Mea culpa. I may have jumped to conclusions in yesterday’s post. Although it appears to those developing 3D IC integration processes that the design community hasn’t been heeding the call for the much needed design tools, after talking with Lisa McIlrath of R3 Logic, I realized there’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, the message has been heard, but these things are more convoluted than we think. In fact, it’s a bit of a cart-before-the-horse situation. How can design tools be developed until the process technologies, characterization, and paramaters have been determined, and prototypes tested? For that matter, each customer is likely to establish its own design rules.

Consider that 3D IC integration is still a very new field, and that everyone is very much in what McIlrath called “pathfinding mode”; exploring different designs before having the parameters figured out. She said that there’s lots of advance work being done to discover different customer needs. Design tools needed now for CMOS image sensors and soon for stacked memory may not necessarily turn out to be the same ones needed down the road for heterogeneous integration. Unfortunately, it’s still not clear what the winning applications will be.

For large companies, there’s not much incentive to invest in development until the picture is clearer and the market is big enough. However the buzz is that Cadence has been some internal development, and and Synopsis and Mentor are sending some of their people to Friday’s 3D Integration Workshop at DATE 2009, in Nice, France. Clearly, the interest is growing.

McIlrath said that although it might be risky and difficult for small companies to set a course on a tool that may not be adopted, it’s also easier for them to be agile as the market shifts and changes. For example, R3 Logic discovered a need by the research community for a layout editor, so they partnered with MicroMagic to develop one. (Tezzaron Semiconductors, pioneers in manufacturing stacked memory with TSVs uses the tool, and has endorsed it.) This week at DATE 2009, McIlrath says R3 Logic will be showcasing a 3D floorplanning tool scheduled for install this summer. Additionally, last month, the company announced a collaboration with ST-Microelectronics and CEA-LETI to develop a full 3D design flow.

McIlrath says that although it’s regrettable that there aren’t more tools out there and available, she doesn’t agree that the lack of design solutions, or test for that matter, is a blocking factor in TSV adoption. “3D integration is going to go ahead with or without any particular player,” she said. “The design tools are coming. Our goal is to find the most appropriate tools to suit the needs of the users.” – F.v.T

Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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