Issue: Mar 2006

FPGA synthesis tools deliver the productivity advantage that automotive designers need

Automotive Industries caught up with Andrew Dauman, vice-president, world-wide engineering at Synplicity and asked him about the company's global plans

by Lenny Case

The US$62m, Sunnyvale, California-based Synplicity, Inc has a range of software products that enable the design of electronic components for automotive applications. Synplicity focuses on giving automobile designers reliability and flexibility in the electronic devices and vendors they are using. This can be done using Synplicity products since they are vendor independent allowing designers to quickly and automatically retarget their design from a single source to different hardware platforms such as an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) or ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit).

Plus, the company's products allow designers to change the target device or vendor even while well into the lifecycle of the product. Synplicity sees a big demand for its products especially in the design of advanced electronic systems used in today's automobiles.

"Infotainment" systems such as integrated video, audio, collision avoidance and navigation systems are increasingly using FPGAs partly because they can be developed quickly and cost effectively and partly because they incur much less risk than custom circuits.

Digital Signal Processing (DSP) is commonly used in the GPS, video and audio features of Infotainment systems and FPGAs provide an excellent platform for a fast, reliable and cost effective solution. Synplicity believes its DSP synthesis product "Synplify DSP" offers the answer by allowing designers to capture the behavior needed for their DSP algorithm without worrying about the specific implementation in hardware. This product automatically produces a highly optimized, technology independent implementation of their design from a single high-level model.

Synplicity's core business is to provide software products that enable the design and verification of large, complex semiconductors. The company's products are used in computer, communications, consumer, military and aerospace as well as automotive applications. The products perform essential steps in the implementation and verification of semiconductors. Synplicity is and has been the leader in FPGA synthesis for over 5 years and its products are used by thousands of top tier electronics companies worldwide.

Synplicity's products include Synplify and Synplify Pro, which are logic synthesis products that take RTL (Verilog or VHDL) as input and output a design ready for implementation into an FPGA. The HDL Analyst tool (built in to the Synplify Pro version of Synplify) automatically provides graphical representation of the design based upon the RTL input and enables fast and easy code analysis capability.

Synplicity's Identify product allows a designer to probe and debug an FPGA design directly in the source RTL. Identify software is used to verify a design in hardware as would be done using a software simulator - only much faster and with in-system stimulus.

The Synplify DSP software is a true DSP synthesis tool and is the only one that performs high-level DSP optimizations from a Simulink specification. These special DSP optimizations allow designers to capture the behavior needed for their DSP algorithm without worrying about the specific implementation in hardware. The Synplify DSP solution automatically produces a highly optimized, technology independent implementation of the design ready for RTL synthesis.

Finally the Certify ASIC prototyping product is a verification product that enables ASIC designers to implement a prototype of their chip using multiple FPGAs without the need to change any of their source RTL code.

Synplicity markets its products around the world, including in North America, Europe, Japan, and other parts of Asia. Currently, nearly 60% of the company's revenues come from North America. The company was started in the 90's by the husband-wife team of Kenneth McElvain (the chief technology officer) and Alisa Yaffa (the chairman of Synplicity).

Some of the companies that Synplicity has strategic relationships with include Actel Corporation, Altera Corporation, Lattice Semiconductor Corporation, QuickLogic Corporation, Xilinx Inc, Philips Semiconductor and Siemens.

Synplicity believes its products offer the automotive market reliability. The company claims its tools are production proven, and that its FPGA synthesis tool is the industry standard - with 67% market share. According to the company, the fact that the military and aerospace industries use its products, lends credence to the reliability of its products.

Synplicity claims that its FPGA synthesis tools deliver the productivity advantage that automotive designers need. Plus the tools help keep costs down for automotive designers since Synplicity's synthesis products deliver the performance advantage needed to meet the timing requirements and allow the design to fit into a smaller device. True timing-driven design enables automotive designers to specify the performance needed and once met, the product then optimizes and allows the designer to use smaller, less expensive FPGA devices.

Synplicity's tools also allow for resource sharing - so large functions (that are area consuming) like multipliers, can be shared with appropriate multiplexing logic automatically inserted. This saves significant area on circuit paths where timing performance is not critical.

Automotive Industries caught up with Andrew Dauman, vice-president, world-wide engineering at Synplicity and asked him about the company's global plans.

AI: In which overseas markets is Synplicity strong? And why?

Synplicity enjoys a good balance of revenue from the different geographical regions around the world. Overseas there is strong growth in several regions. In Japan and Korea the strong consumer electronics growth in products like video recorders and flat panel TVs are driving the market. In Europe, telecommunications applications like mobile phones and also high-end consumer products contribute to our success. The automotive segment, worldwide, while still much smaller than segments like communications is the fastest-growing of all the segments we serve.

AI: Where do you hope to increase the company's presence over the next five years?

The main geographical growth areas we see are in China, India, and Korea but other areas developing automotive, consumer, military and aerospace applications where FPGAs and especially DSP within FPGAs are being used will also grow significantly over the next few years.

AI: Which products do you see doing particularly well in the global automotive markets? And again, why?

The two key products for the automotive segment are Synplify Pro Advanced synthesis tool and Synplify DSP synthesis tool. The Synplify Pro tool because it is by far the industry leader in FPGA synthesis and is already used in many high-reliability applications like military and aerospace. It offers designers maximum flexibility, productivity and cost effectiveness over any other solution available. The Synplify DSP tool because the automotive market is increasingly using GPS, and digital video & audio which are heavy in DSP technology. The Synplify DSP software makes it easy for DSP algorithm designers to quickly implement their design in an FPGA and still have the ability to retarget it to alternate FPGA or ASIC platforms at a later time.

AI: Have any of Synplicity's products needed a tweak due to different styles of functioning of overseas automotive designers? Could you give us some examples?

Yes, we have tuned our DSP product to include library functions and optimization techniques commonly used in applications for automotive electronics design. Some examples are the addition of advanced math functions, multi-channel filtering, and sample rate conversion used in high-end multimedia compression and speech recognition. Another example is Digital Down Conversion (DDC) used for modulation in wireless applications like Bluetooth and collision avoidance radar. Algorithm developers have reported up to5X productivity improvements using these Synplify DSP features.

AI: Is it difficult doing business in countries like China where intellectual property rights are not always respected?

There are IP rights issues worldwide and especially in China where we know there are illegal copies of our software being used. We do have a direct sales force worldwide including China and India so we are able to do business effectively in those regions. Of course, like any software company, we would like to see IP rights respected on a worldwide basis.

AI: Do you plan to increase the share of global revenues and if so, how do you think it will happen?

We plan to continue to grow the company which we have been able to do steadily over the 12 years Synplicity has been in business. As mentioned earlier, we enjoy a good balance of revenue from the different geographical regions, but expect global markets specializing in consumer and automotive applications to grow at a faster pace than some of the more traditional markets for FPGAs like communications

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