It Takes A Village To Get A Design Done

How to keep time-to-market and cost pressures under control, particularly for IoT designs.


No one lacks for brilliant ideas these days. In fact, it’s a golden age of innovation. But where the pace of innovation can slow is getting that idea to market.

Take for example, the case of one of S3 Semiconductors’ customers.. It recently developed a custom chip solution for a company in the oil and gas industry that was creating complex valve controllers that sensed pressure and temperature.

The customer’s existing solution was based on a PCB containing a large variety of off-the-shelf digital and analog parts. But for its next-generation product, the customer decided to replace the many off-the-shelf parts with one integrated solution. The company’s engineers wanted to reduce costs, improve reliability, and simplify the inventory and supply management, because some of their vendors planned to discontinue the components used in the current solution. The customer’s engineers also planned to add connectivity to the existing solution, to remotely manage valves deployed in the field.

Like most OEMs, the customer had no in-house silicon design expertise. Therefore, they decided to outsource the project to S3.

S3 built a low-power chip for them based on a cost-effective process node, 180nm, integrating digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters (DAC and ADC), and many communication interfaces, such as I2C, UART, SPI — all in a low-power design consuming 160uW/MHz. The results were huge improvements in cost, power, and area:

• 80% BOM cost reduction
• 70% power consumption reduction
• 75% smaller PCB size

The solution considerably simplified the inventory and supply management. It led to fewer vendors to deal with, fewer parts to stock and manage, which collectively greatly reduced production risks.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Ciarán, what’s your point?” My point is this: Chip implementation can be easily outsourced to one of many design-service companies. These experienced, technically savvy companies provide services across the custom SoC design process, allowing a company to outsource any part of a project – including chip manufacturing and supply.

In today’s fast-paced and incredibly technically complex world, it really can take a village to get a brilliant idea implemented. Our contribution to this is the Arm Approved Design Partner, which is open to all System-on-Chip (SoC) design services companies that meet certain criteria. For example, companies must prove they have extensive experience developing Arm-based SoCs, have quality systems in place and are financially stable.

Approved companies offer:

Full custom chip life cycle management from specification to working silicon
• Providing engineering resource to augment your own design team
• Functional & physical design/verification services

S3 Semiconductor has been an Arm Approved Design Partner since 2016. And now we have just added a 10th partner to this program: Black Pepper Technologies, based in India. This is significant not only because it expands the number of experienced design houses that can help implement those brilliant ideas, but also because Black Pepper’s back yard–India–is forecast to be a $30 billion semiconductor market by 2025.

Now I know you’re thinking of another question: Ciarán, Arm’s a big company. Shouldn’t it be offering its own internal design services at this stage of the game?

We don’t believe that. In fact, we believe that no one company can do it all, especially in our fast-expanding, multi-disciplinary design world. A healthy industry requires a healthy ecosystem. We favor competition; enabling companies to license an Arm processor, and other IP including security, and go to the market to get a chip designed. We believe this addresses the need for a stable architectural base as a tool for scale but also enables maximum potential innovation, as well as cost and time-to-market advantages.

We believe this is a robust model for the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular, as cost and time to market pressures keep increasing. It is also a robust model built on principles of being open and collaborative.

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