CSS Mixed Signal ASIC Solutions

From Concept through Production,
your Mixed Signal ASIC Solution.

Keith

The Engineers of CSS – Jeanne Bishop

April 9th, 2014 by Keith

CSS has a great staff of engineers, but since they are often working “behind the scenes” they may not be well known outside the company.  This article is the second of a series of interviews titled “The Engineers of CSS” which will hopefully help everyone to know them much better.

Jeanne Bishop came to work for CSS last year as a result of the merger with between CSS and Chronicle Technology.  Prior to the merger, Jeanne had worked for Chronicle for 16 years. Jeanne is a design engineer with a strong layout background. She has helped design large scale CMOS imaging devices for military and space applications including a full wafer stitched imager. She has also been involved with a 5.5 billion transistor digital design as well as many mixed signal projects.  Prior to working for CSS/Chronicle, Jeanne has worked for Adaptec, Western Digital and Independent Design Consultants.  Jeanne has a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from California State University Long Beach.

Jeanne Bishop

Jeanne Bishop

Interview:

CSS:  From your job history, it appears you have had a wide variety of design experiences.  What has been the most interesting or challenging design you have worked on?

Jeanne:  It has been exciting to work on a huge variety of projects over my career, all unique in some way. Some are interesting from an application sense, such as the CMOS imaging chip that (with luck and funding) should fly in a solar orbiter soon. It”s so awesome to think that something you helped create may fly in space.  Or the challenge of a 5.5 billion transistor design. Let me tell you, that is a lot of transistors to keep track of!  In the area of cutting edge technology, an upcoming 14nm FinFet design is real interesting.  This one turns traditional CMOS technology on its ear – so to speak.   My job is never dull. There are always new and interesting challenges.

CSS:  You were a long time employee of Chronicle before the merger.  I felt that the merger brought together talent and experience from both companies that resulted in a stronger company having more depth in engineering and more production experience.  What do you think has been the advantages of the merger?

Jeanne:  I completely agree. The merger seems to be a really good fit. It”s always good when designs are looked from different perspectives, everyone bringing their own experiences to the table. The strengths of the two companies have blended well. Collaboration between the two companies started right away. I can”t wait to see where we will be even a year from now.

CSS:  I know you are a working mom.  What advice would you give to a woman like yourself who wants to have a professional career and a family?

Jeanne:  Having a career and raising kids has been a challenge at times, but for me, the rewards are worth it. I have been very fortunate during my career to work for companies that support families and are flexible when “life” happens. With all the advances in technology these days, it makes things such as telecommuting a viable alternative to working full time in the office. I was able to take advantage of telecommuting while my girls were young, gradually adding more “in office” hours as they got older, they are 20 and 16 now. Splitting my time between home and work was a good fit for our family. It certainly meant some late nights, but definitely worth it. My advice would be to look at a company”s policy regarding leave, telecommuting, job share, etc. during the hiring process, even before you have kids. It”s important to remember that you are interviewing the company to make the right fit just as much as they are interviewing you.

Keith

Automotive ASICS

April 9th, 2014 by Keith

CSS is currently developing ASICs for automotive applications.  These devices present unique requirements for both the IC designer and the fabrication process – especially in the mixed-signal arena.  Some of our designers are familiar with these requirements via prior experience at Hughes Microelectronics Division in Newport Beach, California.  These designs were primarily for automotive dashboard applications (odometers, engine monitors, warning light indicators) or for related sensor applications.  See the Automotive ASICs page and Sensor ASICs page of the CSS website for examples.
Over the years, automotive electronic systems have become very sophisticated and complex as can be observed in the following picture.

Automotive Electronic Systems

Automotive Electronic Systems (Click to Enlarge)

The electronic content in vehicles is expected to continue to grow in the coming years and the market will be a driver for some electronics devices, especially micro-controllers and sensors.
Recent work at CSS has involved vehicle system interface and communication electronics.  Engine and other automotive diagnostic equipment must interface to the complex automotive systems that are subject to harsh electrical conditions (high voltage and electrical transients).  The diagnostic equipment, although outside the automobile, is still exposed to that tough environment.  For ASICs operating in these systems, this may mean special design techniques and protection circuits to survive the ESD and EOS transients commonly found in vehicle electronics.  As vehicles migrate to 24 volt systems, IC designs must accommodate higher supply voltages, typically 40 to 50 volts.  Special silicon processing capabilities is certainly a must!

Challenging, mixed-signal ASICs, such as automotive applications, are typical of CSS designs.  We specialize in systems that require custom designs and advanced fabrication processes.  If you require a custom IC that has special needs we would be pleased to review your requirements and help you make an informed decision on how to proceed.  You can get more information or ask questions via email – just go to the CSS website home page and under “Ask us about your ASIC needs” click “email”.

 

Keith

Beyond Sports

February 5th, 2014 by Keith

marilyn-king-01

Marilyn King

I just attended an excellent presentation by Marilyn King at a credit unit conference in Maui.  Marilyn King was an Olympic champion in track & field that learned through her experiences in training for sports how to succeed in most any endeavor.  She indicated this method would apply to businesses in general and I feel it applies well to companies in the semiconductor industry in particular.

One slide presented was entitled “How Ordinary People Do Extraordinary Things”.  The slide indicated that “Passion + Vision + Action = Exceptional Performance”

•    Passion is the “Source of Energy and Creativity”.  For an IC design & production company, this means that everyone – the CEO, all managers and all designers – need to have a passion for designing and producing chips.

•    Vision consists of “Crystal Clear Images of the Goal”.  “How To” images will emerge from this visualization.  A semiconductor company executive may visualize what he wants his company to look like in the future.  This will enable him to realize what steps need to be taken to get there.

•    Action means that “Everything I do is in alignment with Passion”.  For the semiconductor company this could amount to a Game Plan to achieve the Goal.  Following the Game Plan prevents straying off to work that will not contribute to the goal.

All three of these need to be in play to be successful. It may be apparent that for an IC company that has the passion for IC design, a vision of what they want to be in the industry and a plan in place to get there, they have an excellent chance to be exceptionally successful.  It is my belief that at CSS we have the passion, the vision and the plan to become an exceptional IC company.

Ms. King also had a slide of “5 Reasons Why People Love Their Work”
1.    They make good money.
2.    They believe in the product or service.
3.    They believe in the company.
4.    They are personally challenged
5.    They like the people they work with.

I think this is the case for the employees of CSS.  In starting my interviews of “The Engineers of CSS” (See prior Blog) , I realized that the engineers are passionate about design technology, they like working at CSS, they are given challenging jobs and they like their fellow engineers.  The prior Blog  “The Engineers of CSS – Ravi Ananth ” seems to support this assertion.

Keith

The Engineers of CSS – Ravi Ananth

February 5th, 2014 by Keith

Ravi Ananth

CSS has a great staff of engineers, but since they are often working “behind the scenes” they may not be well known outside the company.  This blog begins a series of interviews titled “The Engineers of CSS” which will hopefully help everyone to know them much better.

Ravi Ananth is a newcomer to CSS as he just joined us this year in January.  He comes to CSS with strong technical and management experience in semiconductor design.  Ravi is an experienced analog IC designer who has worked in both the medical device and consumer electronics industry.  He most recently worked at a medical device start-up firm that was acquired by Boston Scientific.  Previously he held senior positions as both a designer and manager at the Alfred Mann Foundation and as Director of Electrical Engineering at the Alfred Mann Institute at the University of Southern California.  He started his career with IBM where he worked on IrDA (infrared communication links) devices with IBM Research in New York.  Ravi holds 7 international patents, 4 pending patents and numerous publications.  Ravi holds a Master of Applied Science degree in Electrical/Computer Engineering from the University of Toronto, Canada.
Interview:

CSS:  Ravi, you have a very impressive resume.    What do you feel was the highlight of your career to this point?

Ravi:  It was my last job where I had to design the analog portion of the IC for a medical device – a subcutaneous implantable cardiac de-fibrillator.  It was the world’s first such device and a game changer in patient treatment options.  The challenge from an engineering point of view was the low power requirements – the resulting IC design reduced the implanted device’s power by 3x over earlier designs at under 40 micro watts.  This was an achievement that allowed for smaller batteries to be used and hence a new generation of smaller devices to be envisioned for better patient comfort. This device will be available in the near future.

Another interesting project was when I worked for the Alfred Mann Foundation. It dealt with ASICs that were to be used in an implanted device for use in functional electrical stimulation. FES is an idea to assist in the re-animation of paralyzed limbs that may occur, for example, in stroke and spinal cord injury patients. I designed the neural (ENG) and electro-myogram (EMG) sensing circuits for the device which allow for muscle control based on sensed bio-potentials.

CSS:  We are very pleased to have you join the CSS team.  What attracted you to CSS?

Ravi:  I originally came to CSS as a client when I was at Cameron Health (now Boston Scientific).  I had the opportunity of working with great engineers at Chronicle, so it was a natural to join the team with the merger of CSS and Chronicle.

CSS:  What do you want to accomplish here in the near future?

Ravi: It looks like CSS is expanding in the engineering area and has some challenging design jobs that I would like to be a part of.  I feel that CSS has a family like environment where I can do interesting work in a variety of new areas while collaborating with other accomplished engineers here.

CSS:  I noticed in your full resume, that you enjoy hiking, dancing Salsa and clay sculpting.  Can you tell me a little more about these activities?

Ravi: I am still hiking here in Southern California.  The most beautiful place I ever hiked at was in Switzerland.  However, the most recent and exciting experience was in Wyoming in the Grand Tetons last year.   I was hiking with my 4 year old daughter when I surprisingly came face-to-face with two massive Moose with large seven foot antlers.  One walked away, but the other one became agitated and charged us! I ran for my life, with my daughter in my arms while she continued to converse with the moose!

SMIC Banner

SMIC Foundry in Mainland China

John Cheng, CSS President, recently attended the SMIC Executive Summit.  John was one of about 50 US senior executives from different companies in the semiconductor industry invited to attend.  The Summit provided an exclusive and intimate environment for the participants to exchange ideas comfortably with the SMIC executive management team and other leader in the industry.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Simon Segars, CEO of ARM Holdings.  Dr. Segars gave a very interesting presentation and John was able to meet with him personally after his talk to discuss potential ARM business with CSS.

Sunny Hui, President of SMIC Americas, gave the Welcoming Address.  Dr. Tzu-Yin Chiu, CEO, SMIC gave a presentation “SMIC – Your partner for success”.   Charlie Zhi, CEO, Brite Semiconductor, Inc  described “Brite’s Enablement of SoC Design”.  After dinner, Dr. Handel Johns, CEO of IBS, gave a presentation entitled “IC Market Trend and the BRICS effect”.

Dr. Johns’ talk provided some interesting insight in to future semiconductor business.  Of interest to CSS was the prediction that custom ASICs will continue to grow with sound financials.  It was also pointed out that China will continue as an excellent semiconductor market for decades to come.

Keith

Bitcoin on the PBS News Hour

October 9th, 2013 by Keith

Bitcoin

Paul Solman’s PBS News Hour report on Bitcoin points out some of the good and bad aspects of the digital currency as well as an explanation of how it works.  Two of the interviews in the video – with Richard Sylla, Economic Historian, and Charles Hoskinson, CEO of Invictus Innovations Web trustedrxreviews.com s protected by GoDaddy”s Extended Validation SSL display a green browser bar as well, giving users the green light. – represent different views of the new currency.  As mentioned in an earlier CSS Blog, CSS has been intimately involved in a key aspect of bitcoin technology development – the development of advanced custom chips that can be used for bitcoin mining.

Keith

A "What-If" Analysis

October 2nd, 2013 by Keith

•    What if you could reduce the power to your system an by order of magnitude?
•    What if you could cut the cost of your bill of materials (BOM) for your product in half?
•    What if you could improve the accuracy of your analog circuits?
•    What if you could significantly reduce the size of your system?
•    What if you could improve the reliability of your system?

Question

You should consider a custom mixed-signal ASIC for your electronic system.

Power Reduction: Power consumption is often a concern in system design, especially for battery powered applications.  Custom designed analog and digital circuitry in an ASIC can often reduce power consumption by an order of magnitude.   Take for example the CSS555 Timer circuit designed at CSS.  Compared to CMOS 555 timers on the market today, the CSS555 timer power is reduced by at least a factor of 10 (CSS555 active current is 3 micro amps!).

Reduced BOM Cost:  A custom mixed-signal ASIC can significantly reduce your production costs.  This is often the primary motivating factor for developing an ASIC.  The cost of a custom mixed-signal ASIC that replaces standard IC reduces both the component cost and the board assembly cost.  Typically such an ASIC replaces 90% of the existing board components.

Improved Analog Accuracy:  Analog performance may also improve with a mixed-signal ASIC.  Here, CSS has a particular advantage.  We have developed the capability to trim important analog functions using non-volatile memory (EEPROM) cells built into the ASIC.  For example, with this capability we can trim out production variations and set amplifier gains as needed to meet critical specifications.

Reduced Size:  Of course, an ASIC is much smaller than all of the Standard ICs that it may replace.  So, if this is one of your requirements, a custom ASIC may be the only solution.  You can further reduce size by selection of a small surface mount package, such as a QFN package.  CSS has access to a wide variety of small packages and packaging facilities to meet your needs.

Improved Reliability:  A custom ASIC will also improve the reliability of your system.  The reduction in component count and their required interconnects at the board level provides for a significant improvement in reliability.

Development Costs:  In considering the development of a custom ASIC, you need to consider the cost and technical aspects of an ASIC development.  The development costs (NRE), including the ASIC design, mask fabrication, test development and prototype fabrication, often need to be compared to the savings gained in production.   With a reasonably high level of production the development NRE can often be recovered in a year or so.

Necessary Experience: How much knowledge of ASIC development is required and what internal resources are necessary for your development to be successful?  Our customers are always pleased to find that they can acquire a mixed signal ASIC without the need to dedicate staff to the job or to cope with all of the technical aspects.  We provide a turn-key ASIC solution.

What should you do?  If you are at all interested in an ASIC you should give us a call at (949) 797-9220 or use our contact form.  For more general information, please review our website.

Keith

Bitcoin Article in Wall Street Journal

September 23rd, 2013 by Keith

An article entitled “l”  by Joe Light appeared on the front page of the  September 19 Wall Street Journal.  The article explains a little about Bitcoins and experiences of individuals who Tip #3: Stick with Affordable Stakes – are mining Bitcoins using souped-up computers with multiple computer graphic cards.  It also indicates that this approach is surpassed by companies selling Bitcoin mining rigs.   Another interesting item in the article is that Bitcoins are accepted as payment by WordPress.com, a blogging service that we use for this Blog via Goldencomm, our website service provider.

The German Finance Ministry has recently recognized the online currency bitcoin as a legal unit of currency.  The move improves the virtual currency’s image, and may be considered a necessary step in the acceptance of this new currency.  This link details this recent news item.

Also, Canada regulators have recently taken a lighter view of the bitcoin currency as reported by Jeremy Kirk in the IDG News Service who reported “Canada’s lighter view of bitcoin could make it easier for fledgling bitcoin startups, which would be saved the expense of meeting government reporting requirements”.

CSS has been intimately involved in a key aspect of bitcoin technology development.  Engineers at www.atoledo.com CSS developed the advanced custom chip  that can be used for bitcoin mining.  The chip, which contains over 100 million transistors, was designed in 65nm digital technology by engineers at CSS.  The CSS engineers hand crafted the ASIC to achieve the optimum in speed, power and size.  Each chip is capable of performing 3 G-Hash/sec at about 10 watts.  This is the worlds fastest and most efficient ASIC for bitcoin mining available today.

 

Gene Finger, a long time executive at Curtis Instruments (Mt. Kisco, NY), visited CSS while on vacation with his family in California.  Gene was the person at Curtis Instruments who started that company”s use of custom integrated circuits (custom ASICs) in their products.   Gene was keenly aware of the advantages of the combination of analog, digital and non-volatile memory technology in custom ASIC development.  That led to the development of about half a dozen custom ASICs for Curtis.  Most of these ASICs used this mixed-signal with non-volatile memory technology.  Non-volatile memory was often used in these ASICs to store counter information at power down and to trim analog functions for tighter specifications.

Originally, these custom ASICs were designed at the Hughes Microelectronic Center in Newport Beach.   After that Hughes division There are many in Canada that can help . closed, CSS continued the ASIC development for Curtis using a similar mixed-signal with non-volatile memory technology at AMI Semiconductor (now ON Semiconductor).  Over the years, CSS developed four ASICs for Curtis that continued in production for many years.

photo

Gene Finger and Family Visit CSS

(Daughter- Diane, Grandson – Evan, Gene and Wife – Sylvia)

Gene was accompanied by his wife,  Sylvia, daughter, Diane, and grandson, Evan, shown in the picture.  Gene, always a technology enthusiast, was anxious to let his  grandson observe  ASIC development and production first hand.  We completed a tour of the CSS Design Development Area and Production Test Area.  Following that, we had an interesting discussion of the history of non-volatile memory technology – both at Hughes and CSS.

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