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Posts Tagged ‘PCB’

Siemens Acquisition of Mentor Graphics is Good for EDA

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

Although Mentor has been the subject of take-over attempts in the past, the business specifics of the transactions have never been favorable to Mentor.  The acquisition by Siemens, instead, is a favorable occurrence for the third largest EDA company.  This time both companies obtain positive results from the affair.

Siemens acquires Mentor following the direction set forth in 2014 when its Vision 2020 was first discussed in public.  The 6 year plan describes steps the company should take to better position itself for the kind of world it envisions in 2020.

The Vision 2020 document calls for operational consolidation and optimization during the years 2016 and 2017.  It also selects three of its business division as critical to corporate growth.  It calls it the E-A-D system that include: Digitalization, Automation, and Electrification.

Although it is possible that Mentor technology and products may be strategic in Electrification, they are of significant importance in the other two areas: Digitalization and Automation.  Digitalization, for example, includes vehicle automation, including smart cars and vehicle to vehicle communication.  Mentor already has an important presence in the automotive industry and can help Siemens in the transition to state of the art car management by electronic systems to the innovation of new systems required by the self-driving automobile and the complete integration of the components into an intelligent systems including vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

Mentor also has experience in industrial robots and what is, in my mind, more remarkable, is that the PCB and cabling portions of Mentor, often minimized in an EDA industry dominated by the obsession of building ICs, are the parts that implement and integrate the systems in the products designed and built by third parties.

With its presence in the PCB and cabling markets, Mentor can bring additional customers to Siemens as well as insight in future marketing requirements and limitations that will serve extremely well in designing the next generation industrial robots.

Of course, Mentor will also find an increased internal market as other divisions of Siemens not part of the E-A-D triumvirate will utilize its products and services.

Siemens describes itself as an employee oriented company, so present Mentor employee should not have to fear aggressive cost cutting and consolidation.  Will Mentor change? Of course, it will adapt gradually to the new requirements and opportunities the Siemens environment will create and demand, but the key word is “gradually”.  Contrary to the acquisition of ARM by SoftBank, where the acquiring company had no previous activity in ARM’s business, Siemens has been active in EDA internally, both in its Research Lab and strong connections with university programs that originated a number of European EDA startups.  Siemens executives have an understanding of what EDA is all about and what it takes to be successful in EDA.  The result, I expect, is little interference and second guessing which translates in continuous success for Mentor for as long as they are capable of it.

Wil other EDA companies benefit from this acquisition? I tink they will.  First of all it attracts more attention to our industry by the financial community, but it also is likely to increase competition among the “big 3” forcing Cadence and Synopsys to focus more on key markets and while diversifying into related markets like optical, security, software development for example.  In addition I do not see the reason for an EDA company to enter into a business partnership with some of its customers to explore new revenue generating business models.

Cadence’s Allegro and Orcad Updates

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

At the beginning of May, in time for CDNLive, Cadence announced major upgrades for its Allegro and Orcad products.  The Printed Circuit Board (PCB) sector of our industry gets the second cousin treatment in an industry so focused on silicon products.  Yet PCB play a very important role in system design, one that is almost never recognized by the ESL tools.  I cannot name an ESL tool that allows architects to evaluate the topology of a system on a PCB.  PCB designers are always left with the task of accommodating the electronic system within the mechanical confines of the product.  Naturally this brings about thermal and electrical issues that are not at all considered by the IC designers.

The new versions introduced by Cadence do not attempt to address this problem either, although they have improved the interoperability between Allegro and Sigrity to shorten PCB design and verification time.  Other new capabilities in the Allegro product include:

Rigid-Flex design enhancements, inter-layer checks for both flex and rigid flex, a new native 3D engine, and finally a Programmable Interface with the Sigrity tool.

By looking at the capabilities offered by similar products from Mentor and Zuken, it turns out that Allegro does not offer any capability that is not already present in Mentor ‘s Xploration or Zuken’s CR8000 products.  All three products address the problem of PCB design and verification in different manner, so that a choice among them is a matter of methods more than of capability.

What is interesting within the PCB market is that all three leading vendors have chosen a dual approach.  Cadence with Allegro and OrCAD, Mentor with Xpedition and PADS, and Zuken with the CR family and CADSTAR.  There seems to be a real division among PCB designers that supports such strategy.  OrCAD, PADS, and CADSTAR aim to support the individual designer who works on a less challenging PCB design and whose verification requirements are less demanding.  Allegro, Xpedition, and CR8000 (or CR7000 for that matter) support team design and a verification cycle that deals with power distribution, IR- Drop, noise, and thermal issues among others.

While both Mentor and Zuken address the PCB market by addressing PCB design and verification problems in their own importance, Cadence serves this market as a function of what an IC designer needs from the PCB.  The lack of consideration by Cadence for the role that a PCB plays is system design is therefore more intriguing.  It would seem to me that Cadence would be the one concerned with co-design and co-verification of IC and PCB, but this is not the case at all.  In all three cases the IC, or ICs are taken as given, there is no possibility to tradeoff IC characteristics and a PCB characteristics.  True enough, in most cases the IC is what it is, it comes from a third party, and thus the PCB designer must adapt to a set of characteristics that are unchangeable.  But that is not always the case.  Some ICs come as a family with different electrical specification, and evaluating various flavors of a CPU or MCU should be an easy thing to do.

Unfortunately, PCB designers are mostly ignored by DAC.  Zuken is not even on the exhibitors list this year, so attendees will not get the opportunity to compare products, beside may be Mentor’s and Cadence’s.  I  wrote “may be” because both booths will certainly underscore IC design and there will be a high level of discourse about IoT.  But you need to ask, if you want to find someone on the booth that can demo a PCB product.

3D-IC’s Are the Future

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

Looking at a cross section of a 3D-IC one can most of the time see two or more distinct functional systems stacked over each other.  These devices have taken the clue from real estate in order to find their initial architecture.  When the lot (in this case the die) is too small, go vertical.  So 3D-IC’s look like a multi-story building.

Each die is a stand alone functional system that cooperates with the other die to form a complete solution.  We can say that most 3D-IC’s are really a packaging solution, not a system solution.  Right now, due also to limitations in most EDA tools connections are built in two dimensions.  The connection between the two or more dies happen as a result of integrating the communication among the systems.  What if every cell could have six possible ways to connect instead of four?

I found scholarly papers on 3D-IC as far back as 2005.  Not that there are none previously, I just did not find them.  And a few of those I read did mention the problem of “thinking in three dimensions”.  I think that soon engineers will learn to design in three dimensions and this will require significant development on the part of EDA tools vendors.  There is really no reason why IC designers should not have the same freedom as PCB designers who enjoy a number of layers onto which to distribute the various components forming the system.  And by the way, would there be an advantage to have power and ground on their separate IC layers?  Or may be have a power bus that is thermally and electronically insulated from most, if not all, components?

Much has been written in the last few months about the “death” of Moore’s Law.  If we can design in three dimensions, then the Law is not dead.  We just have to define the area as a volume, and not just as a plane.  Yes, I agree, it would take some sophisticated partitioning algorithm to divide a block into two, or more, planes instead of a plane.  And I wonder, is it really optimal to separate vertically digital from analog and RF components?  What if we could find that a vertical RF module distributed on more than one layer is better?  Has someone thought of considering it?

I agree that manufacturing a 3D-IC is more challenging and yield is often mentioned as an obstacle to the growth of 3D-IC popularity.  But, if a less challenging process could be used while at the same time take advantage of the latest versions of EDA tools, as Dr. Antun Domic of Synopsys suggested at DAC 2014, would the yield problem be significantly minimized if not all together eliminated?

Think outside the box by building the box and find a new way to grow.