BAM BLOG: De-mystifying semiconductor IP
Before & After Market (BAM) Blog: Nowadays, it’s called IP. Decades ago, it was just called software. By either name, it is the programming inside a chip that makes the chip unique. Software/IP is also a big factor in product lifecycle management (PLM).
When semiconductor companies were vertically integrated, software or IP was written in-house by software engineers that worked for the chip maker. As outsourcing became more popular and chips more complex, this task was outsourced to third parties. Software engineering is expensive, time-consuming, and software has to be proven – or tested – before a chip can be manufactured. People familiar with the hardware side of the tech business have called IP development “black magic.”
Clearly, IP is an important part in the makeup of a chip. This is why re-manufacturing or re-creating a chip should be done by a company that’s familiar with all aspects of chip-making.
For example, some OEMs require 100 percent software compatibility in any part that is replaced on a printed circuit board. The incompatible parts are flagged for inspection, which can cause possible repair delays. This requirement is more prevalent for companies that build equipment operating in mission-critical applications including aerospace, space, and military. The flagged device can ultimately cause a slowdown in production or even worse – downtime of the mission-critical equipment. Downtime can cost users significant dollars when the equipment isn’t up and running.
Manufacturers of essential equipment can plan for the lifecycle of their products. At the front-end, they can select parts with a record of longevity. During the product’s usage, parts for maintenance, repair, and operation (MRO) should be readily available and compatible. When parts are no longer available through authorized sources, OEMs can turn to continuing manufacturers for a long term source of semiconductor devices that are replicas of the original parts – matching the form, fit and function.
To avoid software incompatibility issues, authorized continuing manufacturers obtain the original software code from the original semiconductor manufacturers. This eliminates the possibility of any software errors in a re-manufactured device. If the IP is not available, some continuing manufacturers are capable develop and painstakingly test the software for a re-manufactured part.