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Analysis: The DFM mix

Posted: 27 May 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:DFM  EDA  design for manufacturing 

As designs progressed from the 130nm node on their quest to keep up with Moore's law, physics asserted its influence on circuit behaviour. The EDA industry, always creative in finding timely solutions to the pressing problems of the electronics industry, rose to the challenge and defined a new market segment, unfortunately labelled DFM for Design For Manufacturing. I say unfortunately because, as I have pointed out innumerable other times, we designed for manufacturing since the invention of the light bulb (and probably even before that).

First of all, what is DFM? To EDA vendors it means inventing and developing tools that transform a logic design into a circuit manufacturable with acceptable yields. Therefore it means making sure that a netlist developed by logic designers meets all the laws of electronic physics and the optical and structural requirements necessary to manufacture, gut, and package a working die.

The segment received lots of attention from engineering entrepreneurs and the venture capital firms were quick to offer funds. It looked like one, or more, DFM companies could grow to quickly reach the many hundred million in revenue mark. Things did not go as envisioned by most, though. Instead today it looks like Aart de Geus has been right all along since he predicted a few years ago that integrated flows would be the only viable solution to the design problem. And he went on to state that it would be both difficult and expensive for a third party to independently integrate its tool into the flow of a major EDA vendor.

In the last couple of years, the DFM market has seen significant consolidation. Cadence purchased ClearShape, Mentor purchased first Sierra and then just last week it also acquired the assets of Ponte Solutions. In the mean time, there are strong rumours of an imminent offering from Synopsys addressing the DFM market, and Magma, of course, has Talus and now Hydra to help logic designers meet the physical requirements of semiconductors fabrication.

By the beginning of DAC all four leading EDA vendors will provide an integrated RTL to GDS-II flow to their customers, without the need to integrate any third party tool for DFM specific analysis. The 45th Design Automation Conference, to be held in Anaheim June 8 to 13, will offer both technical papers and panel discussing the subject, and it may be a good place for everyone not only to see the latest offerings in the area by the "Big Four", but also to see what is up at Apache and Blaze.

Apache Design Solutions has diversified, especially after the acquisition of Optimal, and now addresses both the power analysis market and the die/package/PCB system design and analysis. Its products are integrated with those of a few other EDA vendors, like Cadence, Agilent, and Ansys, to name just three, and revenue rely less and less on DFM specific tools.

Blaze DFM, instead, has not shed the DFM part of its name because it continues to address this market. One possible reason is that one of its co-founders Dr. Andrew Kahng in a recognised leader in the field and thus can provide technical insights that are often superior than those of the competition. To be sure, the company has also looked for innovative ways to address the market. About two months ago Blaze DFM announced an agreement with TSMC that the company called an innovative business arrangement. Under the agreement TSMC will offer to its customer the "Power Trim Service" an analysis run by its employees of the design before it goes into production to identify possible yield challenges, correct them and thus improve the yield. Both companies have chosen not to disclose the financial terms, so although it is clear that Blaze DFM will benefit from the cooperative agreement, it is not possible to make any judicious revenue forecast.

I do not think of myself as a DFM technical expert and, to be sure, neither Ponte nor Blaze have taken me into their confidence and shown the details of their technology. But I know enough to tell the difference, and indeed there are differences between what Ponte has been doing, and thus Mentor acquired, and what Blaze does. But, how long will it last? Mentor has the advantage of now having the entire picture: a tight technical relationship with foundries for manufacturing know-how, a leading OPC technology in Calibre, and the Ponte algorithms. Blaze DFM has Andrew and TSMC motivation to make "Power Trim Service" a success. Time will tell if this is enough to motivate TSMC customers to take the time and invest the money to invest in the service.

One thing is for sure: no matter how big, no matter how established, no matter what revenue height your company achieved, there is no relaxing in EDA.

- Gabe Moretti
EDA DesignLine

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