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SiPs Simplify Wireless IoT Design

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

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By Dave Lammers, Contributing Editor

It takes a range of skills to create a successful business in the Internet of Things space, where chips sell for a few dollars and competition is intense. Circuit design and software support for multiple wireless standards must combine with manufacturing capabilities.

Daniel Cooley, senior vice president of IoT products at Silicon Labs

Daniel Cooley, senior vice president and general manager of IoT products at Silicon Labs (Austin, Tx.), said three trends are impacting the manufacture of IoT end-node devices, which usually combine an MCU, an RF transceiver, and embedded flash memory.

“There is an explosion in the amount of memory on embedded SoCs, both RAM and non-volatile memory,” said Cooley. Today’s multi-protocol wireless software stacks, graphics processing, and security requirements routinely double or quadruple the memory sizes of the past.

Secondly, while IoT edge devices continue to use trailing-edge technologies, nonetheless they also are moving to more advanced nodes. However, that movement is partially gated by the availability of embedded flash.

Thirdly, pre-certified system-in-package (SiP) solutions, running a proven software stack, “are becoming much more important,” Cooley said. These SiPs typically encapsulate an MCU, an integrated antenna and shielding, power management, crystal oscillators, and inductors and capacitors. While Silicon Labs has been shipping multi-chip modules for many years, SiPs are gaining favor in part because they can be quickly deployed by engineers with relatively little expertise in wireless development, he said.

“Personally, I believe that very advanced SIPs increasingly will be standard products, not anything exotic. They are a complete solution, like a PCB module, but encased with a molding compound. The SiP manufacturers are becoming very sophisticated, and we are ready to take that technology and apply it more broadly,” he said.

For example, Silicon Labs recently introduced a Bluetooth SiP module measuring 6.5 by 6.5 mm, designed for use in sports and fitness wearables, smartwatches, personal medical devices, wireless sensor nodes, and other space-constrained connected devices.

“We have built multi-chip packages – those go back to the first products of the company – but we haven’t done a fully certified module with a built-in antenna until now. A SiP module simplifies the go-to-market process. Customers can just put it down on a PCB and connect power and ground. Of course, they can attach other chips with the built-in interfaces, but they don’t need anything else to make the Bluetooth system work,” Cooley said.

“Designing with a certified SiP module supports better data throughput, and improves reliability as well. The SiP approach is especially beneficial for end-node customers which “haven’t gone through the process of launching a wireless product in in the market,” Cooley said.

System-in-package (SiP) solutions ease the design cycle for engineers using Bluetooth and low low-energy wireless networks. (Source: Silicon Laboratories).

The SiP packages a wireless SoC with an antenna and multiple other components in a small footprint.

Control by voice

The BGM12x Blue Gecko SiP is aimed at Bluetooth-enabled applications, a genre that is rapidly expanding as ecosystems like the Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit, and Google Home proliferate.

The BGM12x Blue Gecko SiP is aimed at Bluetooth-enabled applications

Matt Maupin is Silicon Labs’ product marketing manager for mesh networking products, which includes SoCs and modules for low-power Zigbee and Thread wireless connectivity. Asked how a home lighting system, for example, might be connected to one of the home “ecosystems” now being sold by Amazon, Apple, Google, Nest, and others, Maupin said the major lighting suppliers, such as OSRAM, Philips, and others, often use Zigbee for lighting, rather than Bluetooth, because of Zigbee’s mesh networking capability. (Some manufactures use Bluetooth low energy (BLE) for point-to-point control from a phone.)

“The ability for a device to connect directly relies on the same protocols being used. Google and Amazon products do not support Zigbee or Thread connectivity at this time,” Maupin explained.

Normally, these lighting devices are connected to a hub. For example, Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home “both control the Philips lights through the Philips hub. Communication happens over the Ethernet network (wireless or wired depending on the hub).  The Philips hub also supports HomeKit so that will work as well,” he said.

Maupin’s home configuration is set up so the Philips lights connect via Zigbee to the Philips hub, which connects to an Ethernet network. An Amazon Echo is connected to the Ethernet Network by WiFi.

“I have the Philips devices at home configured via their app. For example, I have lights in my bedroom configured differently for me and my wife. With voice commands, I can control these lamps with different commands such as ‘Alexa, turn off Matt’s lamp,’ or ‘Alexa, turn off the bedroom lamps.’”

Alexa communicates wirelessly to the Ethernet Network, which then goes to the Philips hub (which is sold under the brand name Philips Hue Bridge) via Ethernet, where the Philips hub then converts that to Zigbee to control that actual lamps. While that sounds complicated, Maupin said, “to consumers, it is just magic.”

A divided IoT market

Sandeep Kumar, senior vice president of worldwide operations

IoT systems can be divided into the high-performance number crunchers which deal with massive amounts of data, and the “end-node” products which drive a much different set of requirements. Sandeep Kumar, senior vice president of worldwide operations at Silicon Labs, said RF, ultra-low-power processes and embedded NVM are essential for many end-node applications, and it can take several years for foundries to develop them beyond the base technology becoming available.

“40nm is an old technology node for the big digital companies. For IoT end nodes where we need a cost-effective RF process with ultra-low leakage and embedded NVM, the state of the art is 55nm; 40 nm is just getting ready,” Kumar said.

Embedded flash or any NVM takes as long as it does because, most often, it is developed not by the foundries themselves but by independent companies, such as Silicon Storage Technology. The foundry will implement this IP after the foundry has developed the base process. (SST has been part of Microchip Technology since 2010.) Typically, the eFlash capability lags by a few years for high-volume uses, and Kumar notes that “the 40nm eFlash is still not in high-volume production for end-node devices.”

Similarly, the ultra-low-leakage versions of a technology node take time and equipment investments, as well as cooperation from IP partners. Foundry customers and the fabless design houses must requalify for the low-leakage processes. “All the models change and simulations have to be redone,” Kumar said.

“We need low-leakage for the end applications that run on a button cell (battery), so that a security door or motion sensor, for example, can run for five to seven years. After the base technology is developed, it typically takes at least three years. If 40nm was available several years ago, the ultra-low-leakage process is just becoming available now.

“And some foundries may decide not to do ultra-low-leakage on certain technology nodes. It is a big capital and R&D investment to do ultra-low-leakage. Foundries have to make choices, and we have to manage that,” Kumar said.

The majority of Silicon Labs’ IoT product volume is in 180nm, while other non-IoT products use a 55nm process. The line of Blue Gecko wireless SoCs currently is on 90nm, made in 300mm fabs, while new designs are headed toward more advanced process nodes.

Because 180nm fabs are being used for MEMS, sensors and other analog-intensive, high-volume products, there is still “somewhat of a shortage” of 180nm wafers, Kumar said, though the situation is improving. “It has gotten better because TSMC and other foundries have added capacity, having heard from several customers that the 180nm node is where they are going to stay, or at least stay longer than they expected. While the foundries have added equipment and capital, it is still quite tight. I am sure the big MEMS and sensor companies are perfectly happy with 180nm,” Kumar said.

A testing advantage

IoT is a broad-based market with thousands of customers and a lot of small volume customizations. Over the past decade Silicon Labs has deployed a proprietary ultra-low-cost tester, developed in-house and used in internal back-end operations in Austin and Singapore at assembly and test subcontractors and at a few outside module makers as well. The Silicon Labs tester is much more cost effective than commercially available testers, an important cost advantage in a market where a wireless MCU can sell in small volumes to a large number of customers for just a few dollars.

“Testing adds costs, and it is a critical part of our strategy. We use our internally developed tester for our broad-based products, and it is effective at managing costs,” Kumar said.

Rhines Expounds on the Deconsolidation of the Semiconductor Industry

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

“By 2020, we are all going to work for the same company,” Wally Rhines, chairman and chief executive officer of Mentor Graphics, said Tuesday morning (April 26) in his keynote presentation at Mentor’s U2U user conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Taking “Merger Mania” as his theme, the veteran electronic design automation and semiconductor executive reviewed the merger-and-acquisition activity of 2015, some of which is extending into this year. Rhines noted that several of the big acquiring companies in last year’s wave of industry consolidation had names beginning with the letter “M,” while some of the acquired chip enterprises had names beginning with the letter “A.” That, he joked, was the genesis of “M&A” in 2015.

On a more serious note, the Mentor CEO challenged the conventional wisdom that the industry experienced unprecedented deal-making and combination in 2015. The number of deals involved, 30, wasn’t a record, he said. It was the “magnitude” of valuations in those transactions, with a number of multibillion-dollar acquisitions, he added.

The top 10 semiconductor suppliers in the world have changed dramatically since the 1950s, as the industry has transitioned from germanium transistors to silicon-based integrated circuits made with a bipolar process, metal-oxide-semiconductor memory chips, memories/microprocessors, and system-on-a-chip devices, according to Rhines.

The industry market share of the top 50 chip companies has actually declined for many years, through 2014, he noted. “We’re still on a deconsolidation path,” Rhines asserted. “The dynamics of the industry change.”

While the industry was selling 50 percent of its chips for computing applications a decade ago, and 25 percent for communications, the trend has lately shifted, with communications overtaking computers as the leading application, although the line between communications and computing is getting blurrier, Rhines noted.

“Why the acceleration in mergers?” Rhines wondered. The chief factors generally credited are economies of scale, financial leverage, and regulatory/government mandates, he listed.

Despite all the combinations over the years, there is scant evidence that mergers always mean higher profit margins, compared with revenue figures, Rhines said. “There is no correlation between size and profits,” he noted. “It’s not an automatic formula for success. Maybe scale isn’t the answer.”

A more compelling reason for the wave of mergers is “very cheap money,” with historically low rates on corporate loans, Rhines noted. Tax advantages, especially on tax-inversion deals, seem to be fading as an incentive to merge, as the federal government is making it more difficult for large corporations to move their headquarters out of the United States and minimize their tax obligations to the U.S., according to Rhines.

That brings in the consideration of regulations and government mandates. China is engaged in a five-year program to create “greater self-sufficiency” for its domestic semiconductor industry, the Mentor CEO said. Instead of directly subsidizing the growth of semiconductor manufacturers and chip-related suppliers, China’s central government is taking equity stakes in private-equity firms that are making investments in the semiconductor industry, sometimes seeking to acquire companies in the U.S. and around the world, or to take an ownership stake in key companies.

Research and development spending by semiconductor companies goes up and down depending on industry revenue, yet it generally remains flat as a percentage of revenue – typically around 14 percent of revenue, according to Rhines.

Still, “long-term interest rates can’t stay low forever,” he concluded. “Merger mania will be limited.”

In an interview following his keynote, Rhines expounded on the theme of the learning curve – a concept that encompasses Moore’s Law and other observations of technological change. In addition to talking about the learning curve in his keynote, Rhines also wrote about in a recent blog post.

Moore’s Law presents a “limited set of knobs to turn,” he observed. For years, “the most productive thing to do is shrink” the dimensions of ICs, he said. While the demise of Moore’s Law has long been predicted, “the cost per switch/transistor will always be going down,” he added. “You will always see an improvement.”

The Internet of Things is widely touted as the next market to boost the fortunes of the semiconductor industry. IoT could force the industry to “improve enough to enable another application, like wireless,” Rhines said.

In general, the industry is facing substantial manufacturing challenges in getting down to the 16/14-nanometer process node and smaller dimensions. “Every generation has a new physics problem to solve,” Rhines observed. “Complexity grows.”

Chip designers and manufacturers are now dealing with electromigration issues and thermal problems, he noted. EDA is taking on these challenges while also pivoting to the wider considerations of system design, rather than chip or board design, Rhines said.

“Forty percent of our revenue comes from system design,” the Mentor CEO said. Designing systems for automotive vehicles, military/aerospace systems, medical equipment, and other areas represents a $2.5 trillion market in total, compared with about $350 billion for semiconductors, on an annual basis.

Faced with declining revenue and profitability in the 2016 fiscal year, Mentor Graphics offered a voluntary early retirement program for veteran employees, and dozens of them took the buyout benefits, Rhines noted. This represented “a forcible evolution of the company,” he said. “We were going to lose a significant amount of corporate learning.”

While somewhere between 110 and about 200 employees took early retirement, Mentor actually increased its headcount last year, from 5,558 full-time positions as of January 31, 2015, to around 5,700 positions on January 31, 2016.

What about retirement for Rhines, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in November of this year? “I haven’t actually thought about it,” he said in the interview. While carefully noting, “I serve at the will of the board,” Rhines added, “I’m not looking for another job.” He still has the “energy level” for all those red-eye flights to meet with customers, he said. “I don’t play golf,” Rhines commented. “I like a lot of pressure, crises. I love the relationships I have with customers, employees.”

The Rhines keynote was followed Tuesday morning by a keynote from Zach Shelby, vice president of marketing for the Internet of Things at ARM Holdings, who spoke on “Driving Beyond IoT.”

Shelby noted the history of computing, communications, and networking in recent decades. “It takes an ecosystem,” he asserted. ARM, he said, is not just a fabless semiconductor company; “we’re silicon-less,” he said, since ARM is involved in developing and licensing technology for other companies to use. The IC design company works with operators of cloud services, network operators, system integrators and end-users around the world, according to Shelby.

The industry trend is going “from embedded to connected, reaching millions of developers,” he said.

While some see automotive vehicles as “expensive mobile phones,” Shelby said, “They’re becoming autonomous drones.” He added, “The auto is the ultimate intelligent connected device.”

Rhines and Shelby later participated in an afternoon panel session titled “Ripple or Tidal Wave: What’s Driving the Next Wave of Innovation and Semiconductor Revenue?” Also on the panel were James Hogan of Vista Ventures, Brad Howe of Altera, and Kelvin Low of Samsung Semiconductor.

Intel Q1 Revenue, Profit Rise; Chipmaker Will Cut Up to 12,000 Jobs

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Intel reported net income of $2.0 billion in the first quarter, up 3 percent from a year earlier, while revenue rose 7 percent to $13.7 billion, compared with $12.8 billion one year ago.

The company also announced that it is embarking on an extended restructuring program, eliminating up to 12,000 positions around the world, a reduction in force of about 11 percent, by mid-2017. The cutbacks will include a consolidation of facilities with involuntary and voluntary departures by employees.

“Our first-quarter results tell the story of Intel’s ongoing strategic transformation, which is progressing well and will accelerate in 2016,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement. “We are evolving from a PC company to one that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices.”

Intel will focus on its growth businesses – namely, data center, Internet of Things, field-programmable gate arrays, and memory – under the restructuring initiative. The company will realize cost savings of $750 million in 2016 and estimated annual savings of $1.2 billion.

“These actions drive long-term change to further establish Intel as the leader for the smart, connected world,” Krzanich stated. “I am confident that we’ll emerge as a more productive company with broader reach and sharper execution.”

Chief Financial Officer Stacy Smith told analysts the restructuring will make Intel “more agile, more efficient…and more profitable.”

Smith plans to take another post in Intel’s senior management within the next few months. He will be leading sales, manufacturing, and operations once a successor is named as CFO.

Intel said it would consider internal and external candidates for the CFO post.

The company’s second-quarter outlook calls for $13.5 billion in revenue, plus or minus $500 million, with a gross margin percentage of 61 percent. Intel will take a restructuring charge of about $1.2 billion during Q2.

A “weak PC market” in Q1 led to the Client Computing Group posting revenue of $7.5 billion, increasing 2 percent from a year ago yet down 14 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015, Smith said.

The Data Center Group realized Q1 revenue of $4.0 billion, a 9 percent gain from a year earlier. The Internet of Things Group had revenue of $651 million, up 22 percent year-over-year.

Revenue in the Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group was $557 million, down 6 percent from a year earlier, while the Intel Security Group had Q1 revenue of $537 million, a 12 percent gain from a year ago.

The Programmable Solutions Group, formerly known as Altera (acquired by Intel in late 2015), had $359 million in revenue, not including $99 million in revenue due to acquisition-related adjustments.

Betsy Van Hoes of Wedbush Securities said, “It’s been a long time since there’s been a restructuring of the company. As they forge forward, they need to pare down and invest in the right area. As much as I hate that — it’s terrible for people who are laid off, that — for the investors it’s positive.”

Functional Safety, Security for IoT Stressed at Cadence Event

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Lip-Bu Tan, President and CEO, Cadence Design Systems

The “big trends” in the electronics industry are social, mobility, the Internet of Things, and security, Lip-Bu Tan, the president and chief executive officer of Cadence Design Systems, said Tuesday (April 5) in his keynote address at the CDNLive Cadence User Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

He later touched on 5G wireless communications, Big Data, deep learning, and ultra-low-power devices, leading up to the concept of System Design Enablement, or SDE. “We have been changing the entire system design flow,” Tan told a capacity audience in the Santa Clara Convention Center’s Elizabeth A. Hangs Theatre.

The Cadence CEO described new products that have been introduced in the past year.

(The system design theme is also exemplified by the Electronic Design Automation Consortium renaming itself last month as the Electronic System Design Alliance.)

Tan was followed by Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, who took “The Evolution of Connected Devices” as his theme.

“There’s tremendous innovation in front of us…providing technology at scale,” Mollenkopf said. Mobility and low-power technology are “disrupting multiple industries,” he added.

While growth in the smartphone market is slowing down, wider adoption of Long-Term Evolution communications and the introduction of augmented reality and virtual reality on handsets promise to buoy the smartphone business for years to come, according to Mollenkopf.

The description of automotive vehicles as “a phone on wheels” is not unjustified, the Qualcomm CEO observed. While the unit volume of the auto business is lower than smartphones and many electronics products, the process of adding connectivity and Internet service to cars is “just beginning,” he said.

While the IoT is “not the next savior for the [semiconductor] industry,” Mollenkopf said, the industrial IoT promises to generate valuable data for manufacturers. “We’re moving from discrete to integrated platforms,” he added.

Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf

Mollenkopf also addressed drone aircraft, 5G, and autonomous vehicles in his keynote.

Congratulating Cadence on its collaborations with Qualcomm, Mollenkopf concluded, “We need people to make it easy for us to use silicon.”

GlobalFoundries CEO Sanjay Jha was up next. He identified mobile computing, the IoT, and mission-critical/automotive applications as important considerations for the near future.

The IoT market could generate a low estimate of $3.9 trillion in the next decade, with high estimates topping out at $11.5 trillion, Jha said, citing IHS Technology, iSuppli, and other sources. The semiconductor industry could realize $50 billion to $75 billion in value from IoT-related products, “from chips to mini-systems,” he added.

GlobalFoundries, which last year acquired IBM Microlectronics, has identified several key technologies for its operations and foundry services: fully-depleted silicon-on-insulator, magnetic random-access memory, radio-frequency SOI and silicon germanium, system-in-package and other advanced packaging, FinFETs, and application-specific integrated circuits.

“Power consumption is the big differentiator,” Jha commented.

GlobalFoundries CEO Sanjay Jha

The 5-nanometer process node “will be a very expensive technology,” he said. Jha compared an extreme-ultraviolet lithography scanner (EUV technology is now expected to be production-ready for 5nm chips) to “a small Hadron Collider.”

The CDNLive Silicon Valley event was the first of 2016 for the EDA company. Similar conferences are scheduled this year for Germany, Korea, Japan, India, China, Taiwan, the eastern US (Boston), and Israel.

Synopsys Debuts Tools at Users Group Meeting

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Aart de Geus, the chairman and co-chief executive officer of Synopsys, speaking at the keynote address Synopsys Users Group Meeting

Aart de Geus, the chairman and co-chief executive officer of Synopsys, used his keynote address at the 2016 Synopsys Users Group conference in Silicon Valley to tout a pair of new products.

Custom Compiler is one new tool. It promises to provide what the company calls “visually-assisted automation” in designing custom ICs.

Custom chip designers have asked, ‘Where are the productivity improvements?” for their line of work, de Geus said Wednesday morning (March 30) at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Designing advanced chips with 3D transistors, FinFETs, adds complexity to the design process, he noted, with “many more rules” and transistors that have “many fins.”

Custom Compiler offers visually-assisted layout with interactive placement and routing, the Synopsys chairman said. The tool’s capabilities “can bring significant productivity,” he added.

To go with Custom Compiler, Synopsys last week introduced the VCS Cheetah simulation tool for system-on-a-chip designs. As part of the VCS verification suite, Cheetah adds the “fastest engines,” unified compile, and unified debug for complex IC designs, de Geus said.

Cheetah employs fine-grained parallelism and advances in CPU/graphics processing unit architectures to speed up simulation for register-transfer level and gate-level designs, according to Synopsys.

De Geus began his keynote saying, “We are going to change the world again.” By “we,” he meant Synopsys, its customers, and its partners in addressing chip design for the Internet of Things, automotive electronics, and other areas.

IoT, he said, can also stand for “immensely optimistic thinking,” to the general amusement of the large audience for the opening keynote. “Deep down, I’m a great optimist,” de Geus added.

Taking “Smart Everything” as his theme, de Geus moved on to the topic of digital intelligence, which is less ambitious than artificial intelligence. “Digital can do things humans cannot,” he said.

While some people will debate whether applications, the computing cloud, the networking edge, or “the fog” is the true center of attention for the IoT, de Geus broke it down to sensors with data storage and some data processing capability, “generating massive amounts of data” – Big Data, as it is commonly known.

Developing the Internet of Things calls for consideration of “technomics,” de Geus said. The impact of IoT technology will be “very long and very broad,” he said.

All of the hardware and software going into the IoT must be secure, according to de Geus, making sure that “the Internet of Threats” doesn’t take over the technology.

Synopsys has made a substantial investment in code security through its acquisition of Coverity and other moves, the Synopsys chairman said. He also addressed automotive-grade intellectual property for chip design and the introduction of data fusion in the IC design process.

“What we need is smart everybody,” de Geus concluded.

SNUG Silicon Valley 2016 continues through Thursday with 10 topic tracks and 52 presentations for Synopsys users. Almost 2,500 users are attending the two-day conference, it was said.

Chenming Hu, a University of California at Berkeley professor, is scheduled to give Thursday’s keynote address on “What Else Besides FinFET?”

The Future Is Flexible and Printed

Friday, March 4th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Automotive electronics, the Internet of Things, wearable gadgets, and other emerging chip markets are also expected to provide growth for flexible electronics, which often share manufacturing processes and materials with semiconductors.

Such applications were the talk of this week’s 2016FLEX Conference & Exhibition in Monterey, Calif. Printed and hybrid electronics were also on offer in the technical presentations and the compact exhibition area on the mezzanine level of the Monterey Marriott, where the conference was held while the Monterey Conference Center across Del Monte Avenue undergoes a year-long reconstruction project.

The Monterey Marriott and the Monterey Conference Center. (Credit: Jeff Dorsch)

Autonomous vehicles, connected cars, and the IoT are driving demand and innovation in flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics, according to Harry Zervos, principal analyst and business development manager for North America at IDTechEx, the market research, business intelligence, consulting, and events firm.

These new forms provide the capability to “add electronics to more and more mundane things,” he noted.

IDTechEx estimates the printed, flexible, and organic electronics market was worth a total of $24.5 billion in 2015. Organic light-emitting diode displays accounted for the lion’s share, at $15.3 billion. While OLEDs typically are not printed electronics, they stand to lead to flexible displays in the future, according to IDTechEx.

Sensors, mostly glucose test strips, represented $6.6 billion in revenue last year, while conductive inks provided $2.3 billion during 2015.

The market research firm forecasts printed electronics will increase from $8.8 billion in 2015 to $14.9 billion in 2025. Products made on flexible substrates are projected to grow from $6.4 billion last year to $23.5 billion in the next decade.

Market researchers have predicted “billions of sensors” will be sold in the next few years, including sensors for smartphones, Zervos said.  Smartphones will be “becoming flexible, more robust, foldable,” he added.

He is looking ahead to a time of flexible sensors and perhaps flexible microelectromechanical system devices to enable those flexible phones.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics will provide “innovation in form factors, allowing designers to come up with new ideas on what devices could look like,” Zervos said in an interview. Such innovation will lead to “more excitement, higher profit margins,” he added.

This will depend on “an interoperable ecosystem” between the mature semiconductor industry and the nascent flexible electronics industry, Zervos said.

Molex was among the exhibitors at this week’s conference. The company was acquired in late 2013 for $7.2 billion by Koch Industries. Nearly a year ago, Molex acquired certain assets of Silogie, a supplier of flexible and printed electronics for consumer goods, industrial, lighting, medical, and military applications.

During the technical program on Wednesday afternoon, John Heitzinger — Molex’s general manager of printed electronics — described products the company has developed for the structural health monitoring of advanced ammunition, building monitoring systems, and physiological monitoring, the last on behalf of the U.S. Air Force. In working on functionalized carbon nanotubes for detecting and sensing lactate, Molex collaborated with American Semiconductor, Brewer Science, and Northeastern University, he said.

Neil Morrison of Applied Materials WEB Coating presented Wednesday morning on “’Packaging’ of Moisture Sensitive Materials Used in New Form Factor Display Products.” He is manager of research and development in Energy & Environmental Solutions for the Applied Materials unit, based in Alzenau, Germany.

Applied has a 40-year history is supplying chemical vapor deposition equipment for semiconductor manufacturing, he noted, and now offers plasma-enhanced CVD for displays and roll-to-roll CVD for advanced flexible electronics.

For quantum dots and wearables, “you need a barrier solution,” especially multilayer barrier stacks, Morrison said.

He recommended PECVD for manufacturing with silicon nitride, and critical roll-to-roll CVD requirements for high-performance barrier films.

For high-volume manufacturing of roll-to-roll barriers, “process monitoring and control is key,” Morrison said.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics are clearly becoming a big and growing market. How companies take advantage of this market opportunity may be critical to their future.

Intel Posts Mixed Results for Q4, 2015

Friday, January 15th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Intel reported net income of $11.4 billion on revenue of $55.4 billion for the year ended December 26, compared with net of $11.7 billion on revenue of $55.9 billion in 2014.

For the fourth quarter, the world’s largest chipmaker measured by annual revenue posted net income of $3.6 billion on revenue of $14.9 billion, compared with $3.7 billion in net on revenue of $14.7 billion a year earlier.

Intel said revenue from the Client Computing Group, its PC chip business, was $8.8 billion, down 1 percent from a year ago. The Data Center Group was up 4 percent, year over year, to $4.3 billion.

The Internet of Things and Non-Volatile Memory Solution groups both showed revenue gains, of 8 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

“Our results for the fourth quarter marked a strong finish to the year and were consistent with expectations,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement. “Our 2015 results demonstrate that Intel is evolving and our strategy is working. This year, we’ll continue to drive growth by powering the infrastructure for an increasingly smart and connected world.”

Intel is forecasting revenue of $14 billion for the first quarter of 2016, with full-year revenue growing in middle-to-high single digits. Capital expenditures in 2016 will be flat with last year, at $9.5 billion.

The 2016 forecast does not account for the company’s recent acquisition of Altera, according to Intel.

Identifying the Prime Challenge of IoT Design

Friday, December 18th, 2015

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By Jeff Miller, Product Marketing Manager, Mentor Graphics Corporation

Introduction

In his blog post for Semiconductor Manufacturing & Design, Pete Singer shared how the acquisition of Tanner EDA by Mentor Graphics provides a solution to meeting the design challenge of Internet of Things (IoT). Low-cost IoT designs, which interface the edge of the real world to the Internet, mesh together several design domains. Individually, these design domains are challenging for today’s engineers. Bringing them all together to create an IoT product can place extreme pressure on design teams. For example, let’s look at the elements of a typical IoT device (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A typical IoT device.

This IoT device contains a sensor and an actuator that interface to the Internet. The sensor signal is sent to an analog signal processing device in the form of an amplifier or a low-pass filter. The output connects to an A/D converter to digitize the signal. That signal is sent to a digital logic block that contains a microcontroller or a microprocessor. Conversely, the actuator is controlled by an analog driver through a D/A converter. The sensor telemetry is sent and control signals are received by a radio module that uses a standard protocol such as WiFi, Bluetooth, or ZigBee, or a custom protocol. The radio transmits data to the Cloud or through a smartphone or PC.

This device points out the prime challenge to IoT design: analog, digital, RF, and MEMS design domains all live together in one device. IoT design requires that all four design domains are designed and work together, especially if they are going on the same die. Even if the components are targeting separate dies that will be bonded together, designers still need to work together during the integration and verification process. In this design, there are several components in multiple domains, such as the A/D converter, digital logic, a RF radio, a MEMS sensor, and an analog driver that connects to an external mechanical actuator. The design team needs to capture a mixed analog and digital, RF, and MEMS design, perform both component and top-level simulation, layout the chip, and verify the components within the complete system.

The Tanner Solution

The Tanner solution delivers a top-down design flow for IoT design, unifying the four design domains (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Tanner IoT design flow.

Whether you are designing a single die or multiple die IoT device, you can use this design flow for creating and simulating this device:

  • Capturing and simulating the design. S-Edit captures the design at multiple levels of abstraction for any given cell. Each cell can have multiple views such as a schematic, RTL, or SPICE and then you choose which view to use for simulation. T-Spice simulates SPICE and Verilog-A representations of the design while ModelSim simulates the digital, Verilog-D/RTL portions of your design.
  • Simulating the mixed-signal design. S-Edit creates the complete Verilog-AMS netlist and passes it to T-Spice. T-Spice automatically adds Analog/Digital connection modules and then partitions the design for simulation. T-Spice simulates the analog (SPICE and Verilog-A) and sends the RTL to ModelSim for digital simulation. Both simulators are invoked automatically and during simulation the signal values are passed back and forth between the simulators whenever there is a signal change at the analog/digital boundary. This means, that regardless of the design implementation language, you drive the simulation from S-Edit and the design is automatically partitioned across the simulators. Then, you can interact with the results using the ModelSim and T-Spice waveform viewers. Behavioral models of MEMS devices can be created in Verilog-A or as equivalent lumped SPICE elements that are simulated along with the digital models for system-level verification.
  • Laying out the design. The physical design is completed using L-Edit which allows you to create the layout of the analog and MEMS components for the IoT design. The parameterized layout library of common MEMS elements and true curve support simplify the MEMS layout.
  • Completing the flow. Of course, there are other steps in the flow, such as digital synthesis, digital place and route, chip assembly, physical verification, static timing analysis, and full system verification. However, these steps are beyond the scope of this discussion.

Implementing the MEMS Device

One of the most challenging aspects of IoT design is implementing the MEMS device. So, in this article we focus on the physical design flow for this device. Let’s say that the MEMS device in our design is a magnetic actuator. A magnetic actuator is comprised of a coil and a moving paddle. The paddle is suspended by a spring. When current is sent through the coil, a magnetic field is created which moves the paddle in and out of the coil field (Figure 3).

Figure 3: MEMS magnetic actuator.

You could create a 3D model of the magnetic actuator using a 3D analysis tool and then analyze its dynamic response to different currents. To fabricate the actuator you need a 2D layout mask and deriving a 2D mask from a 3D model is error-prone and difficult to validate. A better approach is to follow the mask-forward flow that Figure 4 shows, that results in more confidence that the actuator will not only work correctly but that it can be successfully fabricated.

Figure 4: The mask-forward MEMS design flow.

The mask-forward MEMS design flow starts by creating the 2D mask layout in L-Edit. Then, use the SoftMEMS 3D Solid Modeler (integrated within L-Edit) to automatically generate the 3D model from those masks and a set of specified fabrication steps. Perform 3D analysis using your favorite finite element tool and then iterate if you find any issues. Make the appropriate changes to the 2D mask layout and then repeat the flow. Using this mask-forward design flow, you can converge on a MEMS device that you are confident can be fabricated correctly because you creating the 3D model directly from the masks that will eventually be used for fabrication, rather than trying to work backwards from the 3D model.

Conclusion

The prime challenge of IoT design is working in four design domains: analog, digital, RF, and MEMS. The Tanner design flow is architected to seamlessly work across all of these design domains by employing an integrated design flow for design, simulation, layout, and verification.
For more information about the IoT design flow, see: www.mentor.com/tannereda/mems-design?cmpid=10167

Smart Rock Bolt Wins Prize at Designers of Things Conference

Monday, December 7th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

When it comes to Internet of Things products, most people would think of the Apple Watch or Fitbit fitness-tracking devices. A device aimed at the mining industry has proved to be a popular entry at the Designers of Things conference in San Jose, Calif.

The Smart Rock Bolt designed by Jens Eliasson of Sweden’s Lulea University of Technology and others, along with Eistec, on Wednesday (December 2) received first prize in the IPSO Challenge competition put on by the Internet Protocol for Smart Objects Alliance, an award worth $10,000.

The low-power device can be driven into the rock walls of mines, and its sensors can report on movement within the rock, which can potentially warn of a collapse. Through 6LoWPAN technology, a capability in Internet Protocol version 6, the rebar sensors communicate with a network gateway, relaying information to a central command post.

The sensitivity of the sensors allows for detection of the movements by miners and machinery, according to Professor Eliasson, which can help direct underground traffic and – in the case of a collapse – can pinpoint where people are.

He said the designers and developers of the Smart Rockbolt are in discussions with mining companies on a long-term testbed for the technology.

There is the possibility that other sensors could be integrated into the Smart Rock Bolt, such as smoke sensors and gas sensors, which could warn miners if poisonous gases are building up in the mineshaft and let them know when such gases have subsided to a safer level.

The IPSO Alliance had its own sprawling booth at the DoT exposition to demonstrate the 10 semi-finalist entries in the IPSO Challenge, all of which were aimed at touting the usefulness of Internet Protocol in the Internet of Things.

Nicholas Ashworth, an IPSO Alliance board member and treasurer who also served as co-chairman of this year’s IPSO Challenge, said the organization received dozens of entries from around the world for the competition, which is in its third year and is sponsored by Google, Atmel, and others. He and other judges met on the day before DoT conference opened to pick the winners.

Second place, with a prize of $5,000, went to EISOX’s Intelligent Thermostatic Radiator Valve, while third place (worth $2,500) was claimed by MicroPnP’s IoT platform.

The IPSO Alliance was founded in 2008, according to Ashworth. “We were basically promoting the Internet of Things before the Internet of Things,” he said.

Internet Protocol technology has “35 years of development” behind it, he noted, which offers advantages not currently available through ZigBee, Thread, and other IoT protocols. “It’s a protocol soup,” Ashworth commented.

Eliasson said he has been at LTU since 2003. “We were doing IoT with Bluetooth sensors,” he noted. The university group later moved on to IPv6 and 6LoWPAN. IP offers low-power capabilities and interoperability, he added.

“The mines have adopted IP,” Eliasson said. “They’re using VoIP [voice-over-Internet-Protocol). They jumped on the bandwagon.”

Mine operators are closely watching the development of 5G wireless networks, the professor added, since it can be used on normal mobile phones.

IoT Will Enable ‘Living Services,’ Keynote Speaker Says

Monday, December 7th, 2015

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

“It’s not about the sensors,” Nandini (Nan) Nayak, managing director of design strategy at Fjord, said Thursday morning (December 3) in a keynote address at the Designers of Things conference in San Jose, Calif.

Rather than talk about the Internet of Things, the subject of this two-day conference, Nayak addressed what she termed “Living Services” – the product of all those IoT sensors and processors, data centers, and cloud-based services.

Living services are “responsive to individual needs, contextually aware, and react in real-time,” she said. They “learn and evolve…as if they are alive.”

The “digitization of everything” creates “liquid expectations” among consumers and other users, Nayak asserted. “People’s expectations transcend expected boundaries,” she added.

The IoT involves “a shift of focus from designing for users and things to designing for people’s activities,” Nayak elaborated. “Everything is beginning to connect with each other.”

She added, “Sensors are cheap; they are able to be placed in many places.”

User interfaces are changing, Nayak noted, moving from computer screen-based interfaces to haptics and “touch-based interaction.”

She laid out the key characteristics of living services – the automation of low-maintenance decisions and actions, long-term learning from what people do, powered by data and analytics, collected from sensor-rich objects and interactions of daily life. “Think about environments, not industries,” Nayak advised.

“The IoT or living services will affect all aspects of our lives,” she asserted. “The home will be a key battleground.”

Personal health and shopping will be other areas where living services will have dramatic impacts, Nayak said.

How can businesses address living services? Nayak said the key points are: Know your customer; flex your technology; design in order to know and flex; and design to delight.

“Think about the value of the experience,” she asserted. “People expect the richness of experience, fun.”

Nayak concluded, “Prepare to atomize. Make your brand feel alive.”

Fjord was acquired in 2013 by Accenture, the global management consulting and technical services firm.

Nayak’s keynote was followed with a panel session moderated by Lucio Lanza of Lanza techVentures, a veteran technology investor and one-time executive at Daisy Systems, an early leader in electronic design automation that was acquired by Intergraph in 1990 and later absorbed into Mentor Graphics.

While the Internet connected computers and networks around the world, smartphones and other mobile devices are connecting people, Lanza noted.

Rather than the Internet of things or objects, it’s more correct to speak of “a world of things,” Lanza asserted, adding, “There are a lot of opportunities making this thing happen.”

Jack Hughes, the chairman and founder of TopCoder who also serves as chairman of the Christopher & Dana Reeves Foundation, showed part of a foundation video showing the benefits of epidural stimulation for people with paralysis.

“It’s not a cure,” he said of the technology. “These are early days. But it is extremely promising. Every one of these injuries is individual.” The foundation has supported the work of device designers, turning out the electrodes that can help paralyzed people move their limbs for the first time in years.

While the technology could deliver groundbreaking rehabilitation, “how do we make these things secure?” Hughes asked.

Mark Templeton of Scientific Ventures LLC, the co-founder of Artisan Components (acquired by ARM Holdings in 2004) and now a tech investor, talked about the Learning Thermostat from Nest Labs (now a Google subsidiary) and the business model behind the device, which can deliver data on its use to electrical utility companies to guide how and when they supply power to customers.

He urged IoT startups to “think about the business model more than the device itself.” He added, “The device is just the starting point.”

Ted Vucurevich of Enconcert, who once was the chief technology officer of Cadence Design Systems, said the IoT is bringing about a “transformation” in electronics, semiconductors, computing, and related industries. “It’s not about winning a socket,” he said, but “how you’re going to monetize the things you sell.”

He added, “There is consolidation and exploration. How can we allow these ecosystems to move forward? There’s a complete transformation coming.”

Noting his background in software, Hughes said, “When I hear ‘Internet of Things,’ I think ‘community.’ It’s a community of things. This is sort of a watershed moment.”

The panel, left to right: Ted Vucurevich, Mark Templeton, Jack Hughes, Lucio Lanza.

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