It’s rare to see product development efforts these days that don’t involve design software modules spanning multiple disciplines. The new challenge is getting work done without making a career out of formatting the output of one package for the input of another.
Kaelly Farnham, Keysight Technologies
Modern electronics are pushing the limits of electronic design with longer battery life, smaller components, and higher levels of integration. In response, design engineers are forced to use an increasing amount of design software to ensure accuracy, compatibility, and compliance. Creating workarounds and custom scripts to connect multiple design tools costs money and slows productivity. That isn’t just a problem for designers, it’s also a problem for the companies employing them. Slow productivity and rising costs are something no executive wants to see, especially if the goal is to be a highly competitive and innovative company. Given the significant time and money required to switch between design tools, today’s design engineering executives can no longer afford to maintain this approach. Their success depends on their ability to be smart and agile; it demands a new way of designing and that way must include use of an integrated software solution.
Eying design software trends
With complexity on the rise in modern electronic circuit design, designers are now using more specialized design tools for each task they undertake. Avoiding costly design respins requires verification across many dimensions. Accurate designs are paramount. Today, designers perform complicated circuit simulation, system simulation, electromagnetic simulation, and more, just to verify performance. In fact, there are at least 10 analyses that designers perform using multiple specialized tools for verification of their circuit designs
That is not all. Designers are using more software tools to account for all the required analyses. According to a recent survey (The Future of Design and Simulation Workflows), 61% of designers use five or more tools for design and simulation, and almost 20% use more than 10 tools (Figure 2). Design engineering executives are looking for new business models and strategies to manage their growing reliance on software.
Per a recent report (The Hidden Costs of Unused Software), 38% of deployed software in engineering teams remains unused. Design tools are necessary, paying for unused software is not. For design engineering executives, the growing cost of unused software tools, licensing, and management equates to a significant impact on operating costs and overall bottom line.
Switching between various design tools also carries a significant time cost. The process involves importing and exporting files, reconnecting ports and vias, and rechecking netlists. Designers spend a great deal of time correcting errors that result from the switch. The switching time adds up and leads to long design cycles and project delays. These are delays that can hardly be afforded by design engineering executives looking to stay competitive.
The real cost of nonintegrated EM simulation
Including electromagnetic (EM) analysis in the design flow of electronic circuits is essential to avoiding costly respins. As operating frequencies increase, you cannot make an accurate prediction of integrated circuit performance based solely on circuit performance. Accurate design must consider physical properties, multiple technologies, interactions, and packaging that EM modeling and simulation provide.
Unfortunately, many designers use EM simulation software that does not integrate with their circuit design software. Exporting the design from the circuit design tool to the EM simulation tool requires many manual steps. It can take two hours to two weeks per simulation.
If your designers are running an average of one simulation daily, using a conservative estimate of two hours per simulation (steps 1–8, 10 and 11 in the table), that time is equivalent to 25% of one engineer per year. Assuming an average engineering salary of $200,000 per year, then nonintegrated EM simulation costs your organization $50,000 per year, per designer. That is just the setup time and cost. Steps 9 and 12 are not included, which are the simulation and analysis of the data. If the designers make mistakes, they might need to repeat steps until the design passes specifications. With many designers using more than 10 software tools for design and simulation, the design costs across an entire design organization can quickly escalate out of control.
In the 1990s, the aforementioned nonintegrated EM simulation software was the standard option. The process was error-prone and tedious. Designers would then simulate only parts of their design, such as the via, a bend, or a waveguide. As design complexity grew, designers needed to simulate entire RF boards, chips, and modules together to account for all the interactions because of higher speeds and higher levels of integration. This led to the advent of integrated EM tools.
Steps to Prepare a Circuit with Integrated EM Simulation
1. Begin with the layout (5 seconds)
2. Select the desired EM simulation technology from the menu bar (5 seconds)
3. Run EM simulation for S-parameters (depends on simulation)
4. Access output for analysis and verification (5 seconds)
The above steps describe a 15-second process to prepare a circuit with integrated EM simulation in a standard circuit design software tool. The integration eliminates the manual work and human error. Integrated EM simulation results in a faster path to analysis and verification. Designers can save two hours to two weeks per simulation with an integrated approach to EM simulation.
Unfortunately, many designers use EM simulation software that is not integrated with their circuit design software. Exporting the design from their circuit design tool to their EM simulation tool requires many manual steps. They first must remove all the components of their design, redefine EM ports and materials, and set up EM analysis correctly for a multi-port S-parameter file representing the passive interconnect structure. Secondly, to correctly analyze the composite EM/circuit response, they must manually reconnect the S-parameter file with the previously removed circuit components.
The time to set up an EM simulation is nontrivial. It can take anywhere from two hours to two weeks per simulation. If your designers are running on average one simulation per day, using a conservative estimate of two hours per simulation, that time is equivalent to 25% of one engineer per year. Assuming an average engineering salary of $200,000/year, then nonintegrated EM simulation costs your organization $50,000/year per designer! With many designers using more than 10 software tools for design and simulation, the design costs across an entire design organization, can quickly escalate out of control.
A tricky challenge ahead
Once a design is verified in simulation, designers build a prototype and validate it with measurements. It takes design teams months to correlate their design and simulation data with actual physical device test results. Simulation data is often stored in different places than the test measurements. Coordinating verification using all the different software tools slows down correlation.
In the report Executive Perspective: Improving Efficiency Across the Product Development Workflow, 44% of design and test executives and managers said that their biggest challenge is overcoming the different tools used within the product development lifecycle. Ninety-three percent of executives said that having integrated software tools would improve their time-to-market. Engineering executives want to pursue long-term innovation, not just incremental improvements. Bridging the gap between design and test workflows with integrated software tools is a long-term, strategic play for engineering executives.
It’s clear that design engineers and their managers are starting to see the value of integrated design software. A prime example is a 5G RF design company, ICONIC RF, that recently found itself up against a substantial hurdle while working with gallium nitride and gallium arsenide technologies. The engineers struggled with the problem of how to quickly deliver reliable device models and prototypes to their customers within a short time period. Their solution was to integrate the design software to realize both high accuracy and to accelerate their time-to-market goals.
ICONIC RF used an EM simulator integrated with its circuit simulation engine to quickly assess the performance of RF and mmWave power amplifier designs. It also performed a co-design and co-verification of multi-technology components to verify the layout. By using integrated design software, it realized substantial benefits. The company reduced its design and simulation time by 10% and achieved first-pass success with its working prototypes. ICONIC RF now continues to deliver high-performance and low-cost RF designs using the integrated design software approach.
Design teams and executives are seeing the risk of standing still may be greater than the risk associated with changing their workflow to integrated design and test software. It enables a significant time savings for individual design projects, increasing revenue and margins. As new electronic design concepts and ideas move faster than ever toward the future, more companies and design teams stand to benefit from adopting integrated design software and connected design and test workflows.