Electronics enters era of ‘systemic risk’

September 14, 2011 //By Rick Merritt, EE Times
The electronics industry has entered an era of “systemic complexity” where growing ecosystems of companies need to collaborate closely, according to a panel of chief executives.

“We’re not just dealing with silicon scaling complexity but with a kind of systemic complexity where being best-in-class in one area is not sufficient to avoid risk and risks are going up,” said Aart de Geus, chief executive of Synopsys in a panel at the annual GlobalFoundries conference.

Business success requires companies not only collaborate to develop chips but Web-enabled systems and network services. If any link in the chain fails, all the players risk failure.

“It’s a winner-takes-all situation with whole ecosystems racing to high volume systems, so value chains become very important,” de Geus said.

“As products get more complex, no one company can provide everything, but some can provide a great deal of the system,” said Warren East, chief executive of ARM in a tip of the hat to Apple.

Under heated competition, “sometimes it’s difficult to share information with each other but we have to have deeper cooperation and wider ecosystems,” said Robert Hum, general manager of the deep submicron division at Mentor Graphics, standing in for CEO Wally Rhines.

In chip design, “data sets and process complexity are becoming enormous and the number of design-for-manufacturing rules is going through the roof,” Hum said.

Process technology tolerances are edging closer to design rule margins, affecting chip yields which can be in single digits as new nodes first come up. That means changes in IC design can more readily impact manufacturing yields, said de Geus.

The use of design abstractions and modeling has helped reduce complexity in the digital realm, but not in analog design, said Hum.

“We have to figure out what we can do to increase efficiency of analog design,” he said. “The digital world has had tremendous progress, but there’s still a lot to be done in the analog world,” he added.

De Geus compared the job of companies like GlobalFoundries to high tech restaurants that must serve large numbers of guests meals from

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