7 Steps to a successful analogue ASIC

August 31, 2015 // By Bob Frostholm, JVD Semiconductors
I’m willing to bet that there are tens of thousands of analogue applications out there that would benefit financially from ASIC integration. So what’s the holdup? Based on my 40+ years in the analogue IC business, I can boil it down to one word. Misinformation.

Misinformation. This is a combination of a lack of information, incorrect information, and of course, FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). Misinformation comes from numerous unreliable sources. It’s time to dispel the myths that often surround incorrect decision making and expose the bare bones truth about analogue ASIC integration; most of the time, it’s the sensible thing to do, but confusion about all the preparatory steps you must take leading up to getting a proposal for NRE and Tooling is often an early show-stopper.

 

Proper planning in anticipation of having an analogue ASIC developed and produced for your company is not to be taken lightly. There are five key elements you need to explore internally before engaging an analogue ASIC semiconductor company to design and produce a custom chip for you. Once you are comfortable with this internal analysis, then you can explore possible suppliers. If you’ve done the internal analysis correctly you will have realised that there is much more to Non-Recurring Engineering (NRE) than the upfront costs your supplier will charge you for designing and tooling a custom chip for you. That’s the easy part, because it’s spelled out clearly in black and white in the contract you’ll be signing in the beginning of the project. There is a hidden part of NRE that few companies successfully quantify. And for good reason; it’s not easy. Let’s take a moment and examine some of the more important aspects before going into what’s behind the ‘green curtain’; the effort invested by your analogue ASIC supplier.

There are several pieces to the ASIC puzzle and they must all fit together before a proper decision to move forward can be made.

Identify BOM costs

Identify your existing BOM costs. [That is, the costs of what you build from off-the-shelf part, that you are considering replacing with an integrated solution.] When asked, most customers simply get a list of components from their purchasing department along with the price they currently pay for them. Less obvious are the ‘other’ costs associated with these components. For example: purchasing costs, inventory costs, manufacturing costs including labour (costs whether human or machine), cost per square inch of the PCB, cost of lost production when there is an availability or quality problem from a supplier. This last one is really difficult to put a financial metric on. Consider too, the other side of the coin. There are BOM costs associated with an ASIC as well. A new PCB layout is required. Perhaps additional qualification and reliability testing will be involved. All of these costs need to be scrutinised closely by you, the customer, when considering a move to an ASIC solution. Be sure to quantify ALL the costs you will incur as well as all the costs you will save before committing.

Identify resource availability

 

Identify availability of your resources to manage the transition from using many standard chips to a single ASIC. Someone needs to be the focal point when dealing with the ASIC company to field technical questions and answers, define the electrical specification for the ASIC, conduct progress reviews and design reviews, manage the production change over and much more. Programme management does not necessarily require an additional headcount, but it will become a significant responsibility assigned to someone on the team. Be sure you have someone capable to assume this role. Have a backup plan in case this person leaves in the future.

 

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