Challenges To The Schedule
As we have touched on in the past, two key considerations that usually factor into your decision on whether or not to move forward with developing a mixed-signal ASIC are how much it will cost and how long it will take to complete the project. In our world of "time equals money," logic dictates that the quicker you can get the design done, the less expensive it will be. In an effort to help save you time and thus money, here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you get ready to engage with an ASIC development partner.
1. Know Your Target Before You Pull the Trigger
Nothing kills a development schedule quicker than a moving target. Bear in mind that we typically will be involved in helping our customers define their final specification. However, that process is undertaken BEFORE any design work begins. In general, we don't provide a firm quote until the final specifications are set. This helps to prevent "migrating requirements" and the resulting late deliveries and cost overruns.
2. Overkill Kills
As fundamental as this sounds, try to minimize any design requirement overkill. We commonly find that ASIC specifications are written based on the discrete IC's used to develop a working prototype. This may seem logical but it's not uncommon to have specs written that are well beyond the requirements of the application. Do you really need a 16bit ADC or will a 12bit version work fine? Is it absolutely necessary to squeeze those last few milliamps out of your operating current spec? Before finalizing your specification, be sure you understand where you set the bar and why. Otherwise you may be unnecessarily adding weeks to your schedule and tens of thousands of dollars to your budget.
3. Choose a Design Partner with Relevant Expertise
If you are looking to develop an analog or mixed-signal ASIC, it is important that you engage with a design partner that has relevant experience with the "art" of analog design. A couple of our engagements have come out of the ashes of attempted mixed-signal designs gone poorly at other design companies. We were ultimately able to deliver to the customer what they wanted but the "do over" resulted in significant schedule delays and at a total cost that exceeded what was initially anticipated. Before engaging, ask your design partner about experience they have had with similar designs/technologies/applications. If you still have questions, don't be afraid to ask for references so you can get another customer's perspective.
4. Don't Unnecessarily Pressure the Process
Although this is the inverse of the "time equals money" principle, if your internal target for samples is August 1st, you probably shouldn't ask for samples to be delivered June 15th. Compressed schedules result in additional costs to your design services partner (both hard costs and opportunity costs) which ultimately will be passed on to you.