Many years ago, ASICs revolutionised the electronics industry by shrinking a PCBA onto a single chip. However, as semiconductor process technology advanced, the cost of making a chip on the newer process nodes increased to the point where companies think it too expensive to consider. Presto Engineering points out that ASICs can actually be a cost effective alternative to PCBA even for small runs by using mainstream, well established nodes.
“Many applications, such as IoT devices, don’t need state-of-the-art process technology,” explains Martin Kingdon, Presto’s VP of Sales. “More mature nodes have well-established design tools and a set of masks can cost as little as $100,000, compared to the multi-millions for a mask set for leading-edge technology nodes, and give a fast time to market. As a result, ASICs can be manufactured for around $1-$2 each in sub million-unit volumes making ASICs a very attractive, affordable option. Using inexpensive, but still highly reliable nodes makes low volume, simple ASICs really affordable again. It is the second ASIC revolution.”
However, the Foundries and leading OSAT companies will only deal directly with large firms that have significant volume requirements and with whom they have long, well-established relationships. Presto solves this problem by acting as an aggregator, i.e. it aggregates volume from a number of its customers and has long established relationships with the leading production providers. This enables it to process even small runs for customers by having them, for example, on multi project wafers (MPWs) with designs for other customers.
This flexibility and ability to accommodate small runs extends to the next stages of test and qualification in its facilities in France, California and Asia. These operate to the defined industry standards, but, more importantly for innovative, novel chips, Presto can custom design a test solution to suit the unique functionality and performance of the chip. For example, IoT devices usually require an RF communications link and preferably with several variants, which is expensive as a PCBA but of negligible addition cost in an ASIC, and these can be to very high frequencies, even into the microwave range.
Presto Engineering will be discussing this and its many other manufacturing and testing services on stand 603 in Hall 3A at the Embedded World show in Nuremberg, Germany from February 27 to March 1, 2018.