| Business pressures on semiconductor companies are relentless. Meanwhile, Moore's Law marches on. Circuit densities are ten times what they were just three years ago. Furthermore, a growing number of designs have moved to highly complex architectures like nanometer-scale systems-on-a-chip (SOCs) and hybrid chips with analog, digital, and software blocks. |
Just designing these ICs is tough enough. Indeed, a single chip development project may involve 100,000 design files or more, usually organized in separate incompatible databases. Changes are frequent and must be reflected in every part of the design, often across teams of hundreds of engineers scattered around the world and working for different companies.
Managing complex information and collaborating across multiple, globally distributed sites and data silos can be a nightmare for the semiconductor company — where communication typically occurs through e-mail, phone, fax, spreadsheets, lists, and ad hoc meetings — inevitably leading to problems in version control, data correlation, and design bugs. With complex chips, the cost of a mistake, especially one late in the design cycle, could be catastrophic. A design flaw undetected until tape-out could mean scraping a mask worth $500,000, delaying a new product launch by months, and dashing plans to be first to market.
The focus of the entire EDA industry has been to provide a multitude of design tools to close the productivity gap. Semiconductor companies have long sought these tools as the primary vehicle for time-to-market acceleration — "If I could just cut a few hours off of my simulation run or speed up my timing closure."
However, the task of managing disparate design teams, keeping track of huge amounts of rapidly changing design data, and collaborating with a host of disaggregated design chain partners can be just as overwhelming. Here, design engineers and the entire organization behind them require a different set of tools to overcome these challenges and get their product to market.
Enter the class of enterprise software known as PLM, or Product Lifecycle Management.
PLM: transforming innovation
PLM has its roots in mechanical design, where engineers needed to keep track of design files generated by their product design systems. Basic product data management (PDM) capabilities allowed them to store files, control revision levels, and immediately see relationships between parts and assemblies.
The Internet and other technologies emerged in the 90's, providing new capabilities that eased the process of team collaboration. PLM solutions took advantage of new Web-based technologies and rapidly developed as an enterprise platform that enabled collaboration throughout every stage of the product lifecycle — from design through testing, quality assurance, production, and after-sales support.
These Web-based systems enabled companies to easily connect globally dispersed facilities including outside organizations such as suppliers, partners, and even customers. PLM thus became a collaborative backbone for people throughout these extended enterprises to work together more effectively and speed delivery of new products to market.
As PLM matured, capabilities expanded to include workflow, program management and project control — features that standardize, automate, and speed up operations. The scope of information being shared also expanded to include not only CAD files but also analysis results, test specifications, quality standards, engineering requirements, change orders, bill of materials listings (BOMs), requests for quote (RFQs), manufacturing procedures and so forth.
Today's PLM solutions enable companies to manage all of the information about their products, from initial concept through to production within a single information environment that ties together all product-related information and processes across a company's value chain of customers, employees, partners and suppliers. All elements of product data (customer requirements, technical specifications, design definitions, production schedules, analysis results, sourcing plans, and quality inspections) are incorporated and tied to the critical processes and tasks undertaken by internal and external teams.
PLM stands alone among enterprise applications in its ability to integrate product design and development information and processes across the wide range of intra-company and extended-enterprise systems. Equally important, PLM provides the necessary processes and workflow for successfully managing products throughout the complete innovation lifecycle and across dispersed locations, both within the company and throughout the value chain.
A competitive necessity
Across the industrial landscape, PLM is being recognized increasingly in boardrooms as a must-have enterprise application, and has emerged as what a growing number of companies regard as a competitive necessity. Figures from consulting and research firm CIMdata, Inc. show that PLM investments are expected to reach nearly $15 billion in 2004 and will exceed $20 billion by 2008. CIMdata notes that this continued strong investment in PLM affirms that companies see it as fundamental to improving their top and bottom-line performance.
According to CIMdata, by managing and leveraging product information across the extended enterprise, and by enabling collaborative work processes, PLM enhances business performance by supporting innovation-oriented initiatives such as integrated product development, design collaboration, intellectual supply chain management, product requirements management, operations management, strategic direct-material sourcing and global resource utilization — initiatives that can make or break a company.
PLM is being implemented across a wide range of industries including automotive, aerospace, industrial equipment, consumer products, and electronics. In fact, a growing number of electronic OEMs are already implementing PLM. Of particular interest is the ability to manage design projects and data across mechanical, PCB, IC and software teams.
Toshiba, for example, has developed a single, secure environment that enables cross-functional teams to work more effectively across departmental and corporate boundaries for shortening time-to-market and reducing product development costs, while meeting Six Sigma and ISO quality guidelines. With program management capabilities, the company is able to monitor project status and uncover bottlenecks in real time in addition to controlling tasks and deliverables simultaneously.
PLM capabilities enable users from sales, product design, purchasing, production and service to access the same bill-of-materials in real-time via the Internet resulting in improved product quality. PLM solutions provide a secure virtual workspace in which product designers, buyers and suppliers can collaborate early in the design process to avoid costly mistakes downstream.
Figure 1 — Products are being designed increasingly outside the four walls of the company, driving the need for strong collaboration capabilities for design houses to work closely with increasing levels of other companies. PLM facilitates this process by managing product-related information across this extended enterprise over the entire cycle from customer requirements to tape-out to the foundry.
Solutions for semiconductors
Despite these compelling capabilities and benefits, most semiconductor companies are just starting to recognize the value that PLM may bring to bear in solving their most formidable challenges. Perhaps this is due to their focus on the design complexity itself, throwing EDA tool after tool at the problem.
Or, it could be that the realities of multi-site/multi-company design chains are just starting to have an impact and are getting the attention of senior management. Regardless, semiconductor companies will soon discover that PLM can deliver the next generation of productivity improvements to achieve their time-to-market objectives and drive growth through innovation.
The PLM industry has changed too, as it addresses the untapped potential of the semiconductor market and tailors its solutions toward the specific challenges of chip development. Such tools are based on powerful core PLM technology for managing data, processes, and collaboration throughout the entire chip development program (from initial customer requirements to fab handoff) using the terminology, workflow, procedures, best practices, data types, and other requirements needed by people at all levels of the semiconductor company.
Moreover, role-based tools have been developed that reflect the tasks and information needs of individuals according to their role in the development cycle—chip designers, engineering managers, and marketing personnel. Such roles are entirely unique to the semiconductor industry in characterizing the work of front-end design engineers developing logic, versus back-end designers developing the physical design, for example.
PLM offerings for semiconductor companies have been architected around managing the most critical aspects of the chip development cycle, including design engineers, sales, marketing, manufacturing, management and finance. Inter-enterprise constituents such as design partners, IP vendors, foundries, assembly/test, and others (comprising the semiconductor value chain) have also been addressed. Overall, PLM solutions applied to the semiconductor space focus on aiding six key business processes:
Design Data Management is at the core of any PLM solution. It is the PDM for IC data, if you will. Tools have specific capabilities for managing chip design information, the hierarchical relationship between various portions of the design, and all related design changes. With tight integrations to EDA vendors such as Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys, a design data management system enables engineers to track complex chip configurations, maintain stable subsets of all their files, and monitor and control all the various versions.
All associated data on the chip design is maintained in these files, giving all engineers, regardless of geographical location, a unified view of the information so that everyone is working with the same versions of files and accurate up-to-date data. This platform can be the foundation to expand to all other levels of PLM to the enterprise.
Logical chip/block partitions can be revisioned independently, and chip integrators can experiment with "what-if" scenarios, building configurations up out of the block configurations. Hand-off points between significant phases of design, such as RTL hand-off to place and route, can be tracked to the constituent configurations, enabling multiple "what-if" scenarios to be building in parallel, with traceability back to the sources of the final layout. Later, the blocks used successfully can be catalogued, searched and reused in future designs, further leveraging investments in engineering resources.
Design Project Management helps facilitate chip development efforts in the design workgroup, including collaboration with IP vendors and design partners on specs, models, and IP blocks. This level of semiconductor PLM serves as the bridge connecting Design Data Management with Program Management to keep chip design activities on schedule and create better visibility into designs and their status.
A manager's dashboard provides a quick summary of the progression of chips underway, what phase they are in and how they are executing to plan. Access to the detailed work breakdown structure is then a mouse click away. This enhances team productivity by enabling distributed teams to share ideas, bug reports, engineering change information, and so on. Managers can instantly see the status of the entire design and fully understand any open issues, bottlenecks, and status as well as track critical path items.
Built-in queries show the "who, what, when and why" for each change in the design. Automatic triggers facilitate communication and process flow to alert appropriate team members of events such as schedule changes, late changes to requirements or specifications, or that the data is ready for the next phase of design. Dialogue between engineers used to resolve design issues or determine the design intent is captured and retained to document design history repository. This serves as an enabler of process reuse and faster resolution of design issues going forward.
Design-to-Manufacture Management solutions streamline the chip Bill-of Material (BOM) development process and subsequent hand-off of the GDSII tape-out to the foundry according to established semiconductor design rules and physical design kits from the foundry. This solution aids production engineers and operations personnel in organizing, compiling and managing the BOM and BOM variants. Automated links directly to the chip design files ensure that changes in the development cycle are fully reflected in the tape-out. Engineering and manufacturing can now collaborate throughout the entire innovation and execution cycle.
Opportunity Management is targeted at the design-win or "engineer to order" process and managing on-going iterative design cycles with the customer. By allowing orders to be placed directly into their own system, semiconductor companies are able to submit proposals and quotes back to customers in a timely manner. Additionally, advanced pass-through RFQs can be generated to link many levels of the supply chain together in cascading RFQ and quotation response processes.
PLM also provides the capability to efficiently identify, organize and document a chip's ever-changing requirements, while allocating appropriate features of the IC to meet these needs. After the company has won the design slot, collaborative capabilities ensure that engineering has the tools to work closely with the customer throughout the development cycle, especially in responding quickly to inevitable changes in customer requirements throughout the process.
Product Line Planning helps at the marketing function to define key capabilities for engineer to order and/or engineer to market business models. The PLM solution supports capturing of market requirements, definition of features, product configuration management and product line performance metrics. The overall "engineer to market" process is addressed, enabling management of the entire product portfolio.
Concept-to-Volume solutions for new product introduction (NPI) are needed to manage the entire phase-gate product development process from inception to end-of-life. This is the overarching capability of PLM — covering the broad range of development phases and multiple disciplines required in the semiconductor business cycle, including marketing, sales, design, quality, inspection, testing, simulation, and production.
Program dashboards specifically geared toward IC development processes give management real-time visibility into a program's status in terms of process, costs/benefits, and ultimately enables better decision-making into which programs offer the highest potential return. This capability increases productivity of globally distributed users by managing programs with real-time information, updated automatically through direct links to Design Data Management and other PLM systems.
Figure 2 — Chip development typically is a cumbersome process with many overlapping and often uncoordinated exchanges between separate tools, databases and systems. PLM streamlines this process by managing the overall program, the information, and the ways different groups interact.
Substantial business benefits
Through these types of capabilities, PLM provides members of the semiconductor value chain a real-time view of a single, consistent source of product data: customer requirements, design data, program status, project history and engineering changes. All parties benefit from PLM — design engineers and other internal groups (including sales, marketing, management, finance) — as well as design partners, IP vendors, suppliers, the fab, assembly/test, and others comprising the extended enterprise. The Web-based collaboration and data-exchange capabilities of PLM are particularly important to semiconductor companies, given the growing trend toward globalization, distributed facilities, geographically dispersed teams and a generally disaggregated value chain participating in chip development.
Operational efficiencies are improved with PLM because groups work faster through advanced information retrieval, electronic information sharing, data and design reuse, and numerous automatic capabilities. This enables companies to process engineering change orders faster, for example, work more effectively with suppliers and customers in handling bids and quotes, and exchange critical product data more smoothly with production facilities.
PLM also can result in significant savings through cost avoidance, a particularly important issue in the semiconductor industry where simple configuration errors at tape-out to the foundry have been found to account for 20-40% of IC production failures. At a minimum, this wastes a half million dollars per mask set and months of engineering time. More importantly, if the end product is a high-volume, short lifecycle consumer item such as a cell phone, disk drive or PC, the lost revenue from a missed market opportunity can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Through these efficiencies and the avoidance of costly errors, PLM can result in impressive savings, with many companies reporting pay-off periods of one to two years or less, based solely on reduced costs. At the same time, PLM also boosts revenue streams through enhanced contract bidding capabilities, faster response to rapidly changing trends and greater business opportunities.
The broadest benefits of PLM can be achieved through greater performance at the extended enterprise level, involving information management, program management and collaboration across separate groups and companies throughout the semiconductor development chain. These overall benefits are achieved through the aggregate benefit of the many different groups and departments within the company that are using PLM. By working together on a common PLM platform, companies can forge strong design chain partnerships that combine their best-in-class capabilities to deliver differentiated value to their joint end customers.
At the end of the day, PLM is about transforming the product innovation process. In the fiercely competitive semiconductor industry, where companies are constantly looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage, those who look beyond EDA productivity tools and start investigating enterprise PLM solutions will emerge as the dominant companies across the semiconductor industry in the decades to come.
Brad Hafer is the vice president of marketing and business development for global electronics at MatrixOne. He joins MatrixOne through its recent acquisition of Synchronicity Software, Inc, where he led the marketing, product management and business development organizations. Prior to Synchronicity, Brad has worked for Ariba, SupplierMarket.com, A.T. Kearney, and IBM.