Looking at the new ecology of China’s integrated circuits from the perspective of EDA and IP technology

Since 2020, affected by the spread of the epidemic, the operating rate of most companies in the semiconductor industry chain has been lower than expected; Blizzard, earthquakes, fires and other emergencies have caused damage to the production lines of local fabs and electronics factories, further aggravating the shortage of industry supply . On the other hand, the demand for Electronic products driven by the “home economy” continued to rise, and automotive electronics also rebounded against the trend as the epidemic eased. The global semiconductor industry has encountered a supply chain crisis, and the chip shortage problem has intensified. In addition, the United States, Japan and other countries have successively strengthened the control of China’s semiconductor industry, blocked the supply chain of Chinese companies, and controlled their import and export, thereby curbing the development of China’s semiconductor industry. Under the industry dilemma of “lack of cores” and “stuck neck”, the voice of localization replacement is getting louder, and the upstream and downstream of China’s integrated circuit industry are paying more and more attention to independent research and development, and collaboratively build a localized supply chain.

On October 14th, the 19th China Communication Integrated Circuit Technology Application Symposium (CCIC) and Qingdao Microelectronics Industry Development Conference were held in Qingdao West Coast New Area. At the meeting, Zhang Yanchuan, Secretary-General of the China Institute of Communications, said that as a key force leading technological and industrial transformation, the integrated circuit industry has gradually penetrated into all aspects of the economic and social fields, becoming an important support for the development of the digital economy and the transformation of industrial intelligence. In the face of such great changes unseen in a century, China’s integrated circuit industry needs to further develop its layout, insist on independently tackling key core technologies, promote the transformation of scientific and technological achievements, and actively cooperate with the industrial chain to jointly build an integrated circuit industry ecology.

From the perspective of the integrated circuit industry chain, chip design, wafer manufacturing, packaging, testing and other links are indispensable. Among them, as the core technologies in the upstream of the integrated circuit industry chain, EDA and IP are known as “the jewels in the semiconductor crown”. Yu Chengbin, co-CEO of Xinyaohui Technology Co., Ltd. and IEEE Fellow, said that for a long time, the EDA and IP markets have been dominated by foreign giants. The United States and Europe alone account for more than 94% of the global market, while China’s EDA and IP markets only account for 3 %about. The importance of EDA and IP to chip design is self-evident. It is imminent for China to conquer EDA and IP technology and seize the market.

Domestic EDA and IP industries face severe challenges

The core of chip design, manufacturing and packaging and testing is EDA/IP, materials and equipment. EDA and IP are in the upstream of chip design. In short, chip design is to use EDA tools to convert code into actual circuit diagrams by selecting IP design modules that meet the requirements and are verified to be reusable. At the same time, EDA and IP are also the weakest links in China’s integrated circuit industry chain. It is urgent to achieve breakthroughs through independent innovation and accelerate the integration of local enterprises into the integrated circuit industry chain and value chain.

First look at the development of domestic EDA. Since the 1980s, the domestic EDA industry has started a long-term R&D and layout, but due to various factors, no substantial progress has been made. For a long time, domestic EDA has been in a state of stagnant development. Since 2008, with the support of national policies, domestic EDA has finally ignited a weak fire. After years of hard work, domestic enterprises such as Huada Jiutian, Xinhe Semiconductor, and Guangli Microelectronics have gradually shown their vitality in the market.

According to Liu Weiping, chairman of Beijing Huada Jiutian Technology Co., Ltd., for a long time, domestic EDA and even the entire integrated circuit industry have been controlled by others, mainly facing the following challenges.

Incomplete products: Domestic independent EDA tools are relatively complete and mature in analog circuits, but in terms of digital circuits, many domestic EDA tools are in the development stage and have not yet fully supported the ability to support industrial development.

Technology and R&D investment: The EDA industry has high technical barriers and requires long-term R&D investment and technology accumulation. At present, compared with the three EDA giants (Synopsys, Cadence, Siemens EDA), the R&D investment of domestic EDA enterprises is obviously insufficient and scattered, which is not conducive to the technological breakthrough and innovation of EDA.

Shortage of high-end talents: According to the report of Founder Securities, there are about 1,500 EDA R&D personnel in China, of which only about 300 are actually doing R&D in local EDA enterprises.

Ecology and market: EDA is the link between chip design and manufacturing, and users are very sticky. As a latecomer, domestic EDA needs to compete with the mature products of international giants if it wants to enter the market and emerge as a newcomer. The difficulty can be imagined. . Therefore, coordinating the upstream and downstream of the industrial chain and constructing the local industrial ecology of EDA is crucial to the development of domestic EDA.

Like EDA, IP technology, which is also a deep element of hard technology innovation, is also an indispensable technological cornerstone of the entire chip industry chain. Yu Chengbin said that the overall output value of global IP is only about 4 billion US dollars, but it has stimulated the semiconductor industry of 500 billion US dollars. With the gradual migration of integrated circuits to advanced process nodes, the demand for the number of IP cores is increasing, which also puts forward higher requirements for driver specifications, functions, and costs. On the other hand, the IP core is constantly evolving according to the standard, how to ensure compatibility and reliability, and achieve excellent PPA performance has become the direction that domestic IP companies need to optimize and cultivate.

Domestic EDA and IP technology to overcome difficulties

As mentioned earlier, domestic EDA and IP still face many challenges, and in these challenges, we can often see huge market opportunities and find solutions. What domestic enterprises need to do is to insist on independent research and development, continuously consolidate their internal strength, and forge their own technical strength. From a technical point of view, domestic EDA tools and IP cores still have difficulties such as incomplete products and difficult technological breakthroughs. Liu Weiping mentioned that domestic enterprises must first solve the problem of “have or not”, and then uphold the spirit of innovation, make EDA tools well and fine, so that customers can choose and trust.

As introduced by Liu Weiping, the question of “is there or not” first settled on improving the EDA tool. Taking Huada Jiutian as an example, with the analog circuit simulation software as a breakthrough, the whole process design of LCD Panel is deeply studied, and finally it transitions to the full development of software such as the whole simulation process and digital back-end. In the stage of lack of technology, domestic EDA enterprises should also take point tools as the starting point, and gradually overcome them from point to point. On the other hand, M&A is also an important means to expand product matrix and strengthen technical barriers.

At this stage, Moore’s Law has reached the physical limit, the trend of hardware process innovation has gradually slowed down, and the importance of EDA software has gradually become prominent. Artificial intelligence, cloud computing and other technologies are gradually integrated and innovated with EDA software to realize the automation, intelligence, platformization and serviceization of EDA tools. Atomistic TCAD and automatic IP generation have gradually become the development trend of EDA software. Given that the development time is not long, China and international giants are still on the same starting line, and it is expected to become an opportunity for Chinese EDA enterprises.

Constructing a New Ecology of China’s Integrated Circuits

“At present, my country has become the world’s largest and fastest-growing integrated circuit market. Facing the impact of the epidemic and the complex and changing global industrial environment, my country’s integrated circuit industry continues to grow.” Deputy Director, Department of electronic Information, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology Chang Dong Xiaoping said that my country’s integrated circuit industry as a whole shows strong development resilience and a good development trend. According to statistics from the China Semiconductor Industry Association, in the first half of 2021, the sales of my country’s integrated circuit industry was 410.29 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 15.9%. Among them, the sales of the design industry reached 176.64 billion yuan, an increase of 18.5% year-on-year; the sales of the manufacturing industry was 117.18 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 21.3%; the sales of the packaging and testing industry was 116.47 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase 7.6%.

Wu Hanming, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and dean of the School of Micro-Nano Electronics of Zhejiang University, emphasized at the meeting that scientific research is the means, industry is the goal, and production capacity is king. The development of the integrated circuit industry in the post-Moore era will face many challenges such as unclear technical direction, broad application scenarios, and market fragmentation. For domestic enterprises, this will be a rare window of opportunity. Huge innovation space and market space, loose equipment and conditions will be beneficial to small and medium-sized enterprises to carry out product research and development. Wu Hanming said that the domestic integrated circuit industry chain, universities, and research institutes should work together to promote the integration of integrated circuit production, education and research, and to strengthen the relationship between the integrated circuit industry and scientific research, the relationship between scientific research and teaching, and the relationship between teaching and the integrated circuit industry.

The development status and technology trends of the domestic EDA and IP markets are the epitome of the entire integrated circuit industry, and are also a problem that my country’s integrated circuit industry needs to overcome urgently. Dong Xiaoping said that my country’s integrated circuit market demand continues to expand, and domestic enterprises should vigorously promote the innovative application of integrated circuits in 5G, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and other fields, adhere to technological innovation, application traction and market orientation, continuously optimize industrial layout, and build mutually beneficial cooperation. Winning the industrial chain and supply chain.

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