Who’s left to make chip development tools?

Here’s a look at the remaining major EDA tool companies after years of consolidation.
  • Electronic design automation (EDA) are the software tools used for designing electronic systems, such as system-on-chip (SoC) integrated circuits and printed circuit boards. The tools work in a design-verification flow that chip designers use to analyze and develop semiconductor chips.

    But the EDA tool market has gone through massive consolidation over the couple of decades. Which companies are left? We’ll find out.

  • The EDA market continues to consolidate. At this year’s 2019 Design Automation Conference (DAC), Rich Valera from Needham and Company noted that since the collapse of the tech bubble in the early 2000’s, the EDA market has been all about consolidation.

    “Many larger scale private companies, including multiple “near IPO’s” – e.g., Denali, Tensilica, Apache, and Spyglass (Atrenta), - have been bought before going public in the last 15+ years,” explained Valera. “It goes without saying that the EDA industry has become very concentrated, one could argue an oligopoly, with most of the revenue driven by 3 major companies.”

    The above graphic does not include many of the more recent consolidations:

    Cadence acquisition of AWR from National InstrumentsInphi Corp acquired the majority of eSiliconSynopsys acquired DINI Group, QTronic GmbH and certain assets of eSiliconDassault Systemes acquisition of CST

    The number of private EDA startup company exits through acquisitions or going public (IPOs) has been declining, which is probably attributed to fewer companies being formed. Additionally, the time to exit for startup EDA companies has generally been well over 10 years. This is a long time period for most startups and their investors, which may explain the modest amount of venture capital funding flowing into EDA.

  • It would seem that the main EDA tool vendors have formed an oligopoly, i.e., Synopsys, Cadence and Mentor Graphics (recently acquired by Siemens PLM). According to Valera, one might expect to see less competition, reduced investment and a push to maximize profits – say, as opposed to growing into new markets. This has not been the case. Rather, the combined Cadence/Synopsys research and development (R&D) budget has been on a generally upward trend over the last 10 years, which is a positive activity as it relates to job growth.

    The three major EDA companies have realized healthy growth thanks to their movement into new application areas like autonomous vehicle electronics, ongoing advancement and roll-outs in industrial and commercial IOT, AI and edge-cloud computing.

    What about the other EDA tool vendors? According to Crunchhub, there are 132 organizations listed as semiconductor EDA companies, not including fabs like TSMC and OEMs like Intel. But we don’t need to consider all EDA companies to understand what makes up this industry. Instead, let’s consider the top 8 EDA tool providers.

  • Synopsys

    In 1986, a small synthesis startup called Optimal Solutions was created by a team of engineers from GE Microelectronics Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The team included Dr. de Geus, who would later become the CEO. Shortly thereafter, the company moved to Mountain View, Calif., to become Synopsys (for SYNthesis and OPtimization SYStems). Their first task was to focus on commercializing an automated logic synthesis “Design Compiler” tool. Today, Synopsys has a suite of chip design and verification tools plus verification intellectual property (IP).

    One of the significant announcements from Synopsys in 2019 was the completion of its acquisition of the DINI Group, an FPGA-based boards and solutions company. SoC designers are deploying FPGA-based prototyping platforms to enable rapid software development in automotive, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and high-performance computing (HPC) applications.

    DINI’s FPGA boards are frequently used to create a complete logic prototyping system that can emulate up to 130 million ASIC gates with over 20 FPGAS.

  • Cadence Design Systems

    Two small startups that emerged in the early 1980’s – Solomon Design Automation and ECAD - grew and merged to form Cadence Design Systems in 1988. Shortly thereafter, Cadence bought Gateway Design Automation, a developer of the Verilog hardware description language. A year later Cadence put Verilog into the public domain, and it became the most widely used hardware description language. In the ensuring year, Cadence pushed into the custom/analog design automation tool market and later IC layout automation.

    Today, Cadence offers a broad portfolio of tools to address an array of challenges related to custom IC / Analog / RF Design, digital, IC package, and PCB design and system-level verification.

    One of the more interesting announcements in 2019 was the introduction of a complete electrical-thermal co-simulation solution for ICs to physical enclosures. The thermal solver integrated with the company’s IC, package and PCB implementation platforms. Design insights from the solver will help design teams detect and mitigate thermal issues early in the design process, thus reducing electronic system development iterations.

  • Mentor Graphics (A Siemens PLM Company)

    Mentor Graphics was founded in 1981 by a small group of engineers in Oregon. All had left Tektronix to form Mentor Graphics, one of the first commercial EDA companies, along with Daisy Systems and Valid Logic Systems. Mentor Graphics was also the first EDA company that had its software run on a non-proprietary hardware system, i.e., the Apollo Computer workstations.

    Today, the company offers chip design, PCB design, systems, automotive, CAE Simulation and Test and Embedded tools. Mentor is involved in EDA, printed circuit board and system-of-system level design.

    One of the announcements this year was in the area of high-level-synthesis (HLS) for edge computing networks. The challenge is that moving machine learning to the edge has critical requirements on power and performance. Using off-the-shelf solutions like CPUs or GPUs are too slow or too expensive, respectively. Even generic machine learning accelerators can be overbuilt and are not optimal for power. That’s why HLS tools can help create new power/memory efficient hardware architectures to meet machine learning hardware demands at the edge.

  • ANSYS

    Ansys was founded in 1970 by John Swanson. In 1996, the company went public. During the next five years, Ansys made numerous acquisitions to gain additional technology for fluid dynamics, electronics design, and other physics analysis.

    The company develops and markets engineering simulation software used to design products and semiconductors, as well as to create simulations that test a product's durability, temperature distribution, fluid movements, and electromagnetic properties.

    As an example of the company’s simulation capabilities, TURBOTECH is using Ansys fluids tools to potentially redesign aeronautical propulsion. TURBOTECH is developing an energy storage system capable of powering the hybrid-electric aircraft of the future. The idea is to develop regenerative cycle turbogenerators based on small turbines that recover energy from exhaust gases to reduce fuel consumption. By recharging batteries in-flight, the turbogenerators claim to improve the endurance of electric aircrafts by 10x — enabling significant weight and cost savings. The turbogenerators can produce electricity from virtually any type of renewable flammable material, including bio-fuel, bio-gas, hydrogen and conventional fuels.

  • Keysight Technologies

    Keysight Technologies’ can trace its origins back to the original Hewlett-Packard business founded in 1939 by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. In 1999, the HP spun off Agilent Technologies in 1999. Five years later, Agilent spun off Keysight Technologies as a wireless, semiconductor and aerospace test and measurement company.

    Significant news in 2019 includes the partnership with Marvin Test Solutions to develop advanced beamformer integrated circuit (IC) test technology to accelerate the production of high performance 5G chips and test associated mmWave antenna systems. To ensure reliable and efficient 5G mmWave communications, the performance of critical elements that form part of the beamformer chips need to be rigorously tested under linear and nonlinear conditions.

    Also noteworthy is the company’s simulation software that is being used for rapid development, integration and test of sophisticated electronic warfare (EW) systems with real-time RF modeling. Software and hardware simulation systems are needed so engineers can test their EW designs by easily generating specific RF environments.

  • Zuken

    Zuken is a Japanese-based company that started out in CAD systems in 1976. The company’s software is primarily used for designing printed circuit boards (PCBs), Multi-Chip Modules (MCM), and for the engineering of electrotechnical, wiring, wiring harness, pneumatics and hydraulics applications.

    Recently, Zuken moved firmly into the systems-of-systems engineering and model-based-systems engineering (MBSE) spaces with the acquisition of ViTech. This acquisition required the approval of the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Vitech was a US company with more than 25 years of industry experience in systems engineering.

    In the fall of 2019, Zuken reinforced it’s presence in the world of digital twins by agreeing to develop system design and manufacturing process interfaces to Dassault Systèmes (DS) 3DEXPERIENCE platform. Zuken will provide electronic libraries and design data management capabilities within DS’s platform to enable cross-discipline systems engineering and traceability.

    In particular, Zuken’s component management process will permit the transfer, synchronization and authorization of component metadata and related files between the databases of the two companies. Zuken’s integration will enable creation and lifecycle management of electronic systems from the Dassault Systemes’s platform.

  • Altium

    Altium was founded in 1985 by Nick Martin as a PCB Computer-Aided Design (CAD) vendor. The company has continued to improve its original product over the last several decades, e.g., Altium Designer. Improvements in 2019 provide for a faster schematic editor, high-speed design and enhanced interactive router for PCB design.

    This year, the company also unveiled a cloud-based application for CAD component management. It may seem un-glamorous but selecting and managing components in the development of a PCB is critical to design and cost.

    The effective creation and reuse of component data in the PCB design process, including footprints, schematic symbols, and 3D models, is critical in meeting tight time-to-market windows. Until now, most PCB designers have created and stored component data in private file systems rather than in a shared, managed, and maintained library. Others have tried to use shared spreadsheets or proprietary databases. These outdated approaches led to multiple re-design cycles due to redundant, inaccurate or outdated component data that is often discovered only late in the product development process, when board designs are sent to manufacturers.

  • Applied Wave Research (AWR)

    Several former companies providing EDA tools (like CST and AWR), FPGA boards systems (like DINI) and design services (like eSilicon) have been “removed” through acquisitions from the official list of EDA companies. Yet the brands and product live on either as the original brand or under the flag of the acquiring company. Let’s look at the most recent of these acquired EDA vendors.

    AWR was founded in 1994 to improve the design efficiency for radio frequency and microwave circuit and system design. After several prior acquisitions, AWR was acquired by National Instruments (NI) in 2011. A further acquisition by Cadence was announced in late 2019.

    AWR software is used for radio frequency (RF), microwave and high frequency analog circuit and system design. Recently, The Italian National Institute for Astro Physics of the Institute of Radio Astronomy (INAF-IRA) used NI AWR software to design the circuitry of the receiver chains for a multi-channel heterodyne receiver antenna for radio astronomy applications operating across the 2.3–8.2 GHz RF band.  Large-scale surveys using highly sensitive electronics are an essential tool for new discoveries in radio astronomy. INAF designers were challenged to develop, fabricate, and test a room temperature, multi-channel heterodyne receivers needed for radio astronomy applications. AWR software helped in the critical modeling and design of the phased array for reflector observing systems (PHAROS) which uses a super-cooled feed with an analog beamformer.

     

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John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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