Design Agility: The Solution to EDA Commoditization

By Marshall Tiner
Director, Production Standards
In a recent article, Randy Smith, vice president of Marketing for Sonics, pinpointed a problem confronting the EDA industry.
“The difference between IP and EDA doesn’t matter much anymore. It is all about design acceleration. “Where can we make a difference?” he added.
“The physical design flow has been commoditized at this point. It is hard to come up with anything that will make a big enough difference that you can add value. For system-level design, there is still plenty of room, but you will have to come up with some smart ideas.”
Moore says Moore’s law is “dead.”  Can we bet on technology not progressing? Or do we become agile and embrace the coming changes?
This problem is not unique to the EDA industry. It occurred in semiconductor manufacturing, computing and even
in software. It starts with new technology that rapidly improves over time, leading to cost competition and then commoditization. However, in every case, one important solution in these other industries had one similarity: standardization.
Semiconductor manufacturing went from high-volume, low mix to more complex high-mix, low-volume. Autonomously functioning agile manufacturing cells or modules were developed. The leverage point was standardization. Anything standardized could be reused, thus reducing costs.
Computers shrank from room-sized machines down to systems that were invisible to the human eye. With the free, standardized Linux platform we now reuse computers that run collectively as a “cloud.”
Software evolved from huge programs to collections of smaller, object-oriented languages that are easily shared and reused (yes, a type of standard). Programs can be quickly created using others as a foundation.
How does this apply to EDA? The total physical design cycle must be shortened to match current needs. We can’t redevelop entire checking decks between design passes as new rules are defined. Maybe we need a faster means of implementing new rules.
How can the EDA industry attain the agility it needs to grow?  The answer again focuses partially on a standard, one that supports agile rule checking-Si2 OpenAccess. Our oaScript, an extension to OpenAccess, allows writing rule checks quickly in a variety of languages, including perl, python, ruby and tcl.
Why restrict the rule authorship to EDA? Spread it around and do it faster. What if the technology team could code the rules? Or the physical designer?  Or enlist the program manager who set that ridiculous release date in the first place.
So, why not join the Si2 OpenAccess Coalition and use your company’s vote to drive the future the way you want it? Showcase and contribute some of your best “glue” code. Hear other solutions from the rest of the IC design community.

Why has IC physical design become commoditized? As time scales shrink and complexity increases, physical design cycles rely more on verification. A comprehensive set of rules need time to develop, and the technology changes occur simultaneously with the design. What’s needed is agility to repeat the design cycle quickly as new rules are invented.

Plans Begin for PDK Special Interest Group

Si2 is planning to launch its first special interest group, which will focus on process design kits. Ted Paone, interoperability standards architect, said the SIG will “refine the methodology to improve process data and create quality process design kits.” Special interest groups are open to all Si2 members. For more information contact Ted Paone,

What You Need to Know about R&D Joint Ventures

Si2 and other research and development joint ventures fill an important need for semiconductor companies competing in a fast-changing global market.

What are R&D joint ventures and what do you need to know about them?

The National Cooperative Research and Production Act of 1993 (NCRPA) is the fundamental law that defines R&D joint ventures and offers them a large measure of protection from federal antitrust laws. R&D joint ventures are formal agreements between two or more companies engaged in the research and development of technologies. They are proven tools for reducing design and production costs and speeding time-to-market.

The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are the NCRPA watchdogs. They review applications for R&D joint ventures, approve or deny them, and monitor the operations of those approved, including any changes in membership.

Benefits of an R&D joint venture
Protection against legal challenges under Sherman and Clayton Antitrust laws is a significant benefit for members of NCRPA-approved, R&D joint ventures. In fact, no successful lawsuit has ever been filed against an NCRPA-approved R&D joint venture. Why? A “rule of reason” antitrust analysis shelters these protected collaborative activities. Without NCRPA protection, a more general “per se” viewpoint is used, where the behavior itself can be deemed to violate antitrust law. Also, if a violation occurs, the claimant can only receive actual damages, rather than treble damages available without NCRPA protection. This is a powerful deterrent against lawsuits.

Legal protections aside, R&D joint ventures can conduct a wide variety of activities, including:

  • perform theoretical analysis, experimentation or testing of basic engineering techniques
  • extend investigative findings into practical application for experimental and demonstration purposes
  • conduct experiments on models, prototypes and processes 
  • perform product certification testing
  • collect, exchange and analyze research or production information

Those types of activities mark a primary difference between an R&D joint venture and standards development organizations. SDOs can only perform voluntary, consensus standards activities, and though the NCRPA antitrust protection covers the SDO, it does not extend these protections to individual SDO members.

Any collaborative R&D activity done under the auspices and guidance of Si2 receives the same anti-trust protection. Si2 special interest groups, coalitions and working groups focus on solving industry problems, knowing they and their companies have the safety the NCRPA provides.

OpenStandards: A New Initiative for R&D Collaboration

OpenStandards, Si2’s newest member initiative, is the product of extensive member research and the core of a streamlined standards development process.

John Ellis, president and CEO, said market research and industry trends identified factors key to the creation of OpenStandards. “Speed and agility topped the list. The ability to quickly identify and create a needed standard are paramount.

“OpenStandards combines independent coalitions, technical advisory boards and new working into one, single-fee membership. Costs are reduced since companies can choose to participate in every activity, at any level, for one fee,” Ellis explained. “More than 90 percent of our members saw their dues decrease in 2016.” 

This was accomplished while maintaining the mandated safe-haven, anti-trust protection, he added. Activities currently part of OpenStandards are Chip-Package Codesign (3D), Design for Manufacturability, Low Power, OpenPDK, and Silicon Photonics.

Jerry Frenkil, director of OpenStandards, manages this program. Co-founder of Sente, he has more than 30 years’ experience in the semiconductor and EDA industries.

Si2 will explain the OpenStandards concept during a free webinar on Tuesday, January 26, 9-10 a.m. PST.