If an integrated circuit design is to meet the need for high-quality/low-risk implementation, the need for formal communication among the participants in the design process is obviously necessary. When design engineers, design managers and mask shop engineers are at multiple sites--each team and each site working within their own schedule constraints--moving communication online is a must.
Online communication lets system-on-chip integrators do their jobs in parallel to intellectual property design and software development, and in complete awareness of the design-for-mask-manufacturing (DFFM) constraints imposed by the next engineering steps.
IP designers, for instance, need to communicate where they stand with respect to predefined quality criteria (such as functionality, performance and reusability). Regardless of their position in the design chain, engineering and design managers now spend 20 to 40 percent of their time compiling quality progress reports based on individual, manual reports. Although quality standards are available, and most large companies have strong in-house experience managing quality, reporting is still largely ad hoc, Excel-based and manual.
A more formal understanding of what constitutes design quality, and an automated, online method for designers to check quality run after run, dramatically reduces quality reporting time.
Formal, online communication is also a must for mask shop engineers. Stopping any mask during mask processing requires a waiver from the customer and will add a delay of 12 to 24 hours to its delivery schedule, depending on the stage during which the problem is detected. Since such quality issues are usually discovered very late in the process, on items that often have passed normal inspection, they can delay the entire project by a month or more.
Photomasks could be manufactured at lower risk and with higher productivity if design engineers followed specific, well-defined practices before delivering GDSII tapes. Automating these practices and making information available online to all members of the design chain allows monitoring so that DFMM parameters can be fed back from mask manufacturing to designers.