SAN JOSE, Calif.—A rising storm of complexity—involving software,
electronics, and mechanical components of system design—has not stopped
engineers from tackling challenges and increasing design productivity.
That was the message from an April 2 panel here in the daylong Silicon
Valley Open Innovation Forum. The forum, sponsored by Flextronics, was held in
conjunction with the annual EELive engineering conference here.
Charles Krueger, CEO of BigLever Software, which provides systems
and software product line engineering (PLE) framework, tools, and services, set
up the challenge right off the bat.
"There's a perfect storm emerging in technology," Krueger
told the audience.
He compared the complexity that the confluence of mechanical
electrical and software technology components brings to system design to autonomous
Open Innovation Panel (L-R): Wilbur Catabay, TSI Semiconductor; Alfred Crouch, Asset Intertech; Charles Krueger, BigLever Software; Qi Wang, Cadence; Joseph Virginia, Senkatel USA;Richard McDonell, National Instruments; Tom Linton, Flextronics.
"The interaction of electronics and software and mechanical pieces in the
system is so tightly coupled and very, very complex. We don't do business as
usual," Krueger said.
To its credit, the panel spent far less time on potential peril and
much more time on how the industry has confronted this rise in system design complexity.
For example, Qi Wang, Cadence's Technical Assistant to the CEO, said
that the design challenges are forcing traditional EDA companies to think
"As a tool vendor, we realize we have to move up the value chain
to capture more value," he said. Wang added:
"Traditional IC EDA companies have to think
more about the system because hardware and software are tied together more
closely than before. Customers are moving in that direction. We have to adapt
ourselves in this very competitive market."
Two other major steps in recent years that have benefited electronics systems
design have been platform design approaches and widespread adoption of
Tom Linton, Chief Procurement Officer with Flextronics, said the keys are many standard, commoditized building blocks as
possible and reference designs "as close to vanilla" as possible. "That increases supply-chain speed and reduces cost," Linton
Joseph Virginia, President of Senkatel USA, a company that specializes in "purpose-built" tablets for
the education market, seconded some of the panel's points. While he described his company as a Tier 2 tablet vendor, he said
that's the very sector that's driving overall tablet growth, with unit
shipments expected to soar from 250 million units now to 534 million in 2017.
That wouldn't happen without standards and common reference designs.
"For us, it's standards, reference designs and platforms,"
Virginia said, calling out industry cooperative work on screen aspect ratios,
MEMS sensors, and wireless communications protocols.
He also saluted EMS and ODM solutions providers, without whom he said
the tablet market might not exist today.
"Quality is expected regardless of the price," Virginia
said. "We haven't seen someone say 'I'll spend $100 on this tablet and
it's OK if it's not very good.'"
Richard McDonell, director of Americas marketing at National Instruments, said one way to drive innovation is to adopt
platform strategies. He said:
"The number one thing we hear is ‘provide us
with the platform or tools to focus on the key problem we're trying to solve and
takes care of all the rest.' We strive ... to allow engineers to have a
platform that gets them 70 or 80% of the way there that allows them to then
have their own differentiation or unique application-specific abilities."
That approach helps National Instruments serve 35,000 customers a year. But McDonell also acknowledged that while 80 percent of design is
reused today, custom design is far from dead.
Still, "If you're not leveraging some type of platform, you're at
a disadvantage," McDonell said.
And while we reap the benefit of platforms, it has been a long time in
coming, according to Wang, who noted that U.C. Berkeley engineering professor Alberto
Sangiovanni-Vincentelli first described the approach 30 years ago. So why the
Wang (pictured, right) said:
"30 years ago it was only people with PhDs
could work with computers. Now we have two-year-old kids playing with iPads and
using wearable electronics."
This technological evolution completely changes how we use technology
to invent the future, cut time to market, cost, and increase functionality,
Wang said. "All those changes changed the (design) requirements," he added.
This has led to the rise of application-driven design methodologies. EDA
companies are working to enable this kind of design with new methodologies and
technologies from IP and verification IP all the way through to verification.
Outliving the Platform?
The panelists fielded a number of challenging questions from the
audience. One audience member pointed out that today the lifetime of the cell
phone is 18 months which is effectively much shorter than the lifetime of a
platform on which the cell phone is based.
Panelists in general said whether that dynamic is true depends on the
application and the market segment.
Alfred Crouch, chief strategist with embedded instrumentation vendor Asset Intertech, said that in some consumer cases, if you can't
get a chip out in three or four months, you're going to miss a major market
NI's McDonell paraphrased the famous line from hockey star Wayne
Gretzky: don't skate to where the puck is but to where the puck is going to be. And he noted that some software platforms can last for 50 years while
some hardware platforms can last for 10-15 years.
—EDA Verification, IP
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