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Issue No.02 - March/April (2009 vol.26)
pp: 1-2
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
A Message from the Chair
Now that 2009 is ongoing, we are continuing to make DATC relevant to our community, which is especially important in these turbulent times. For example, in our online newsletter we are providing unique summaries of emerging conferences around the world, "first view" opinions in emerging and/or technology-market topics, crowd sourcing-style challenges, and summaries of our own meetings and events. We are also pleased that in 2009 we will run the election for a new chair elect—which we hope to be able to announce in our next newsletter. Let me end this thread by mentioning our website http://www.datc.info, which keeps improving thanks to our online chair Joe Damore. Given that our main focus is moving toward "all online all the time," we urge you to stay in touch with us through both the website and our online newsletter. To find out more about both, just write us a line at jantonio@ieee.org.
Online and offline, we have been recently reflecting on fundamental issues that will affect the success and failure of our industry in the foreseeable future. Some of the most important issues cross the technology-business boundary. For example, consider the capital efficiency in the design of complex modern SoCs. Much has been said about the design productivity crisis in our semiconductor industry. Design costs have grown very fast in absolute terms over the past decade, in part because productivity has not been able to keep up with the growth in design complexity. However, manufacturing's fixed costs have grown to be an even larger barrier to industry growth. Why, then, is it so important to mention productivity? There are several key rationales why design productivity is critical not only for the design automation community, but for the entire semiconductor industry.
First, the semiconductor industry is quickly becoming a quasi-fabless industry, that is, most of the industry members will soon be companies that do not own a fabrication facility. Consolidation among fab owners, both trailing- and leading-edge, is obviously the main cause. Therefore, most industry members will have, as a key differentiator in their products … their design! While it is important in certain sectors to count on leading-edge manufacturing technology, significant data shows that design has been the ultimate technical factor in the success of most modern electronic IC products.
Second, as manufacturing limitations hit an ever increasing peak, design technology has become the only possible savior to the continuation of scaling in some fashion. Design for manufacturability has grown to be one of the two highest-growth fields in design technology for this very reason. Only design can help manufacturing equipment, processes, and even recipes continue on a less-than-catastrophic scaling curve. New materials and devices are helping on the other side, but their limitations and the difficulty in leveraging them for design in an economically feasible manner makes design even more important. Indeed, a small percentage improvement in productivity can almost duplicate the return-on-investment (ROI) of almost any electronic IC product. It's no surprise that the venture capital (VC) investment in semiconductors has seen a dramatic downturn even before the current economy meltdown, yet a substantial focus remains on the design productivity of new venture-backed semiconductor start-ups. Fabless semiconductor start-ups are focusing high-volume products that, first, can be arbitraged geographically through the use of engineering labor whose productivity-per-investment is highest and, second, are more productive in nature (such as analog or mixed-signal consumer products). It is by no means a general solution, but it is a very popular one.
The old design productivity discussion is not only not dead but more critical to survival than ever. It is no surprise that design has become a central part of the entire industry's roadmap (the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors). With a focus on electronic design productivity, the semiconductor industry may continue to be feasible and even profitable. If you have any comments on this reflection, please drop us a note at jantonio@ieee.org.
Juan-Antonio Carballo
DATC Chair
Calendar
Electronic Design Process (EDP) 2009
9-10 April 2009
Monterey Beach Hotel, Monterey, California
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