MUNICH, Germany Applications expertise will become the differentiating factor in chip design, predicted Mike Fister, CEO of EDA software provider Cadence during the keynote speech to the company's in-house exhibition CDN Live. This applications expertise is what presently promotes European chip companies to play in the world's first league.
Against the background of consumer electronics presently taking the lead in chips consumption over IT-related devices, the global chip market is heading for significant changes, Fister said. For the coming years, he expects chips demand for computing applications to flatten out while consumer chips will continue their upward trend. Fister said he expects the highest growth to happen in the RF segment with an average combined growth rate of 15 percent through 2009, while the total chip market will grow only at a pace of 10 percent.
Besides consumer electronics, strong growth can also be expected for medical applications, with devices for home use growing with 12 percent through 2011 and imaging applications with 11 percent.
Major challenges for the EDA industry presently are increasingly congested PCBs, SiPs, embedded software, high speed digital data transport and custom packages. The most challenging part of the design process, is and will remain, verification, especially if it is applied to complex low power design strategies, Fister said. "Multiple complex functions and multiple standards call for system level verification", Fister said. "Power conservation is a system issue."
In an industry where time-to-market dictates ever shorter and faster design cycles, automotive applications take an antithetic position with its extreme long design cycles, Fister observed. The challenge in this segment, however, is not smaller than in the consumer market: "It is the complexity", Fister said. "Automotive systems actually are systems of systems."
A similar line took NXP Chief Technology Officer René Penning de Vries in his guest keynote speech. He also made clear that application expertise increasingly makes the difference in the market. "Block level IP and microprocessor cores such as ARM or MIPS are no longer differentiating", he said. Since chip customers demand complete solutions, simple semiconductor expertise will eventually no longer suffice. "Chip houses will become system houses", Penning de Vries predicted.
After having fallen back during the nineties and well into the present decade, the European chip industry is now reporting back, explained Cadence CTO Ted Vucurevich in an interview with EE Times Europe. "They [the European chip manufacturers] were working very methodical but moved too slow to keep up with the fast design pace in the US and Japan", Vucurevich explained. "However, their strong expertise in RF and analog technologies have become very interesting for products lately." Expertise in these areas has evolved to be a European stronghold. "Analog, RF and mixed signal functions cannot be outsourced easily since they do not comprise clearly defined functional blocks - as opposed to digital processing IP," he said.
As another European stronghold, the Cadence mastermind sees system-level concepts. "It was very interesting to see the emergence of system-oriented companies. Automotive electronics and telecommunications require system-driven designs. This combination helped the Europeans to understand the transformations the technology presently is going trough. As a result, European companies now are moving much quicker than the rest of the world."
At the event in Munich, Cadence introduced it's long-awaited low power design kit as well as a new version of its Allegro PCB routing software which allows to automate the routing process for PCB designs that hitherto were too complex to be routed automatically.