Big 3 Executive Interview - Walden C. Rhines, CEO, Mentor Graphics

In this "Big 3 Executive Interview," Walden Rhines, CEO of Mentor Graphics, foresees a world in which EDA innovations are based on more than lithographic shrinks.

3Walden C. Rhines is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Mentor Graphics, a leader in worldwide electronic design automation. Prior to joining Mentor Graphics, Rhines was Executive Vice President of Texas Instruments’ Semiconductor Group. Rhines served as Chairman of the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDAC) for five two-year terms, and currently serves as its co-chair. He is also a board member of the Semiconductor Research Corporation and has previously served as Chairman of the Semiconductor Technical Advisory Committee of the Department of Commerce, as well as a board member of SEMATECH, SEMI-Sematech, and the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (CBEMA).

Universities continue to play a key role. I serve on the board of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) to assist in university research funding.  EDA is a fruitful area for university research because the capital investment is low and the opportunity for revolutionary innovation is high. As subtle issues of device physics and materials science become more important at sub-20 nm, universities will be at the center of much of the innovation. Promising university work is being done in DFT, new device structures, characterization of physical phenomena like electromigration, multicore algorithmic enhancements, and the like.

For the longer term, university research is key to helping define the transition from standard CMOS-Moore dominated technology to “more than Moore” (how to pack more functionality with standard process technology, 3D integration, Si photonics, and lower power), as well as searching for a “new switch.”

EDA| Cadence, Mentor, and Synopsys, the three largest EDA companies, were all founded nearly 25 or more years ago. What do you think has been EDA’s biggest innovation in that time?

Standardization of design methodology. By bringing us from a set of customized approaches to design by numerous IDMs to standard design methodologies with handoff points based upon those standards, thousands of EDA companies are able to provide innovative elements that easily integrate into design flows.

One could argue that the EDA industry has taken the art of electronic design (as it was at the dawn of the EDA industry in 1981) into an age of electronic design based on the scientific method of Descartes. Modern electronic design of integrated circuits breaks down the design steps by leveraging handoff points based upon standards so best-of-breed tools can be used by specialized talent throughout. Not only has this enabled a design tool infrastructure to develop, but it has, in fact, contributed to the radical restructuring of the semiconductor industry itself by supporting the development of business models and specialties such as the fabless/foundry or even the “chipless” model led by companies like ARM. The industry has innovated design technologies that have helped facilitate the evolution of many electronic engineering specialties/disciplines, tools, and methodologies. All of this has been fully enabled by innovative technologies not even envisioned during the IDM-based world of 1981.

EDA| How does Mentor Graphics continue to foster innovation?

Mentor Graphics fosters innovation in four ways:

  1. Encourage design software tool developers to interact directly with designers to understand new challenges
  2. Work on solving emerging design challenges before they become design problems
  3. Solve problems that no one else is addressing
  4. Keep technologists on the leading edge of their domains (by interacting with advanced customers and advanced researchers) from the system level through physical implementation to manufacturing and yield, while simultaneously doing so in the software engineering practice from project management (for example, Agile development) through parallel computing to advanced language implementation

EDA| We are hearing more about 3D ICs in the last few years. Do you think that true, stacked die, 3D ICs will require a change in design paradigm to create growth for EDA, or will most of the needs be fulfilled by existing 2D design tools?

Existing 2D design tools have already been extended to handle 3D IC design, for example Mentor Graphics’ Calibre 3D, Tessent Design-For-Test (DFT), Expedition package/interposer design, and so on. Longer term there will be specialization. As technology evolves, there will be opportunities for new tools to address new die configurations.

EDA| What is the biggest challenge facing the EDA industry today?

Fewer companies can afford the cost of big digital designs. Because fewer companies are able to afford the cost of big-digital designs, many companies are looking for and finding other ways of providing highly differentiated, leading-edge products to the market outside of being the first to manufacture products at the leading node. Many are turning to offering innovative hardware products with sophisticated, highly customized and fully integrated software stacks. Others are finding differentiation via a mix of technologies integrated on the same die or stacked in state-of-the-art 3D Through-Silicon Vias (TSV) designs. The days of simply offering tools that help companies innovate along one axis (as in lithographic size reduction) are fading. EDA companies of the future will have to offer solutions that address complexity in more ways than just lithographic shrinks.

Mentor Graphics | www.mentor.com

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