the project in order to ensure that the project is on time and on specification. The schematic below provides a clear indication of the various stages in the life of an ASIC project. It describes the project work flow from the first conversation to delivery of prototype devices to the global supply of finished, fully tested product. The many advantages of taking the ASIC

route are real and will enhance a product or system and provide a commercial and technical advantage to the customer. The only decision the customer has to make is which partner can offer them the most technically proficient ASIC combining the best performance with the lowest cost and with the least risk.

Here’s the advert As an FTK fabless supplier, we match our customers’ requirements with the optimised combination of foundry process and packaging technology to ensure the final ASIC will meet performance and budgetary demands. After the first silicon is manufactured, we have fully integrated production test and calibration, validation and assurance facilities in situ at a single site. Once the device is in volume production, the Swindon team ensures that there are finished goods on hand to satisfy immediate requirement and the there is sufficient Work in Progress (WiP) in line to satisfy future demand. On time every time. It is an easy step to establish the

approach we take when discussing your project. Your design team will have a clear idea about the product you are developing, the timescales involved and the budget. All aspects of the process flow, development and payment milestones are agreed prior to commencing the project and there are no hidden costs. Swindon will quickly show you how its engineering excellence in delivering the latest ASIC technology will help to differentiate your product from your completion and ensure a commercial and technical advantage. Components in Electronics

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