Black Pepper is one of those go-to spices that can bring out exciting new flavors in any recipe. So, imagine how I felt when I heard Black Pepper Technologies was joining Arm as the tenth Arm Approved Design Partner.
First my mind leapt to cooking references, and how a great chef would balance perfectly any added spice so the quality of their food was just so. That, in a nutshell, is a lot like what a new chip design partner in India means for Arm’s global, collaborative chip design partner recipe.
So, the real impact: adding a tenth Arm Approved design services partner significantly enhances the ability of manufacturers and chip designers to bring Arm-based custom silicon to market. That is particularly true on Black Pepper’s doorstep in India, where the government has predicted the semiconductor component market will be worth more than $30 billion by 2025. Beyond that, Black Pepper also operates across APAC, including China.
And beyond that, it means our partner ecosystem now has an even greater spread of approved independent design houses to offer design solutions to companies looking to build application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC or custom chip) on Arm.
Chip implementation can be easily outsourced to one of many design-service companies (see the case study below). These companies provide services across the custom SoC design process, allowing a company to outsource any part of a project - including chip manufacturing and supply.
S3 Semiconductor has been an Arm Approved Design Partner since 2016. It recently developed a custom chip solution for a company in the oil and gas industry that was creating complex valve controllers that sensed pressure and temperature. S3’s customer’s existing solution was based on a PCB containing a large variety of off-the-shelf digital and analogue parts.
For their next-generation product, S3’s customer decided to replace the many off-the-shelf parts with one integrated solution. The key drivers were to reduce costs, improve reliability, and simplify the inventory and supply management - since some of the vendors were planning to discontinue the components used in the current solution. In addition, they planned to add connectivity, to remotely manage valves deployed in the field.
Like most OEMs, they had no in-house silicon design expertise. Therefore, they decided to entirely outsource the project to S3.
S3 built them a low-power chip based on a cost-effective process node, 180nm, integrating digital-to-analogue and analogue-to-digital converters (DAC and ADC), and many communication interfaces, such as I2C, UART, SPI – all in a low-power design consuming 160uW/MHz. The results were huge improvements in cost, power, and area:
The solution simplified considerably the inventory and supply management. It led to fewer vendors to deal with, fewer parts to stock and manage which collectively greatly reduced production risks.
As the S3 case study illustrates, an expert and independent design services company can bring major benefits as design services is all they think about. For a start-up, this sort of expertise can prove the difference between success and failure.
For that reason, it’s great to see the number of Arm Approved Design Services providers rise against the consolidation trend (Adesto announces acquisition of S3 semiconductors, May 9, 2018). Alongside Arm DesignStart offering free IP and tools for prototyping, this program is our way of helping to support a solid and long-term partner ecosystem of independent chip designers.
Indeed, Arm chose to not to build its own SoC design services team for precisely that reason – a healthy industry requires a healthy ecosystem. Instead we favor competition; enabling companies to license an Arm processor, and other IP including security, and go to the market to get a chip designed. We believe this addresses the need for a stable architectural base as a tool for scale but also enables maximum potential innovation, as well as cost and time to market advantages.
With ten approved chip design partners and more on the way, we believe this is a robust model for the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular, as cost and time to market pressures keep increasing. It is also a robust model built on principles of being open and collaborative.