Coventor Blog

Q&A: MEMS Begin to Enter the Semiconductor Design Mainstream
By Richard Goering on December 11, 2013

Micro-electrical mechanical systems (MEMS) have been a niche technology for many years, but a new generation of MEMS ICs is emerging, according to Mike Jamiolkowski, CEO of Cadence partner and MEMS tool provider Coventor. Barriers to the use of MEMS technology, such as the need for PhD-level experts and non-reusable foundry processes, are starting to ease.

In this interview Jamiolkowski talks about new trends in the MEMS market, discusses his company’s MEMS+ tools and how they work with the Cadence Virtuoso platform, and notes a new MEMS+ capability to output reduced order models in the Verilog-A language.
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Toward Smarter Design of Smart Systems

Posted by: Gerold Schröpfer, Director of European Operations and Foundry Partner Program

Without MEMS today’s smart phones wouldn’t be called “smart”. Be it motion sensing with accelerometers and gyroscopes, noise cancelling with multiple microphones, multi-band radios with tunable RF MEMS capacitors, MEMS are one of the key enablers for completely new or substantially improved functionaloties. This is true not only for smart phones but for many other intelligent devices, in many different application domains. In Europe, we call them “Smart Systems”.

While smart phones and smart systems are becoming coming common place, current industry practices for designing these complex systems are not so smart. According to Salvatore Rinaudo, Industrial and Multi-Segment Sector CAD R&D Director at STMicroelectronics, the lack of a structured design methodology is ‘…the major obstacle to the rapid expansion of smart systems applications.’ Smart system developers use separate design tools for different parts of the system, and most of them do not take the overall system integration into account. Rinaudo made this statement in 2011, but it’s just as relevant today. To address this challenge, key European stake holders have joined forces in two collaborative R&D consortia. One of them is SMAC, which stands for ‘SMArt systems Co-design’, combining expertise from smart systems manufacturers, EDA vendors and academic institutions under the leadership of ST. The other is PARSIMO and focuses on partitioning and modeling of Systems in Package (SIP). read more…

Lithography challenges threaten the cost benefits of IC scaling

By David Fried
Tech Design Forum

Will we be able to engineer another technology node that brings the usual cost and area savings without EUV lithography? I have serious doubts.

EUV lithography was supposed to be ready for the 45nm process node, and was then delayed until 32nm and later, 22nm. Today, major semiconductor companies are continuing to develop their offerings. Some will use the upcoming IEDM to detail their 1xnm processes, developed despite the lack of EUV’s patterning capabilities.

Why the delay with EUV? The story has been told many times: a combination of complex electro-optics, problems with the power of the illumination source, resist sensitivity and defectivity. The list of EUV challenges is long, but the summary is short: it’s not ready yet!
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Semiconductor Fabrication Module Optimization

by Pawan Fangaria

The growing process integration complexity at each technology node has increased development time and cost, and this trend looks to continue. There is a looming risk of delivering unrepeatable critical unit processes (or process modules) that would require revisiting development and manufacturing requalification or in severe cases a design re-spin. Below the 22nm process node, tremendous effort is necessary to meet process integration specifications with a yielding process that is robust in the face of unavoidable manufacturing variation. read more…

MEMS+ 4.0: Removing the Barrier between MEMS and ASIC designers

By Steve Breit, V.P. Engineering
MEMS sensors never stand on their own – there’s always an accompanying ASIC that conditions the MEMS output or controls the MEMS. We’ve written frequently in past blogs and white papers about the barrier between MEMS and ASIC design teams. For purposes of functional verification, the ASIC designers need a MEMS block on their schematics, with an underlying model that captures the behavior of the MEMS. The problem arises because the MEMS and ASIC design teams use fundamentally different approaches to simulate the functioning of their respective designs. The MEMS designers use finite element analysis tools while the ASIC designers use analog/mixed-signal circuit simulators such as Cadence Spectre. There’s simply no way to include a conventional finite element model in a circuit simulator, and even if there was the simulations would run so slowly that it would have no practical use. To overcome this incompatibility, all MEMS companies that we’ve engaged with rely on handcrafting models of their MEMS devices in a hardware description language like Verilog-A that is compatible with the ASIC team’s circuit simulator. It takes lots of time, specialized knowledge, and skills to handcraft and verify a MEMS device model in Verilog-A. Because of the technical difficulty, handcrafted models are typically overly simplified, omitting important aspects of the MEMS behavior such as cross coupling between mechanical modes and non-linear effects. Moreover, an ongoing effort is needed to keep the handcrafted models in sync with the actual MEMS design, leaving plenty of opportunities for version skew and human error. The end result, undoubtedly, is extra design spins that are costly not only in engineering time, but in longer time to market. The graphic below illustrates this barrier.
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Virtual Fabrication: Not just for ICs. Better insight into manufacturing helps MEMS designers, too.

With the current focus on IC processing challenges at sub-20nm device length scales, interest in micron-scale wafer processing seems to be out of the limelight. However, in the world of MEMS, micron-scale processing is dominant for high-volume components such as gyroscopes and accelerometers. In a typical MEMS process flow, tens of microns of silicon are etched to release structural features that are a few microns wide. And while those in IC process integration may think that MEMS processing should be simpler than for leading-edge ICs, the increasing complexity and customization in MEMS designs raise a different set of processing issues, which demand further understanding for successful device manufacturing. read more…

Predicting the Future of MEMS

Technology market analysts have a long and storied history of making bold predictions and eye-opening forecasts for growth in the industries they follow. Many, if not most, of these tend to quietly get swept under the rug when unforeseen macro-economic events or truly disruptive technology innovations interrupt the smooth ‘up-and-to-the-right’ growth lines that analyst like to paint. This is especially true in long-range forecasts, where blue-sky predictions of double, even triple, digit growth can be made for several years hence, with little chance that there will be any long-term accountability held against the forecaster if and when the numbers fall short. read more…

Our persistent quest for more accuracy, speed and capacity

By Steve Breit, V.P. Engineering

During a visit to a prospective customer a few months ago, a MEMS design manager told me that her philosophy is that a simulation is not worth doing if it takes more than two hours. I don’t want to focus on whether two minutes, two hours or two days is the right threshold, the point is that all engineers have a time limit on how long they’re willing to wait for simulations to complete. That said, two to four hours sounds about right to me as an upper limit. The question is: what should engineers do when they can’t achieve acceptable accuracy within their self-imposed time limit?
Sometimes the right answer is to buy a faster, bigger computer. Thanks to Moore’s law, computers are continually getting faster and cheaper. It’s amazing how much computing power can be purchased for $5,000 these days. That may be a very smart investment compared to the cost of engineering time, not to mention lost time-to-market opportunity, squandered by using inadequate computers. If only it was this simple. Engineers have this pesky habit of wanting to simulate ever more complex designs with more complex physics, and do it accurately. Thus the expectations for simulation tools continue to outpace the increases in computing power.
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