Mandate Case Study
How does a collaborative product development firm keep its customers happy and move up the value-chain of IC design in India?
As India moves up in the world of IC design, Mandate Chips and Circuits is well situated. It is riding the crest of two waves at once—power management and higher–value analog design—with IP and products that incorporate both trends.
In Indian universities, where many students get their first look at the world of analog design, Tanner EDA tools are popular. Once in the workplace, however, most of these students have started careers in digital design, which has fueled much of the country’s growth in semiconductors. Now, as more OEMs and their suppliers in Asia and North America look to India for advanced IP, market demand is favoring analog and mixed-signal and the skill set among engineers is evolving to analog design.
In a textbook example of skating not to where the puck is, but where it will be, the Indian government is preparing for the coming wave of work by nurturing analog design capabilities in educational institutions. The result will be a broader skill base and many more companies moving up the value-chain into analog circuit design work.
Helping Customers Succeed
"Mandate" is an acronym for "mixed, analog, digital and advanced technology." Mandate’s brand of collaborative product development means that, regardles s of the technology, it can take a design from any point in the roadmap all the way up to mass production.
N. Ramakrishnan (“Ramki”) is the founder and CEO of Mandate. For him, technology is one of the tools he can use to help his customers succeed.
"Our customers are mostly Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to OEMs who manufacture mobile phones, consumer electronics, notebook computers, portable medical devices and automotive applications," explains Ramki. "We work at 40nm, 65nm and .65 micron, based on our customers’ requirements."
When the suppliers to OEMs need additional design talent or capacity, especially in power management, they rely on Mandate to fill that talent and resource gap quickly. They also look to Mandate for innovative, cost-effective engineering. Over time, the company has built long-term relationships with Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and other countries.
“The role we play in our customers’ success has a lot to do with our evolution from digital into analog design, where we really begin to add value in power management technology. L-Edit and Tanner tools are an essential part of that.”
"It’s not enough to satisfy your customers," Ramki continues, "because when all you’re dealing with is satisfaction, the bar never gets raised. But when you start focusing on helping your customers achieve success, that success snowballs and everybody does bigger and better things."
Three Criteria for Tools
Mandate came to use Tanner tools for three reasons: customer preference, cost savings and maintenance.
Several of Mandate’s customers were already using Tanner tools successfully, so Mandate accommodated that preference. “If we developed in one toolset and our customers use another,” notes Vikas Kumar, Mandate’s Manager of Customer Success, “we would impose additional effort on them to reconcile and convert among formats when we moved design files back and forth, so we focus not only on our customers’ requirements, but also on their tools. We’re known for our ability to work across different toolsets, and it’s a selling point that weighs heavily in our favor.
“Consider that we can take designs all the way through to mass production. With so many different customers, we have to work with multiple fabs and their requirements as well. We never have problems in interfacing or porting designs on different tool suites with Tanner. We can depend on taping out and getting working silicon.”
Kumar also cites cost savings in using Tanner. Other vendors and EDA tool suites are suited to large designs, but because Mandate deals in small designs (500-2,000 transistors), complex circuit analysis and customers’ circuit specifications, they prefer Tanner tools. The standards in power management have been evolving slowly with a mixture of circuit size and MOSFET technology. The choice to go green and save power is easy, but getting the technology to work cost-effectively is another issue.
Maintenance and vendor reliability are also important to Mandate, whose engineers use L-Edit for much of their analog design work. They have an annual maintenance agreement and are pleased by the level of interaction between their team and Tanner.
L-Edit and Face-to-face Delivery
Mandate’s most demanding use of L-Edit occurs during verification, when the layout tool needs to work smoothly with DRC and LVS tools from other EDA suites.
“L-Edit is written so well that it helps our engineers go to the root of a problem and fix it without much difficulty. That’s how we can get to clean layouts and LVS efficiently. If a chip reveals 60,000 errors, the designer knows it’s impossible to repair them all, so there must have been a big problem during layout, but our chips typically have under a dozen LVS and DRC errors, which are easy to fix. The interface between L-Edit and Dracula is smooth: we export to GDSII, then back-annotate. Once we have the coordinates, we can identify and fix the errors directly in L-Edit, without the need for an intermediate database.”
As a measure of their customer-centric philosophy, Mandate delivers most of its designs face to face. “For full chip tape-out, we personally deliver the product on physical media. This detailed, five-day design review at the customer’s site is another of our selling points. We overcome any language or cultural barriers by explaining everything right there and ensuring that we’ve answered all of the customer’s questions and requirements. Naturally, we take L-Edit with us.”
“In analog design for green technology, the important goals are low standby current and high power efficiency. It’s a different game with different rules, and we can lay out these small yet complex designs comfortably in Tanner.”