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Meeting the IoT Design Challenge


By Pete Singer, Editor-in-Chief

Mentor Graphics acquired Tanner EDA in March of 2015, in an effort to better address the design, layout and verification of analog/mixed-signal (AMS) and MEMS ICs, key building blocks in Internet of Things (IoT).

Since then, the Tanner team has moved offices and successfully been integrated into Mentor’s corporate structure.

We recently caught up with Jeff Miller, product marketing manager for the Tanner Group at Mentor Graphics. “We’ve kept the team together and we’re continuing to work as a business unit within Mentor Graphics with the same team under the same leadership,” he said. “Greg Lebsack, who was the president of Tanner EDA is now the general manager of the Tanner Group. We have the same basic org chart.” He noted that the same people who were with Tanner for a long time are still there. “We tried to preserve that and we’ve done a good job of that,” Miller said.

With the explosion of IoT devices – some estimate 70 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020 – the Tanner acquisition seems particularly prescient in that many if not most IoT devices are analog/mixed signal devices, and many involve the use of MEMS.

“We’ve been involved in various IoT-type designs for a long time,” Miller explained. He defined an IoT device as a sensor and an actuator — that’s the “thing” part – plus some amount of readout or control circuitry, and some digital logic in order to control that and interface to a radio which then communicates to your cell phone or you WiFi network and then on to the internet. “You need to have all those four pieces to make your IoT device,” he said.

The microcontroller or microprocessor component and the radio component have been traditionally been done outside of the Tanner EDA tools, but Miller said they group has been making a big effort in the last couple of years to bring some of that into their design flow in terms of enabling a greater degree of integration. “The cost, size pressures and power pressures are going to force some integration there,” Miller said.

In other words, sensors are being integrated with more and more of intelligence. “Instead of just having a raw MEMS accelerometer, they’ll have a 3-axis accelerometer with a 3-axis gyro and a read-out circuit and enough digital logic to do some processing,” said Miller. “These sensors are becoming a lot smarter and more integrated in order to support these kinds of applications.”

Miller said he’s seen a lot of new entrants into the IoT market. Typically design teams have5 to 20 people. Tanner’s market historically has been the smaller companies with relatively focused products.

“I’m expecting the needs of this market to be diverse enough that we’re going to see a proliferation of small interesting designs that enable a particular class of IoT device,” Miller predicts. “This proliferation across the market will lead to small design teams doing something innovative in a smaller scale environment, trying to make these things as small and efficient as they can possibly be. “

Since the acquisition, a big focus of the Tanner Group has been on how to best integrate Mentor’s tools such as Calibre, ModelSim and AFS with existing Tanner products. “More so than ever before, we have a complete design flow, start to finish, for analog design flow, mixed signal design and for MEMS design, and any integration across those things,” Miller said. “We’re keeping our basic ways of doing things and leveraging the incredible resources that are available being part of a large company like Mentor Graphics. It’s really good for us to part of this new, larger team.”

The first major integration was with Calibre, followed by ModelSim as the digital simulator in their mixed signal flow. “We can integrate our SPICE simulator with ModelSim and do mixed signal simulations and communicate the signals across the boundary between analog and digital,” Miller said. He adds that expects to have more and tighter integrations with other Mentor Graphic tools moving forward.

“I’ve been really encouraged that Mentor has been investing us and making sure we’re going to be around and still doing business in a Tanner kind of way going into the future,” Miller said.

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