Several Mentor divisions act as good barometers for electronics system design. The Calibre physical verification and DFM suite gives the company near total insight for advanced process nodes. Its PCB tools and Valor manufacturing software were helping track trends in systems of systems before Siemens took control. Emulation captures the increasing maturity and deployment of hardware/software co-verification as well as digital twinning.
But one division that sometimes gets overlooked as a bellwether is Tanner EDA. A pre-Siemens Mentor acquisition in 2015, Tanner offers predominantly PC/Windows-based tools for analog-and-mixed signal as well as MEMS design, layout and verification.
As John Stabenow, market development director, explains, Tanner’s key target market today is the Internet of Things.
“If you think of an IoT device, it’s a semiconductor, a sensor, probably some RF and some kind of packaging material. For the mainstream semiconductor companies, well they’re all IoT companies now and they've adapted to that. But it’s only part of what’s happening.
“In the last two years or so, we’ve seen 300 new logos come on the scene. Who are these people?”
New Tanner customers
Stabenow breaks down the question over IoT customers that is taxing much of the EDA industry right now into three groups.
“Well, some are sensor guys who see an opportunity to move into ASICs that include IP and the chance to create systems with far greater value than might have been the chance before.
“Some are very small companies – just one design seat – led by a guy with a great idea who isn’t necessarily from an engineering background.
“And some are large companies with limited silicon design experience, if any, and again little knowledge about ASICs. And you’re not just thinking of Facebook and Google and that group there but something wider.
“What matters for us is that these groups are part of an explosion in ASIC design activity around the IoT and – importantly for us – around the edge.”
Ah yes, the edge. Once upon a time, the IoT was expected to be made up of super-powerful AI-driven computing in cloud hubs and dumb devices at the edge. Not anymore.
“A number of things have happened that have forced us to think about more sophisticated edge devices,” said Stabenow. “Take safety, security and latency. A lot of IoT applications simply won’t work unless they have enough computational capability locally to make immediate decisions or provide immediate protection.”
This shift plays to all of Tanner’s design targets, at the same time as its deliberately easy-to-use and deploy tools are proving easier to adopt for new silicon entrants with limited experience.
But the linking theme of these articles is how Mentor’s various divisions are fitting into an operation now under Siemens control.
“One thing that has happened is that we are now part of a larger IC design organization within Mentor,” said Stabenow. “We still have our distinctive business lines but there are also more opportunities to knit them into a single structure.”
Examples of this already include the integration of the Tanner tools with Mentor’s Eldo analog verification platform, the launch of an RTL-to-GDSII flow harnessing Tanner’s L-Edit and S-Edit alongside Oasys-RTL for physical synthesis and Nitro-SoC for place and route, and a progressive alignment with Calibre that now reaches the enterprise level.
However, the next major Tanner enhancement will look more explicitly at the user rather than the breadth of the software’s capabilities.
“I hate to use a phrase like ‘the easy button’, but we do have this growing number of non-traditional users,” Stabenow said, “so we have done a lot of pre-scripting on the tools ourselves, so that they now work more reliably out-of-the-box than if the users had to do that scripting themselves. That’s the next big integration we’re rolling out this summer.”
But at the technology level, Stabenow identified two areas beyond basic IoT where Tanner is looking to the future: MEMS and photonics.
“MEMS has long been important for Tanner and now we’re moving toward a phase of far greater MEMS-IC integration,” he said. “That’s going to happen at the die level and at the 3D-stack level – and we’re already seeing three, four, even five die stacked together with interposers coming into play. We can obviously look at things like further integration with Calibre and other tools, so that we move toward a single MEMS design platform.
“The other area that is beginning to take off and which we’re well placed for is photonics. It’s still early, but in the last couple of years, I’ve seen it go from a research-project level to something now moving into mainstream product development. The advantage for us there is that photonics involves being able to draw curvatures with the tools.
“You might be able to embellish an existing tool to do that, but we’ve been doing those shapes for a while already – complex MEMS cannot be rectilinear. So we can look at offering reliable tools where you define the shapes as you would a Manhattan route and then the curving happens as a function in the software.”
Meanwhile, Tanner is also looking to partner further with Arm. The two companies already collaborate on the DesignStart program. It gives developers access to both IP and tools for IoT design at zero upfront cost.
Overall, this is some way from suggestions immediately after the takeover that Tanner’s customers would be seen as small beer within a Siemens-owned Mentor. Rather, Stabenow said, “As we’ve progressively moved to have access to bigger, broader salesforces, it’s also started to broaden the customer base. We’re now getting engagements with those bigger companies – particularly but not only those who want to do their own IoT ASICs.”
If anything, Tanner’s tools are now being drawn closer to their Mentor brethren than ever before, a pattern now likely to be replicated across the company’s products – and through into the PLM world.