Electronics OEMs are caught between the growing demands for more engineering work in design and the market requirements for designs to be completed in less time. To handle the demands for more work in less time, companies are looking at the make vs. buy decisions and changing the thresholds to buy more of the pieces for their systems. During the current semiconductor boom, many companies are looking to fill empty slots with engineering temporaries.
This outsourcing of engineering functions helps increase the number of design consultants and enables IP vendors to fill the needs of the design companies while exacerbating staffing problems as engineers leave staff positions to become consultants. Many companies struggle to identify sources of talent and expertise outside their doors and usually fall back on talking to those they have hired in the past. With the increasing opportunities for third-party consultants, finding someone who can apply his or her talent to appropriate places in the design flow is an increasing challenge for the system design companies.
This time-honored tenet of capitalism--to substitute investment for labor--has many benefits, but is not a panacea. A company can buy a predesigned function block and integrate the IP into the SoC, or can hire outside designers to create special-purpose blocks. The move to outsource engineering functions, especially those that are generic, frees the staff engineers to work on the critical matters that differentiate products.
A piece of IP is worth about the cost of an engineer to design and debug the part. However, if that IP has some interesting "features" the time and cost to integrate the function block into an IC may be greater than the cost to design it from scratch. The brilliant consultant can easily make the staff engineers feel undervalued and unappreciated while solving all the problems in the world.
Another problem facing electronics companies in their rush to market is the transition from the design to prototype phases. After an ASIC is designed, the FPGA is programmed and all the other components are procured, the integration phase begins. Here again, companies are moving to outside resources to do some of the work.
The critical elements of prototype development--ordering parts, gathering the components and fabricating and assembling a pc board--are all short-term, high-intensity functions that detract from the primary focus of all the involved departments. A company can remove all but one person, who has to monitor the progress, from the prototype loop by going to an outside contractor for the work. When the prototypes finally come into the building the integration team will have completed other tasks leading to prototype signoff while someone else assembles the prototypes.
One of our channel partners, WebPRN , brings together companies doing designs with their network of design and preproduction service partners. They facilitate the interactions between suppliers and users in the design chain through their online databases of design consultants, IP and other design-related services. They also provide a window into the design trends in the electronics industries by letting visitors to their site see the listings of proposals.
All of these components are important in bringing a product to market, especially when the people are more constrained than the money. Being able to find and contact outside resources online makes the information current, immediate and useful. Time and again the Web is touted for its here and now presence. WebPRN enhances the ability to outsource some parts of the design chain by screening and categorizing outside services and matching buyers and sellers.