Much has been written about the impact of the Japanese earthquake on supplies for existing products—and that’s fair enough. It is the industry’s most immediate worry, although it seems to have receded somewhat in the last few weeks. But I still can’t help but also be concerned about what the disaster means for design.
Rolling power cuts continue to affect some fabs that either emerged unscathed or which have been rapidly repaired—although they are gradually coming back to normal. But the cuts have also undoubtedly disrupted companies’ ability to run tools, particularly those that need to go out to large processor farms for lengthy runs.
I’m also hearing that, quite rightly, many firms allowed engineers to take emergency leave to go and help – and, sadly in some cases, try to find – family in the hardest hit areas. Our sympathies and understanding do go out to all those affected, but project schedules will have inevitably slipped.
Nevertheless, that meant fewer people in the office trying to meet extremely tight project deadlines. And bear in mind that this human factor may have applied as much at engineering sites in the largely unaffected south as in the north of the country.
And there’s another issue here. Talking to one of India’s leading providers of outsourced design recently, I was told that several Japanese giants looked to subcontract some design work while they recovered. As much as his company wanted the contracts, my contact said that it cannot take all of it.
In today’s market, the portions of a design that are undertaken internally are often those that involve the latest innovations and the most tightly held intellectual property. This goes beyond drag-and-drop or even variations on a theme.
As such, it is not so easy, sometimes impossible to pass this work on to other engineers – even at another company site – who do not already have a close understanding of the technology. It’s the stuff that’s all about differentiation, and by extension, a hefty chunk of your margin.
Japanese companies are vital to innovation in this business. Their engineers include many of the best integrators in the world; their work is synonymous with the whole concept of system-on-chip (SoC). Indeed, the country’s continuing role in driving much of the consumer electronics market means that tackling complexity is inherent in its approach to design. Beyond that, there are the key roles Japan plays in markets such as microcontrollers and analog.
They bring important products to market all the time and by doing so stimulate competition across the entire sector. So, for the good of innovation as a whole, here’s just another reminder that you have to hope that Japan gets its whole technology sector back to full strength as soon as possible.