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Posts Tagged ‘MEMS’

Gallium Nitride for Power Applications

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

Gallium nitride (GaN) has long been used in LED devices and other optoelectronic devices with high power and high frequency requirements.  It can work at much higher temperatures and voltages than gallium arsenide (GaAs) for example and thus it is also used in military and space applications.

A few days ago X-FAB and Exagan announced that they have produced GaN-on-Silicon devices on 200-mm wafers.

X-FAB, whose headquarter is in Germany, is a leading analog/mixed-signal and MEMS foundry group manufacturing silicon wafers for automotive, industrial, consumer, medical and other applications.  The company operates one fab in the USA, specifically in Lubbock Texas where it fabricates mixed-signal devices.  It also operates other fabs both in Europe and in Asia.

Founded in 2014 with support from CEA-Leti and Soitec, Exagan is based in Grenoble, France.  its mission is to accelerate the power electronics industry’s transition from silicon-based technology to GaN-on-silicon technology, enabling smaller and more efficient electrical converters.

The two companies have demonstrated mass-production capability to manufacture highly efficient high-voltage power devices on 200-mm GaN-on-silicon wafers using X-FAB’s standard CMOS production facility in Dresden, Germany.

Exagan and X-FAB have successfully resolved many of the challenges related to material stress, defectivity and process integration while using standard fabrication equipment and process recipes. Combined with the use of 200-mm wafers, this will significantly lower the cost of mass producing GaN-on-silicon devices. By enabling greater power integration than silicon ICs, GaN devices can improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of electrical converters, which will accelerate their adoption in applications including electrical vehicle charging stations, servers, automobiles and industrial systems.

The industry’s previous work with GaN had been limited to 100-mm and 150-mm wafers due to the challenges of layering GaN films on silicon substrates. Exagan’s G-Stack technology enables GaN-on-silicon devices to be manufactured more cost effectively on 200-mm substrates by depositing a unique stack of GaN and strain-management layers that relieves the stress between GaN and silicon layers. The resulting devices have been shown to exhibit high breakdown voltage, low vertical leakage and high-temperature operation.

The new GaN-on-silicon devices have been built using substrates fabricated at Exagan’s 200- mm epi-manufacturing facility in Grenoble, France. These epi wafers meet the physical and electrical specifications to produce Exagan’s 650-volt G-FET devices as well as the tight requirements for compatibility with CMOS manufacturing lines.

Grant Pierce Named BoD Chair of the ESD Alliance

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

The ESD Alliance (ESDA) has elected Grant Pierce (CEO of Sonics) as its Chairman of the Board a few weeks ago.  Grant is only the second Chair that is not a high level executive of one of the three big three EDA companies to hold the title, and the first since the organization, formerly EDAC renamed itself.  During the EDAC days it was customary for the CEOs of Cadence, Mentor and Synopsys to pass the title among themselves in an orderly manner.  The organization then reflected the mission of the EDA industry to support the development of hardware intensive silicon chips following Moore’s Law.

Things have changed since then, and the consortium responded by first appointing a new executive director, Bob Smith, then changing its name and its mission.  I talked with Grant to understand his view from the top.

Grant Pierce, Sonics CEO

Grant pointed out that: “We are trying to better reflect what has happened in the market place, both in terms of how our customers have developed further in the world of system on chip and what we have seen in the development of the EDA world where today the IP offerings in the market, both those from independent companies but also those from EDA companies are critical and integral to all the whole ecosystem for building today’s modern chips.”

Grant pointed out that ESDA has expanded its focus and has embraced not only hardware design and development but also software.  That does not mean, Grant pointed out, that the EDA companies are loosing importance but instead they are gaining a seat at the table with the software and the system design community in order to expand the scope of their businesses.

From my point of view, I interjected, I see the desired change implemented very slowly, still reacting to and not anticipating new demands.  So what do you think can happen in the next twelve months?

“From an ESDA point of view you are going to see us broadening the membership.” answered Grant.  ”We are looking to see how we can expand the focus of the organization through its working groups to zero-in on new topics that are broader than the ones that are currently there.  Like expanding beyond what is a common operating system to support for example.  I think you will see at a minimum two fronts, one opening on the software side while at the same time continuing work on the PPA (Power, Performance, Area) issues of chip design.  This involves a level of participation from parties that have not interacted this organization before.”

Grant believes that there should be more emphasis on the needs of small companies, those where innovation is taking place.  ESDA needs to seek the best opportunity to invigorate those companies.  “At the same time we must try to get system companies involved in an appropriate fashion, at least to the degree that they represent the software that is embedded in a system” concluded Grant.

We briefly speculated on what the RISC 5 movement might mean to ESDA.  Grant does not see much value for ESDA to focus on a specific instruction set, although he conceded that there might be value if RISC 5 joined ESDA.  I agree with the first part of his judgement, but I do not see any benefit to either party, or the industry for that matter, associated with RISC 5 joining ESDA.

From my point of view ESDA has a big hurdle to overcome.  For a few years, before Bob Smith was named executive director, EDAC was somewhat stagnant, and now it must catch up with market reality and fully address the complete system issue.  Not just hardware/software, but analog/digital, and the increased use of FPGA and MEMS.

For sure, representing an IP company gives Grant an opportunity to stress a different point of view within ESDA than the traditional EDA view.  The IP industry would not even exist without a system approach to design and it has changed the way architects think when first sketching a product on the back of an envelope.

The Year in Review: Thoughts on 2015

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

I want to start by covering two sad events that occurred this year.  Two people that made significant contributions to the EDA industry passed on: Gary Smith and Marie Pistilli.  It may be time for EDAC to consider instituting an award that parallels the Phil Kaufman award to recognize people that made significant contributions to the industry without necessarily significantly enriching themselves through inventions or business skills.  If it did, then certainly both Gary and Marie would have earned the award.

Marie PIstilli was for many years the nucleus around which the world of DAC revolved.  Although Pat invented the concept, Marie provided the organizational skill that grew DAC to what it is today.  My first encounter with Marie was as a first time exhibitor at DAC.  She had been described to me as an unbending task master who followed the rules by the letter and had no understanding for compromises.  My experience with her was not like that.  Marie understood that cash flow was the first rule of small startup, and, within reason, did compromise.  Marie also was a champion of professional women and started the Women in Engineering award given yearly during DAC.

Gary was the EDA analyst everyone listened to.  He moved from a direct contributor to the marketing and development of electronic products to an industry observer.  But an observer that had lived within the object he was analyzing and so his opinions had added value because he brought not only financial and statistical knowledge, but also the understanding of the technology and its impact on the growth of EDA.  Gary was unassuming, always ready to share his point of view, always accessible to me as I also transitioned from a technological producer to an analytical career.

The third important thing that happened this year is the marketing of IoT within the industry.  A three letter acronym that had been invented some years ago to stand for Internet of Things.  It turns out that we are not really talking about internet and we still have to define “things”, but the label has stuck and we are not letting reality change it.   IoT is changing our industry by introducing a new set of customers that are systems integrators and deal mostly with reasonably small mixed/signal circuits.  The vast majority of the circuits have MEMS or RF modules or both in them and do not use the latest semiconductor process nodes.  Suppliers of tools and IP for these customers could be found in the exhibit hall at ARM TechCon this year.  The other characteristics of the majority of IoT products contain embedded software modules as well.  The result is that covering EDA by dividing it in vertical specialized areas will no longer work, since the system is the most important topic, not specific tools.  All the tools must be seamlessly integrated and facilitate the dialogue among experts in different disciplines.  The year 2015 was the start of a fundamental change for EDA vendors; the quicker to adapt will without doubt be the new leaders of the industry.

Coventor’s MEMS+ 6.0 Enables MEMS/IoT Integration

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

In thinking about the architecture and functioning of the IoT, I came to represent it as a nervous system.  Commands and data flow through the architecture of IoT while computations are performed at the appropriate location in the system.  The end terminal points of IoT, just like in the human nervous system function as the interface with the outside world.  MEMS are indispensable to the proper functioning of the interface, yet, as focused as we are on electronics, we seldom give prominence to MEMS when the IoT is discussed in EDA circles.

Coventor, Inc., a leading supplier of MEMS design automation solutions, introduced MEMS+ 6.0, the latest version of its MEMS design platform.   The tool is available immediately.  MEMS+ 6.0 is a significant advance toward a MEMS design automation flow that complements the well-established CMOS design flow, enabling faster integration of MEMS with electronics and packaging.  MEMS+ 6.0 features new enablement of MEMS process design kits (PDKs) and second-generation model reduction capabilities.

“The fast growing Internet of Things market will increasingly require customization of MEMS sensors and customized package-level integration to achieve lower power, higher performance, smaller form factors, and lower costs,” said Dr. Stephen R. Breit, Vice President of Engineering at Coventor.  “MEMS+6.0 is focused on enabling rapid customization and integration of MEMS while enforcing design rules and technology constraints.”

With MEMS+ 6.0, users can create a technology-defined component library that imposes technology constraints and design rules during design entry, resulting in a “correct-by-construction” methodology. This new approach reduces design errors and enables MEMS foundries to offer MEMS Process Design Kits (PDKs) to fabless MEMS designers. Both parties will benefit, with submitted designs having fewer errors, and ultimately fewer design spins and fab cycles required to bring new and derivative products to market.

“We have collaborated with Coventor in defining the requirements for MEMS PDKs for MEMS+,” said Joerg Doblaski, Director of Design Support at X-FAB Semiconductor Foundries. “We see the new capabilities in MEMS+ 6.0 as a big step toward a robust MEMS design automation flow that will reduce time to market for fabless MEMS developers and their foundry partners.”

MEMS+6.0 also includes a second-generation model reduction capability with export to MathWorks Simulink as well as the Verilog-A format. The resulting reduced-order models (ROMs) simulate nearly as fast as simple hand-crafted models, but are far more accurate. This enables system and IC designers to include accurate, non-linear MEMS device models in their system- and circuit-level simulations. For the second generation, Coventor has greatly simplified the inputs for model reduction and automatically includes the key dynamic and electrostatic non-linear effects present in capacitive motion sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes. ROMs can be provided to partners without revealing critical design IP.   Figure 1 shows one such integration architecture.

Figure 1: Integration of MEMS with digital/analog design

Additional advances in MEMS+ 6.0 include:

  • Support for design hierarchy, encouraging time-saving re-use of device sub-structures.
  • Refined support for including packaging effects in thermal stability analysis of sensors, reducing the impact ambient temperature can have on the thermal stability of sensor outputs such as zero offset in accelerometers and drift bias in gyros.
  • Improved modeling of devices that rely on piezo-electric effects for sensing. Interest in piezo sensing is growing because the underlying process technology for piezo materials has matured and the potential benefits over capacitive sensing, the current market champion.
  • An expanded MATLAB scripting interface that now allows design entry as well as simulation control.

Design Automation Is More Than EDA

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

In a couple of months the EDA industry will hold its yearly flagship conference: the Design Automation Conference (DAC).  And just a few days ago Vic Kulkarni, SVP & GM, RTL Power Business at ANSYS-Apache Business Unit, told me that the industry should be called Design Automation Industry, and not EDA.  Actually both the focus of the EDA industry and the contents of DAC are mostly IC design.  This activity is now only a portion of system design and thus the conference does not live up to its name and the industry does not support system design in its entirety.

For almost all its entire life the EDA industry has been focused only on hardware and it did it well.  That was certainly enough when products were designed with the approach that electronic systems ‘s purpose was to execute application software with the help of an operating system and associated device drivers.

A few years ago the EDA industry realized that the role of hardware and software had changed.  Software was used to substitute hardware to implement system tasks and to “personalize” systems that were not end-user programmable.  It than became necessary to verify these systems and new markets, those of virtual prototyping and software/hardware verification, grew and continue to grow.  Yet the name remains Electronic Design Automation and most of its popular descriptions, like in Wikipedia,  deal only with hardware design and development.

The Internet of Things (IoT), where intelligent electronic products are interconnected to form a distributed and powerful data acquisition, analysis, and control system, is considered to be a major growth area for the electronics industry and thus for EDA.  A small number of companies, like Ansys and Mathworks for example, have realized some time ago that a system is much more than “just” electronics and software and these companies now have an advantage in the IoT market segment.

By just  developing and verifying the electronic portion of a product traditional EDA companies run the risk to fool designers into thinking that the product is as efficient and secure as it can be.  In fact, even virtual prototyping tools cannot make an absolute statement regarding the robustness of the software portion of the design.  All that can be said using this tools is that the interface between hardware and software has been sufficiently verified and that the software appears to work correctly when used as intended.  But a number of organizations and individuals have pointed to critical security issues in existing real time systems that are the precursors of IoT.  The latest attention to security in automotive applications is an example.

The use of MEMS in IoT applications should push EDA leaders to ask why MCAD is still considered a discipline separate from EDA.  The interface and concurrent execution of the electro-mechanical system is as vital as the EDA portion.  Finally the EDA industry has another weakness when it comes to providing total support for IoT products.  Nature is analog, yet the analog portion of the EDA industry lags significantly from the development achieved in the digital portion.  Digital tools only offer approximations that have been, and still are, good enough for simpler systems.  Leading edge processes are clearly showing that such approximation yields results that are no longer acceptable, and product miniaturization has resulted in a new set of issues that are almost entirely in the analog domain.

The good news is that the industry has always managed to catch up in response to customers’ demand.  The hope offered by IoT growth is not simply revenue growth due to new licenses, but a maturing of the industry to finally provide support for true system design and verification.