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Things to consider when developing an ASIC

Smart Edge single chip

Much has been written about the advantages of ASICs over recent years. As the growth in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) takes hold, more and more OEMs are looking to develop ASICs in order to generate a product that is specific and optimized to their exacting requirements. Due to the non-homogenous nature of IIoT requirements, one-size does not fit all in the IIoT!  ASICs can help OEMs significantly cut the cost of overly specified products and streamline bill of materials management. As more and more companies take this route for their designs, here are some key tips to consider when navigating the ASIC path.

Work with an experienced ASIC partner

It is important to work with a supplier, like Dialog Semiconductor, that has vast industry experience. OEMs may feel because they have an internal design team that is not fully utilized, that team can just go ahead and develop an ASIC for their next project.  However, developing an ASIC takes a lot of expertise and know how, both in design and manufacturing. Successful ASIC companies’ have teams of analog, digital and RF engineers who have deep integration experience and have been working exclusively in this space for many years. They understand how to achieve the performance required without having any trade-offs on size, power or cost.

Working with a supplier that has a large portfolio of internal IP offers many advantages because having these building blocks available means time can be saved as the individual IP and blocks are already proven on silicon. Costs can be reduced also as you are not having to look externally to license all of the blocks. Achieving the best for your design means that you want to have access to the process node that makes sense for that design. Having the process and IP knowledge means it’s possible to port IP from one technology node to another when required. This, together with the expertise to leverage and manage the semiconductor foundry, packaging and test supply chains, are critical factors to ensuring success.

Designing for the future

An experienced ASIC company will not just look at the schematic in front of them.  They will discuss with the customer what the future might look like.  Taking a holistic view, there is potential to add features that may allow use of the ASIC across multiple platforms or for future products.  The right partner will help review your product roadmap to see if this is possible, and assess if it makes sense – from cost, size and power perspectives – to implement these additions today.  As well as looking at what is possible today and for the future, a skilled ASIC design team will understand where consolidation and integration makes sense.

With an ASIC, it is possible to consolidate everything that is on the board into a single chip… right? Well yes, in theory it is. However, does it make sense to increase the size of your design by adding extra components that are inexpensive to source?  Does adding large banks of memory increase your die size and cost when this could be achieved more easily off chip?  Does adding more to the chip increase the power unnecessarily? Or does having a separate chip and driving signals between the chips end up costing more in terms of power? There are many such trade-off questions that need to be considered and the advantages and disadvantages weighed. Working with an authority on ASIC design will help you to understand these trade-offs and allow you to only integrate what makes sense for your design and your budget.

Translating requirements into ASIC specifications is vital to success

The initial planning phase of a custom ASIC is extremely important. Time spent up-front locking down the requirements and then working with the ASIC authority to translate these requirements into the ASIC specifications is vital to ensuring success. Specification feature ‘creep’ in ASIC developments can be costly both in time and resources, and a good ASIC partner will help you weigh up the requirements in the discovery process and get the design locked down.

ASICs offer many advantages to a customer and working with the correct supplier is key to achieving these benefits.  Working with Dialog means access to a large team of experienced engineers with over 20 years’ experience developing ASICs to meet the performance demands of your product, on time and within budget.  For more information on our ASICs check out our website or contact our team today to discuss your requirements.