Silicon design ‘factory’ takes responsibility in-house - Embedded.com

Silicon design ‘factory’ takes responsibility in-house

MILAN, Italy — Accent, a design house that styles itself as an ‘electronics design factory network’ is expanding the service it can provide to include a ‘one stop shop’ for all aspects of complex IC design through to manufacturing services and volume silicon delivery for COT (customer owned tooling) designs.

The ‘Highway to Silicon’ program is designed to supply a virtual IDM (independent device manufacturer) approach for customers whose volume requirements – from 100 devices upwards – will not interest a true IDM.

Accent was founded in 1993 and according to industry analyst, Future Horizons, ranks amongst the top 5 design services companies in Europe. It is an independent company jointly owned by STMicroelectronics and Cadence Design Systems with majority ownership shifting from Cadence to STM in 1999.

The company’s track record is impressive and includes over 250 ASICs tape-outs from RTL/netlist to factory hand-off, 20 SoCs taken from product architecture definition to ASIC tape-out, 69 analogue and mixed-signal ASICs and analogue blocks designs as well as 18 complete systems (microprocessor + DSP + FPGA + board and firmware) and it has over 180 designs in silicon production.

Products have been developed for a variety of applications and market sectors including telecommunications, multimedia, automotive, avionics, consumer, energy management, home automation, industrial control, marine, medical, and transportation.

Accent currently operates design centres located in Vimercate, Genoa and Catania, drawing on the skills of over 120 electronic engineers whose specialist expertise spans multiprocessor SoC, VDSM (very deep sub-micron) and AMS (analog and mixed-signal) design.

With a traditional IDM route to silicon, customers deal with a single supplier with the disadvantage of have no insight into, or ownership over, the development processes and intermediate results. The alternative of producing an ASIC via pure-play foundry route is more open but customers have to manage the interface with the foundry and all the complexity of detail that this involves.

With Highway to Silicon, Accent is principally targeting OEM, fabless and chipless small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as start-ups undertaking new design projects – companies who will benefit commercially from an IC/ foundry approach but may feel it is beyond them.

With Highway to Silicon Advent is seeking to combine the advantages of dealing with a single supplier that a traditional IDM route to silicon provides with the benefits of openness, commercial control and cost-efficiency associated with a COT and pure-play foundry route.

Customers have total control over the whole development cycle as well as full ownership of the development results without having to get involved in dealing with foundries, test houses or process services.

It provides SoC back-end design, implementation and prototypes through to supply chain management and production (manufacturing, validation and assembly). Additionally, it provides customers with a comprehensive design architecture and SoC front-end design capability including expertise on cost, performance and time-to-market trade-offs and product specification.

Massimo Vanzi, general manager of Accent sees Highway to Silicon as taking advantage of the continuing disaggregation of the electronics industry and reflects the constantly changing market dynamics. “This is characterised by several factors and issues including the worldwide electronics industry downturn, rise of the fabless/chipless business model, the shift to VDSM (very deep sub-micron) geometries, emergence of pure-play foundries as manufacturing and process leaders and the increasing use of third party IP.”

Highway to Silicon has been structured to relieve customers of the overhead of dealing with the supply chain disaggregation and changing market dynamics. They also can avoid the need new design flows and tools to deal with the nanometer challenge which can easily cost in excess of $1million and access to fab facilities that cost in excess of $3billion.

According to Vanzi, potential customers of the Highway to Silicon approach would not normally be of direct interest to IDMs (or pure-play foundries for that matter) because they only have low-to-medium volume requirements. It can be used for production commitments as low as 100 devices. They are also companies who might have insufficient resources or experience to deal with VDSM design or confidently manage the interface to a pure-play foundry and other third parties such as test houses and qualification and characterization services. Highway to Silicon is also targeting customers with existing designs currently implemented as FPGAs or PCBs.

Accent provides access to pure-play foundries including TSMC, Chartered and SMIC, as well as the only third-party access to STMicroelectronics foundry resources, to provide a choice of silicon technology. The program also makes use of the company’s investment in hardware infrastructure and design tools from 12 suppliers including Cadence, Synopsys, Mentor, Coware and Mathworks. IP relationships include over 16 third party IP providers including access to ARM’s TLA licensing model. Test and assembly partners include ASE, Nptest, and Atlantic Technology.

Through Highway to Silicon, Accent co-ordinates all the activities of its partners and takes responsibility for the quality and overall result of their work. Customers can have a contract for the whole or in part of the chain without restrictions on business or volume size. Fast prototyping and embedded software development are also covered.

The company sells it services via a network of representatives in Europe and the USA.

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