Every ASIC company has a major challenge: they have to work out what it is going to cost to build the customer’s product and commit to deliver it at that price. Too high and you lose the business. Too low and you will wish you’d lost the business. Historically this has been done largely manually. This is an expensive process. A typical ASIC project will be quoted by 2 or 3 potential companies which means that over half of the quotes done do not result in business and are an overhead.
Quoting is very complex, especially in a modern process. eSilicon has it even worse since they use several foundries, several testing houses, several packaging houses and so on. There are a lot of moving parts. Here are just a few:
- die size obviously feeds into how many die a wafer will hold (gross die per wafer)
- die size feeds into yield based on theoretical defect density models and historical databases of other parts in the same process
- there are various options for how many metal layers
- mask costs
- choice of foundry/process
- cost to manufacture depends on volume: low volume parts are more expensive due to setup time for the manufacturing equipment, especially steppers
- cost to manufacture depends on when it will be manufactured: foundries build yield learning into their pricing
- if wafer sort is done then a probe card needs to be built and test-time costed
- if the part goes in a standard package that needs to be costed
- the part may need to be bumped depending on packaging
- if the part goes in a non-standard package (flip-chip etc) then the design cost of the package substrate needs to be included
- choice of test house, tester, test-time
- foundry, packaging, testing, delivery may all be geographically separate and transport costs need to be included
eSilicon had a group of 4 people just doing quotes and even so, each one took 1-2 weeks to deliver. I talked to Geoff Porter who ran that group. He decided that things were out of hand and the solution was to automate everything. Having myself worked on VLSI Technology’s DesignAssistant tool I have some experience of just how hard this sort of thing is.
eSilicon had databases of all the parts they had manufactured, they had databases of manufacturers pricing, they had knowledge of where different test houses’ sweet spots were and so on. They built a lot of visual basic function that ran in Excel (or in a web interface) for all the stuff they needed.
The whole process is now completely automatic and standardized. They put in the customer parameters (die size, process, package, test-time and so on). The output is a contract ready for the customer to sign with all the appropriate legal clauses required and omitting the ones that are not (if bare die are to be delivered there is no verbiage about packaging, for example).
Originally the tool was only used internally in the quoting group. But even so they spent a fair bit of time entering data supplied by the customer, updating it as the customer iterated the quote. This was especially true for multi-project wafer (MPW) quotes which by its nature generates a high volume of quotes. MPWs are a mixture of running prototype SoCs, doing IP qualification (nobody is going to license your serdes without silicon data), academia and so on.
So the next stage of “automation” was to make the customer put the data in themselves and generate their own quote. For MPW quotes, the entire process was put online and even available through an iPhone app.
They have done 300 quotes in 6 months, resulting in 250 new accounts without the involvement of sales. Without the tool when it was manual they could do maybe 100 quotes per year. The automation frees sales up to concentrate on major opportunities. Since the process is so quick and easy, customers iterate their quotes maybe a dozen times, so they can answer questions like “i want more memory if it is not too expensive”.
I’ll talk more about how that works in a future post after I’ve tried it out and generated my own quote. On my iPhone! To try it out yourself, register here. Don’t worry, you won’t get any silicon showing up at your door unless you sign the quote and place an order.