Santa Cruz, Calif. -- The crowded IC design-for-manufacturability market shrank last week, as Blaze DFM an- nounced its upcoming merger with Aprio Technologies, a DFM startup that experienced difficulties last year. The move is just one in a pattern of consolidations, but it's the first time that DFM startups have merged on their own.
Blaze (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and Aprio (Santa Clara, Calif.) described the transaction as a merger rather than an acquisition and declined to reveal the terms. The merged company, however, will retain the name Blaze DFM, with headquarters at Blaze's current offices. The companies claim synergy between Aprio's lithography simulation expertise and Blaze's "electrical DFM" technology, which helps designers improve performance and power to optimize parametric yield.
"This is a very important move for our company because the lithography simulation capability Aprio brings will enable us to complete our electrical DFM vision," said Jacob Jacobsson, Blaze DFM CEO. "Lithography will have a significant impact on performance and leakage power, which is at the heart of electrical DFM."
Aprio was one of the first DFM startups to publicly run into trouble. In December, the company announced layoffs, including that of Mike Gianfagna as chief executive officer. Last month, however, Aprio co-founder and chief technologist Clive Wu said the company was enjoying new customer success and getting its costs under control.
With some 20 startups crowding the DFM market and large EDA vendors adding DFM capabilities of their own, many observers have been expecting a consolidation (see chart) or meltdown among DFM startups.
Gary Smith, chief analyst at Gary Smith EDA, recently said there will be a definite "thinning" of the DFM ranks this year, especially for "pseudo DFM" tools that are not aimed at designers. "In 2006, the big three IC layout vendors began introducing their 65/45-nm DFM-capable tools, but the [opportunity] for the DFM, or pseudo-DFM, startups targeting that market is going away," he said. "There just isn't room for that many startups."
The Blaze-Aprio pairing is different from previous moves because two private DFM startups have merged on their own.
"If you look at the manufacturing of chips at 90 nm and below, there is a $10 billion yield loss per year," Jacobsson noted. "I don't know how big the [DFM] market is, but the potential is big because there's tremendous opportunity here." While big EDA vendors are adding their own DFM capabilities, Jacobsson said, his company can still provide a 20 to 30 percent yield improvement on top of those capabilities.
Representatives of large EDA com- panies, however, expressed skepticism about pure-play DFM companies. "Customers are looking for complete rather than point solutions, and the major public companies have been very aggressive about developing a broad range of their own [DFM] solutions and integrating them into complete offerings," said Joe Sawicki, vice president of Mentor Graphics' design-to-silicon division.
What customers really care about is getting high yields, observed Mike McAweeny, Cadence vice president of marketing for DFM. "The jury is still out whether pure-play DFM, DFM as part of an EDA company, or DFM as part of a semiconductor equipment company is the right model," he said.
In addition to EDA vendors with their own DFM capabilities, there are still plenty of standalone DFM providers. "The news of the Aprio merger is not surprising, as the company hit dire straits and money was running out," said Wolf Staud, director of marketing at Invarium Inc. (San Jose, Calif.). "What is somewhat surprising is that Blaze, which wanted to be RET [resolution enhancement technology] agnostic, is now teaming up with a company offering incremental OPC [optical proximity correction] solutions."
Aprio offers Halo-Fix, an automated OPC repair tool, and Halo-Quest, which provides lithography variability analysis for designers. Blaze has introduced Blaze MO, which optimizes and annotates design data for OPC, and Blaze IF, which inserts dummy metal fill patterns into a design layout.
The merged company will have around 40 employees, Jacobsson said. He declined to reveal how many employees came over from Aprio, but said all were hired.
Wu had said in January that Aprio employed around 20 people.
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