Wanted: Integrated Approach To Hardware Design

Hardware remains the foundation for all electronic products, which makes continued innovation essential.


By Tarun Amla
Today’s electronic products have become so sophisticated and ubiquitous that we have come to expect that each new generation will address both our current and future needs. Years ago, the industry was hardware-centric and driven by “big iron” products. Capacity and functionality were thoroughly dependent upon increasingly complex hardware. Think of the movies of the 1950s where “high tech” data was encoded on paper cards that were then fed into a massive bank of computers. Then move to the current, often-cited technology fact that an iPhone has more computing power in it than the technology that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon.

As an industry, we have moved from saying, “Hey, look at what we can do for you,” to responding to the much more user-/customer-centric demand of, “This is what we want/need, when can you build it?” In most instances, increases in capacity and functionality have been the result of software innovations—operating systems and applications that can do almost anything you can think of and need and some that you may never need. Today, the limitations are assumed to be lack of imagination, never of capability.

But as today’s electronic products continue to evolve, the role of hardware is moving back towards the center stage. Hardware may never again be the star, but it will always be the all-important supporting cast. Or, more accurately, hardware is the solid foundation upon which all electronic products are dependent in order to continually deliver more functionality and complexity.

At Isola, we live at the core of this foundation. Further, we, like all hardware suppliers, are hard-pressed to keep pace with technology demands. We are constantly fine-tuning the properties of the laminates we deliver to the industry. Factors of which consumers and end users are rarely aware, such as low loss and skew free materials, GaN devices that go as high as 170°C, and the use of multiscale engineering techniques in the design process, are becoming commonplace. These, collectively, are the gauntlet that has been thrown down to suppliers of hardware technology so that we can keep pace with evolving software capabilities. This course of evolution will only continue. The most important element in the equation is that the hardware industry, as a whole, needs to focus on a more collaborative approach to hardware design and product development. Material, board, and chip and packaging developers are realizing that the best path to fully functioning hardware is achieved through comprehensive and all-encompassing product development methodologies that are best addressed from a systems integration point of view.

The impetus of this integrated approach to hardware design will only grow in importance through the coming years. Products that are often considered “cool technology gadgets” today are becoming “life enhancement” products that are an integral part of our being, and in many instances influence the direction of our lives and how we live them. Longer life expectancies fuel a growing segment of the population wherein people not only survive but thrive and live independently as long as possible. From medical monitoring to life assistance devices, autonomous driving innovations to communication devices and entertainment products, this long-term need for quality of life needs to be addressed by the electronic industry as it meets the demands of a constantly and rapidly evolving technology landscape. What we as an industry must do is to focus our attention such that hardware and software function as integral elements that successfully address the needs of this highly tech-dependent ecosystem.

Tarun Amla is the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Isola Group. Along with Semico Research, Isola Group is launching a new Semico Impact Conference, Boards, Chips and Packaging: Designing to Maximize Results. The event will be held Oct. 13 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. More information regarding this event can be found here.