Earlier this year in this Blog, I discussed the advantages of a custom mixed-signal ASIC. Saving money in production over the costs of the components it replaces is one of these advantages. However, to save money, the savings in production should compensate for the development costs (NRE) in a reasonable amount of time. This may indicate a relatively high level of production. However, at CSS we have a way to reduce the NRE for the smaller production requirement. Typically, we can reduce the NRE cost by 50% for these cases.
A typical ASIC at CSS for high level production may have a development cost (NRE) of $250K. This is a relatively low NRE for a custom mixed-signal ASIC and reflects our efforts to maintain low NRE costs by optimizing the design process to meet our customer’s needs. Let’s assume that a custom ASIC can save up to 50% of the cost of the components it replaces. If a customer wanted to recoup their NRE investment in one year. They would need to have an annual bill of materials for the original components of $500K. This may be difficult to meet and would seem to rule-out a custom ASIC for smaller production needs.
However, CSS can significantly reduce the development costs for lower volumes, making a custom ASIC financially attractive. Working with our silicon fabrication foundries, we can reduce the Mask (or Reticle) costs, a considerable part of the NRE cost, by using a Multi-Layer-Reticle (MLR) approach. These MLR masks are restricted to low production levels – all we usually need in these cases. For a straightforward design, using MLR masks, an NRE of $125K is typical. Using the same financial constraint as the 1st example, a minimum annual bill of materials here would be about $250K, or a 50% reduction in the annual production level.
A further reduction in NRE can be achieved with severe limits on production. By sharing a mask set with other customers, a custom ASIC can be developed for very low costs. This approach is often used to prove the concepts and performance of the ASIC with the minimum investment – essentially just the design costs. After the ASIC is ready for production, production level masks are easily procured.
These examples are typical. The complexity of the design is also a key factor. Using the above approach, development costs typically range from $50K to $500K. However, by using our library of proven mixed-signal circuits and by careful selection of a fabrication process to match our customer’s needs, we are able to provide truly low development costs.
CSS can give potential customers a free estimate of both the development NRE and the production unit cost. With this information, a sound financial decision regarding a custom ASIC development can be made.