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  • Circuit Design Support - How ICs are constructed

    Published On: 01/20/15

     Designing a circuit is a very complex process. It requires years of knowledge and experience to understand how each component in a circuit performs and collaborate with every other component. Therefore, most of the companies who need to design circuits hire the services of third party engineering firms who provide circuit design support.  There are various types of circuit, namely analog circuit, digital circuit, PCB circuits and more. To understand how these circuits are designed and which process is followed, let’s focus on digital integrated circuits (ICs) design. Let’s have a brief on each stage of designing:

    ·         System Design: At this stage, the engineer evaluates the specifications and main operations of the chip. The process includes examining certain parameters such as chip area, functionality, power, cost, speed and other design factors. The process technology on which the IC would be finally fabricated must be clearly understood prior to the system design process. This is important because the resources could act as a constraint on the development. At this level, the designer illustrates the main sections of the system with block diagrams, which include input and output characteristics. As of now, there are no details on the contents of the blocks.


    ·         Logic Design: At this stage, the designer implements the digital logics with a combination of binary digits (0 and 1) also called logic gates to produce input and output operations. It defines the operation of each functional block with its relationship with other functional block.


    ·         Circuit Design: This is a process of translating various digital logics into electronic circuitries using transistors. This is a stage between logic design and the physical design. A transistor regulates voltage or current flow and acts as a gate or switch for digital signals. The combinations of transistors are used to realize different logic functions. The design is tested using advanced CAD tools and comparisons are made between the actual results and the chip specifications. This validation procedure gives the designer an idea of power dissipation, speed, and performance of the final chip.


    ·         Layout Design: Layout design is the representation of an IC in terms of planar geometric shapes that must correspond to the patterns and spacing of other transistors and semiconductor layers that make up the components of the IC.  This is usually done with the help of CAD tools. The violation of these rules can result into the malfunctioning of chips after fabrication. In addition to that, the designer must ensure that the layout design is free from errors and precisely represents the circuit design.


    ·         Fabrication: The fabrication process involves many stages of oxidation, photolithography, etching, etc. The process translates the layout into silicon or any other semiconductor material that is used. It is bonded with pins for external connections to circuit boards.


    ·         Testing: Testing is the final stage of chip development. To verify the functionality of chip with respect to the specifications, electronic equipment like logic analyzers, oscilloscopes and pattern generators are used along with other advanced test equipments.


    From these stages, it would be clear how tedious this process is. For companies, it’s not economically feasible to do it in-house. Therefore, it’s more preferable to outsource these services to companies who have years of expertise in circuit design support.

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