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ASIC's provide the path to creating miniature devices that can do a lot of diverse functions. But with the impending boom in this kind of technology, what we need is a large number of people who can design these IC's. This is where we realise that we cross the threshold between a chip designer and a systems designer at a higher level. Does a person designing a chip really need to know every minute detail of the IC manufacturing process? Can there be tools that allow a designer to simply create design specifications that get translated into hardware specifications?
The solution to this is rather simple - hardware compilers or silicon compilers as they are called. We know by now, that there exist languages like Verilog which can be used to specify the design of a chip. What if we had a compiler that converts a high level language into a Verilog specification? The potential of this technology is tremendous - in simple manner, we can convert all the software programmers into hardware designers!
WHAT SORTS OF JOBS DOES AN VLSI or ASIC ENGINEER DO?
1. Design Engineer:
Takes specifications, defines architecture, does circuit
design, runs simulations, supervises layout, tapes out the chip to the
foundry, evaluates the prototype once the chip comes back from the fab.
2. Product Engineer: Gets involved
in the project during the design phase, ensures manufacturability,
develops characterization plan, assembly guidelines, develops quality and
reliability plan, evaluates the chip with the design engineer, evaluates
the chip through characterization, reliability qualification and
manufacturing yield point of view (statistical data analysis). He is
responsible for production release and is therefore regarded as a team
leader on the project. Post production, he is responsible for customer
returns, failure analysis, and corrective actions including design
3. Test Engineer: Develops
test plan for the chip based on specifications and data sheet, creates
characterization and production program for the bench test or the ATE
(Automatic Test Equipment), designs test board hardware, correlates ATE
results with the bench results to validate silicon to compare with
simulation results. He works closely with the product engineer to ensure
smooth release to production and post release support.
4. Applications Engineer: Defines new products
from system point of view at the customer’s end, based on marketing input.
His mission is to ensure the chip works in the system designed or used by
the customers, and complies with appropriate standards (such as Ethernet,
SONET, WiFi etc.). He is responsible for all customer technical support,
firmware development, evaluation boards, data sheets and all product
documentation such as application notes, trade shows, magazine articles,
evaluation reports, software drives and so on.
5. Process Engineer: This is a highly specialized
function which involves new wafer process development, device modeling,
and lots of research and development projects. There are no quick rewards
on this job! If you are R&D oriented, highly trained in semiconductor
device physics area, do not mind wearing bunny suits (the clean room
uniforms used in all fabs), willing to experiment, this job is for you.
6. Packaging Engineer: This is
another highly specialized job function. He develops precision packaging
technology, new package designs for the chips, does the characterization
of new packages, and does electrical modeling of the new designs.
7. CAD Engineer: This is an
engineering function that supports the design engineering function. He is
responsible for acquiring, maintaining or developing all CAD tools used by
a design engineer. Most companies buy commercially available CAD tools for
schematic capture, simulation, synthesis, test vector generation, layout,
parametric extraction, power estimation, and timing closure; but in
several cases, these tools need some type of customization. A CAD engineer
needs to be highly skilled in the use of these tools, be able to write
software routines to automate as many functions as possible and have a
clear understanding of the entire design flow.