On my birthday in October Mentor Graphics announced its new Expedition Enterprise flow for PCB systems design. This flow enables large electronics companies to leverage their multi-disciplined design team resources, and create and provide access to their intellectual property on a global basis. It also allows companies to integrate their design data with corporate PLM, and supply chain and manufacturing systems, as well as to communicate with outsourced design and manufacturing.
I had a chance to discuss this flow with David Wiens, a business development director for the Systems Design Division of Mentor Graphics Corporation. David joined Mentor Graphics in 1999 through the acquisition of VeriBest. Over the past 20 years, he has held various engineering, marketing and management positions within the EDA industry. His focus areas have included advanced packaging, high-speed design, routing technology and integrated systems design. He holds a B.S. in computer science degree from the University of Kansas.
Why the enterprise focus?
Based on information directly from our customers that we consider global enterprise customers and from industry trends as well, we have developed a consolidated view of the challenges facing the electronics industry. The challenges represented here are fairly generic to anybody doing electronic design in terms of cycle time issues, issues with performance and form factors, issues with reliability, and issues with product costs. In the context of the global enterprise there is the general issue of trying to find ways to leverage the available resources. It may be viewed as something where perhaps the larger an organization gets at some level we all see diminishing returns, perhaps in terms of productivity because we get to a size where we are no longer as efficient as we were as a small entity.
What is the profile of a Global Enterprise?
Multi-site global companies with design teams that are globally dispersed. They do not necessarily have to be on multiple continents. Certainly there are many companies that have multiple design sites within a continent but they may also outsource manufacturing in some cases to Asia and may also outsource certain aspects of the design process as well. All of these different models are alive and well.
We typically see multi-site global company arising through multiple acquisitions. They didn't grow up thinking they wanted to have sites in multiple states or multiple continents. They acquired to build strength within the company and as a result they acquired numerous sites and along the way numerous design teams and the tools that came along with them.
The second issue is IT investment. It's not really an issue. It is a benefit to them in the sense that a large enterprise tends to build up a heavy base of IP that they want to leverage again and again to maximize their productivity. This is in terms of libraries, process and automation, customization basically as they do their process. Along with that they do centralized library and data management to control how that data is changing from a common location. Integration with the corporate enterprise becomes an issue as well. Design teams tend to operate autonomously and don't always view the corporate enterprise as a positive to them. They tend to view the corporate enterprise as a black box, if you will, sometimes a black hole, a little bit on the big brother side as well in the sense of controlling them. This is where we really see the biggest benefit that can come from leveraging that corporate enterprise.
The heterogeneous environment is a function of a multi-site global company where you have multiple acquisitions that result in multiple design tools, multiple hardware platforms that they have to manage over time and the difficulties associated with that. Design teams tend to be rather large. They are not your one and two man shop. They have multidisciplined engineering organizations with specialist in RF, analog, mechanical and software and you have to find ways to integrate all of those.
Large global OEMs tend to perform integrated system design and produce the end product. In other words they are not a small shop whose job in life is to kick out PCBs that someone else incorporates into their end product. They tend to be the OEM themselves. They are concerned with integration between PCB and silicon, between the PCB and the harness system and all of that integrated with the mechanical enclosures to produce the end product.
That's just the setup in terms of what we see as enterprise characteristics. Not all of them have to apply to be considered an enterprise. They are the checks in the box to define what the enterprise really is.
What challenges are specific to global enterprises?
Design team collaboration. Here the idea is to try to find ways to leverage those dispersed design teams whether they are dispersed and unique in terms of skill sets or whether you have the same skill set. You want to find ways to get them working efficiently in series or perhaps even working in parallel to get designs done as quickly as possible. In the same context you have the challenge of trying to communicate efficiently between the OEM and all of their partners. Whether their partners are OEM companies, service bureaus or OEMs you have to find a way to partition up the design process and efficiently get the design done. According to survey data we pulled from EE Times (January 2005) 55% of companies outsource all or part of their board design. Thirty-five percent of large companies said they had problems with communication.
You have heard a lot about Intellectual Property (IP) in the context of silicon and in the context of software. It plays a larger and larger role in the PCB space as well. Library data has traditionally been the area of IP in the PCB space but pre-used blocks are becoming much more common as people try to leverage existing functional blocks of data. Design constraints are the latest issue just because the number of constraints required particularly for signal integrity management and manufacturability is increasing dramatically.
If you think about the enterprise as the gate keeper to the supply chain, the issue is to try to find ways to get data out of that enterprise organization, leverage information on electronic components that you can suck directly into the design environment, saving a lot of time and increase design quality. In general try to find ways to efficiently communicate between that little isolated design team and the enterprise. The enterprise includes not only the business management aspects of the company but also the manufacturing side. How do I communicate data in terms of bill of materials (BOMs) and manufacturing data output to the manufacturing side? How do I leverage data coming in like component availability, component cost, and component reliability that impact the decisions up front in the design process?
The challenge of increased product complexity requires a level of multidisciplined collaboration between electrical and mechanical, between the different areas of electrical IC, IC packaging, and PCB. All of these have to be linked together to ensure optimal performance of a signal traveling across multiple bits of electronics as well as to ensure compatibility between all of those elements in order to make sure that they plug and play together when they are ultimately integrated. One of the key areas that we have been working on is integration of FPGAs and PCBs. The other aspect of that is integration of verification within the design process. Here it is just a fundamental shift left, if you will, in the design process where verification is typically done at the end of the process and then if errors are determined, you have to go back and do an additional design cycle to fix them and then verify again and keep on going; churn until correct. What we have seen is the requirement for a shift of those verification tools into the design process, particularly in the areas of signal integrity and manufacturability so that it produces designs that are correct the first time.
Government regulation compliance fits into the context of the enterprise purely because not only do enterprises have design teams that are globally dispersed but they are also trying to target products globally. They have to have a distinct awareness of the country specific directives for compliance of that component. It is not as simple as a CE mark on the component for radiation. Now you have to worry about the elements of RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and WEEE (Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment) standards. This has an impact on the entire design process starting at the beginning with part selection based upon particular compliance criteria and material properties through layout because it is not just a component issue, it is a fab issue as well. There is a need to understand the impact of those materials throughout the design process in terms of changes to signal integrity and impedance. Finally when the product is built, there is a need to understand how to get the appropriate documentation out the backdoor which is required to note that compliance. All of this requires integration both the input of data from the corporate enterprise as well as the output that is managed within the corporate enterprise particularly by PLM systems.
This is our view of an enterprise design flow.
Where is Mentor today?
We've got the number one position in the PCB market. We are still investing heavily in R&D to support these flows. We really on PCB, on the integration between PCB and FPGA, on design data management across the flow as well as harness design and how that is integrated into the system.
We are leveraging certain of our key technology investments. Our front end design system - DxDesigner, Expedition PCB and FabLink XE - provides a simple flow for PCB design. If you looked at a small shop doing PBCs that is all they would need to get the job done. What we have done to evolve Expedition into an enterprise solution is to leverage some key investments over time in technology. For example DxDesigner coming from Innova, Expedition coming from the Veribest acquisition. You see the integration aspect of this with a common constraint system across the board, common automation, the I/O Designer fitting the profile for the FPGA/PCB integration piece and significant improvements to system integration and also an underlying data management layer with DMS. All of these are components that we have used and leveraged to build up this Expedition Enterprise flow which is a new flow that we are targeting at the enterprise space.
What we have done over the course of the last couple of years is make significant strides in team design. We now have solutions where engineers can work simultaneously on a design which you can consider online live video perhaps, basically having two layout designers simultaneously editing a design. It allows a mixture of engineers whether you have multiple digital designers or analog and RF designers. Instead of having to wait for each other to create the design in series, they are allowed to work together in a heterogeneous environment. At the same time this capability also supports more traditional design partitioning for outsourcing. In the context of outsourcing, designers don't tend to be working on the same network. So it is important to draw actual boundaries between the blocks so that you can outsource particular portions of the design. It supports that model as well if the design is done with outsourcing as opposed to multiple engineers within one company.
We also support WAN licensing. We typically don't get into licensing when we talk about solutions but it has been highlighted as a critical benefit in the context of global team collaboration. You can get engineers sharing the same licenses because they work in different time zones.
Design process automation allows companies to create common flows that they can then leverage to promote best practices across the organization.
In the area of IP Management we have two areas of focus. We have created a common constraint environment that is integrated across the design flow from definition, even design definition at what we call the sandbox stage, engineers can evaluate critical signals in a signal integrity and verification environment and determine constraints very early in the process and then apply these constraints as templates to the design. Those constraints can be utilized throughout the process within layout and final verification. There is no re-entry of rule sets. We have leveraged the technology that we have used for team design to facilitate concurrent constraint entry. Again you can have multiple entries in the constraint data base at the same time editing away. We have also integrated in verification, actual simulation, so you can now define the simulation models and properties directly within the constraint editor. You do not have to go out and bounce around multiple tools to find whether the signals are meeting the constraints. From a reuse perspective certainly we support reuse capabilities with logical, physical blocks that are managed. We also control access to those blocks through a common library manager so that engineers can quickly find blocks they want to use for the next design.
As I mentioned earlier the design shop tends to view corporate as a black box. What we've provided with our design data management is not only management of the data within the design environment, work in process design data management, we have included things like sharing a file, vaulting files and controlling access to data. We have also provided the glue piece to the enterprise so that we can integrate into enterprise systems such as PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems and we can leverage supply chain data available through the enterprise such as data from content providers Valor and PartMiner, data that comes into us via XML for automated part creation. That's really the extent we talk about in terms of data management. We are not competing with MatrixOne and PLM systems for instance. We are managing the desktop and the access between the desktop and the corporate enterprise.
In the area of integrated system design we support collaborative top down design, specifically the integration between the FPGS and PCB process. This is a significant need and challenge according to our customers that want to leverage the advances made in FPGA design particularly with high speed serial signals, multi-gigabit signals operating off of the FPGA so that FPGAs are no longer just prototype devices and to optimize the performance of those FPGAs as well as optimize the cost of the overall PCB and reduce design cycle time. We have currently integrated those two processes so that designs can get done much quicker.
The traditional flow goes from concept what-if stage through schematic definition, placement and route and to final verification. We don't think we will ever replace final verification because everybody is still going to want to do a golden verification process at the end of the process. What we've done is significant work to shift the verification process left in the process to the point where we are working at the concept state with constraint definition and verification and we are working at the layout stage with manufacturability issues so that a design doesn't have to wait until it gets to manufacturing for it to get that final golden verification that says hey, wait a minute, you have a major verification problem and have to go back into design.
Government regulation compliance brings us back to the RoHS issues. In this context we have done significant work, first of all in terms of managing the compliance criteria within the part data base. Engineers can search for parts in their data base that meet the RoHS criteria. They can also look at an existing design and do a where-used search to determine where they have parts and designs within compliance and which ones aren't. The reason is that RoHS compliance not only affects new designs in creation but also designs already in production because if you plan on shipping after July of next year, you have to have it within compliance. Those requirements also impact the layout in terms of fab constraints for solder masks, for placement changes, and for changes in via sizes. All of these can be managed within the system.
Because the materials have changed there is need to do a stack-up analysis again. We support that to determine what changes were made to the signal impedance and of course integration with the corporate PLM system is critical to get the data input from the supply chain in terms of which parts are available out there, which ones are compliant, and which ones aren't and also to produce that mass of final documentation required to convince actual governments that your product is within compliance.
Can you give me a simple summary?
You may have heard of Expedition in the past. Expedition started out as a point tool in the layout space. We have promoted Expedition as a flow in the context of the Expedition series targeted at the workgroup or midsized company for a number of years. We have re-branded that product line as Expedition Enterprise because we have added significant capabilities to address the challenges of product design within a global enterprise in terms of team collaboration, IP management, enterprise integration, integrated system design, regulation compliance. Overall we believe that Expedition Enterprise is capable to enable design tams to leverage the power that is available within their enterprise and not just be limited by it so to speak but leverage that power to overall reduce their product cost and design cycle time.
In line with that you can read the customer success story by Johnson Controls that highlights a very similar story where they bring out the challenges they were facing with operational efficiency and their desire overall to specifically reduce product costs overall and cycle design time and their decision as a result of that challenge to acquire Expedition Enterprise and deploy it across their multi-site global environment to meet those expectation.
The press release is an announcement of a flow. Are there any new products?
Yes! There are a number of new products within this flow. Let me rephrase your question. No, this is not a repackaging exercise. What we have done with this release, the Expedition Enterprise 2005, is make a significant number of enhancements to existing products within the flow as well as enhancements to integration between these products. Yes, we have introduced a few new products into the flow, specifically in the area of library design data management, some new flow management capabilities within data management that enable engineers to very quickly request new parts from their librarian department and communicate efficiently that way. We've added a new product within the signal integrity space to do pre-layout signal integrity analysis. We've added a lot of new automation capabilities. We've added capabilities and new products within the DFM space for verification of fabrication rules.
Our communication to our customers on this release to tell them what is new in the flow is a document that continues to grow and is currently over sixty pages long. This is a very significant release.
Is Expedition Enterprise targeted at existing customers or a set of new customers?
Both! We see our customer base clearly impacted by this global trend of acquisitions. Any design team no matter how small at some point is probably either going to go public or be acquired. Our existing customers on a daily basis are facing these acquisitions which turn them into a global enterprise where perhaps they weren't before and give them a new set of challenges and opportunities to face for that. In that context we are addressing our existing customers as they face new design challenges but of course we are clearly targeting as prospects companies using competitive flows.
Who do you see as the principal competitors to this new flow?
For years we have been competing with Cadence and their Allegro flow. We view them as our principal competitor. To a lesser extent Zuken has been providing tools with their CR5000 product. They have of course started in the Japanese market and have been trying to extend that but they have not had a whole lot of success within North America. They are trying to make inroads in Europe. Those would be the two companies I would highlight.
What would differentiate Mentor's offering from offerings from those two firms?
We would differentiate in two aspects. Within the flow and within the point tools in the flow we have significant strengths within signal integrity in the context of quality of results and ability to model much more significant elements of an interconnect than our competitors can do. Other point tools such as layout and our capability to do concurrent team design far out stripe what our competition has. Our router is still doing very well against the competition. It's the integration of manufacturing prep with layout. While it may sound like a rather simple concept, it is rather unique. So that's a differentiator as well. Most people have a third party tool at the back end. FPGA/PCB integration is another point tool where we have significant strength. Those are the point tool capabilities. That's one side of it. The second is integration within the flow and also with the corporate enterprise. Our capability with design data management is much more significant than what either Zuken or Cadence has provided. Our ability to tie into corporate enterprise systems is more significant.
Obviously many people have been using your point tools. Are there any firms other than Johnson Controls that has alpha or beta tested Expedition Enterprise?
We have some other customers that are evaluating it. But because we are now just creating this release of the product, we do not have a number of additional customers out there using it. But you are right; we have customers using critical elements of this flow. So the flow overall has been tested over time. But the new products and the integration with the enterprise do not have a customer base associated with that at this time just because it is a brand new release.
There is often a debate whether to adopt a single vendor's flow versus a so called best-of-breed approach. Would you comment on this topic?
That's interesting. It seems to go in phases. Some generations measured in five to ten years believe that it is best to have a solution from one vendor. You are referring to the days when Daisy, Mentor and Valid all produced their own hardware and systems and didn't collaborate at all. Then we entered a phase where everybody was gluing to everybody else. I won't use the word integrate because it was more interface. In other words we were trying to get best of breed tools from multiple vendors. I think we have come back to a time where integration is winning out as a value. I can't say that it wins out over any best of breed tool completely but the value of integration has risen not only as the complexity of design has risen but also a desire to manage constraints throughout the process. Our constraint editing environment is not the sort of thing you can plug into multiple disparate tools from multiple vendors. You just can't get that level of integration. We can leverage that common capability. Can you plug some of our tools into other tools? Certainly! The DxDesigner technology at the front end can be plugged into multiple flows including Zuken's flows and Cadence's flows. Our signal integrity tools can be plugged into those tools and that is done frequently. At the front end DxDesigner represents 30% of the Cadence's Allegro front end. It's used quite frequently there. But the level of integration that's capable between two vendors, particularly in terms of part management and constraint editing is somewhat limited. Now on the other hand we recognize the heterogeneous environments may exist within a customer that is using multiple systems. So elements such as design data management in our DMS (Data Management System) technology can also manage data from Zuken, from Cadence and from other vendors. Our customers can take advantage of our capabilities for multiple flows not just our own.
If a customer adopts the Expedition Enterprise, how does he implement it? Does he purchase n copies of every module? What are you ultimately delivering?
We think about a customer in the context of the enterprise. They are no longer in a space where they are trying to buy a complete bundled package that can do every aspect of the design. It is not the same as what we offer with our PADS product line which is targeted more at the individual engineer where for a single price and for a single bundle (we have multiple bundles) you can get schematic design, layout, some signal integrity analysis and manufacturing output capabilities, all in one bundle. In the context of an enterprise you have a different concept of team where you may have 10 engineers, 3 to 4 layout designers, a couple of signal integrity experts, a couple of librarians and a couple of automation experts that are all going to work together on this system. When we work with a large corporation, we basically look at their desired use model. We can consult with them and propose what we think is best and then collaborate with them to effectively build a system that they can use. Part of the licensing in the context of a large corporation we are more and more utilizing the terms with remix licensing which basically says a customer buys software as much as they can use for a period for a set price. After that period, say six to twelve months, they can remix different tools for that same price. It allows them to reassess their process and their needs and make sure they are not wasting money on tools they are not using. It also allows them to adopt new tools and technologies as we release them. So they are not stuck on a fixed release.
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