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What is an IC Design Services Company and How to Choose one?

October 06, 2018, anysilicon

If you are reading this article it’s probably because you’ve came to realize that an IC (Integrated Circuit) might give your company or your product a massive edge in the market. There are many reasons to use an IC in your product: It can minimize your product size and make your product smarter and it can also reduce your product’s power consumption while increasing its performance. If you have decided to use an IC but you don’t have the design skills or the resources– you may want to outsource the IC design activities to an external company: an IC design services company.

 

10 years ago, I was an IC manager in a small company, where we developed medical systems. Each product had 2-3 ICs. We typically outsourced one of the ICs to an external IC design company due to resource problem. Choosing the right IC design company was a big issue for us because we knew very well how long was an IC development cycle and we could not afford any errors that would cause a product shipment delay. Our deadlines were set in stone and we wanted to choose the best IC design house that we could afford. Some team members wanted to work with a local IC company to save travel time and avoid communication problems. Other members preferred seeking an off-shore team that had proven experience with developing ICs for medical applications. So, as you can see, there are multiple considerations when selecting an IC design services partner.

 

In this paper, I’ve assembled some guidelines on how to select an IC design services company that can meet your requirements perfectly.

 

Towards a Better IC

 

You may already ask yourself “how do I get a better IC?”, the answer I always give is “start with knowing your customers better”. Because the more you know your customers and their pains the more you will be accurate with defining your IC. A typical IC lifetime is 5-10 years, so while you create your IC requirement specifications you need to consider your customers need now and in the future. The more you will be out of your office talking to customers – the more you will know about their needs and requirements. A great IC strategy is ultimately about getting closer to what any customer wants: solving a problem better than before, with greater convenience, at a lower Price. Any IC strategy that does based on this is just a distraction.

 

What is an IC design services company?

 

An IC design services company is a company that offers IC development services. The company consists of engineers that have experience in designing ICs and can undergo IC development services for small or large ICs. Some ASIC design companies can offer IC manufacturing services as well.

 

What services does an IC design company offer?

 

Depending on your project needs, an IC design company can offer: converting a specification document into a working IC. The company can support either an entire project or a small block development. Here is a general list of services one can obtain from an IC design services company:

 

  • IC feasibility study
  • Architecture/concept design
  • Technology selection
  • Full IC development
  • Block/IP level IC development
  • IP integration
  • IC simulation
  • IC verification
  • IC qualification
  • IC manufacturing
  • IC support & upgrades

 

What type of tools and languages an IC design company uses?

 

Designing an IC requires specific expertise and full control over programming languages and development tools e.g. EDA (Electronic Design Automation) tools. EDA tools are software tools used to design ICs. The following is a list of programming languages and popular development tools available in the market today.

 

Programming Languages:

VHDL, Verilog and System Verilog.

 

IC Development Tools:

Synopsys

Cadence

Mentor

Silvaco

 

What type of IC expertise the IC design house has?

 

IC expertise is without question one of the major decision criteria when selecting a vendor. You want to work with an IC design team that undertook similar design projects before starting to work on your project.  If you were to develop a WiFi chip, it’s best if you choose an IC design company that has experience in this area (wireless). You should never use a high-voltage design team to develop a wireless chip and vice versa.

 

The following is a list of IC “domains” we found useful in our search process, there a many more domains, so please use this list as a baseline to create your own shortlist:

 

Market Requirements:

 

Automotive ICs – developing a chip for the automotive industry requires an automotive certified IC design flow and understanding of various safety standards. Automotive is not a technical requirement, therefore it can apply to any of the technical expertise categories below.

 

Medical ICs – Developing a chip for the medical market may requires compliance to some standards related to health and safety.

 

Technical Expertise:

 

High Voltage ICs – Today, anything above +5V is considered high voltage. A few examples of ICs in this domain: LED drivers, power devices, power management chips or any design that uses +5V or higher.

 

Wireless (RF) ICs – Any chip that has a transmitter or a receiver would be considered as a wireless chip. For example: WiFi, Bluetooth, RFID/NFC or any chip that has high speed interfaces such as: PCIe, SERDES etc.

 

Low Power ICs – If your IC is deployed in a battery-operated product or a power sensitive product you’ll need to find an IC design company that has experience in designing ICs for low power (or: ultra-low power).

 

Digital ICs – Purely digital chips.

 

Analog ICs – Purely analog chips.

 

Mixed Signal ICs – A chip that consists of both analog and digital content. For example: an IoT chip that has a CPU and a wireless or sensor interface.

 

Superhero kid wearing boxing gloves against blue sky background. Girl power and feminism concept

 

Conclusions and next steps

 

Designing an IC requires specific expertise both in IC development process and in your application area. It’s only through precise execution with right IC design services partner you will be able to assure a reliable, bug free solution. When you use AnySilicon’s search tool, try to search for the keywords that are within your IC application area, this will help you get the most relevant IC design companies.

 

It all starts with selecting the right IC partner.

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