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It's 2016 during the Formula 1 (F1) Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit. You've dominated the entire racing weekend and currently hold a 20-second lead over the driver in second place. This race is yours if you can get the car to the finish line. You get on the radio to your racing engineer to ask him what else you can turn down on the vehicle to ensure maximum reliability.
For context, it's been a troubling season for you because you have had multiple retirements because of your power unit failing. As a matter of fact, you had to start from the back in one race because you took multiple replacement power units, triggering a grid place penalty associated with those changes. This race weekend has been one of the most perfectly driven in recent history. You could not reasonably be asked to drive any better.
As you cruise through the middle part of the race, something horrible happens. A puff of smoke starts to appear behind your car as you roll down the back straight. Unfortunately, it gets worse! That puff of smoke slowly turns into more smoke, and eventually, a massive fire spews out of the back of your car as you race down front straight. You scream out "oh nooo" over the radio, but your team can only watch helplessly as your car starts to become engulfed in flames. They get on the radio to tell you to pull off the road and retire the car to save the internal combustion engine for future races.
After the safety marshals put out the fire, you bang your head on the steering wheel before getting out of your car as a defeated man. A situation just like this was devastating for Lewis Hamilton because it effectively meant he could not win the 2016 season. He finished only a few points behind his rival because of this race. During this season, Mercedes failed Lewis Hamilton with its density and compact design optimization efforts. However, these were the early days of hybrid power units in Formula 1 (F1), and there had to be growing pains. Unfortunately for Lewis Hamilton, many of those problems appeared only in his car.
The switch to a hybrid power unit in 2014 made density and compact design optimization crucial for teams. It once again made Formula 1 teams focus on reliability. The cars needed so many hot things to be packaged together that it was inevitable that there would be many failures along the way. The hybrid system has an 800v electrical system right next to a hot internal combustion engine that makes more than 800 hp. It is one of the most complicated hybrid drive systems in auto racing. If even a small bit of wire gets loose, you might have a massive explosion. It is even more critical because one race retirement can ruin your entire season as it did for Lewis Hamilton. In racing, your performance does not matter if you cannot finish the race.
Packaging is becoming a crucial piece of the puzzle to extract more performance as devices and machines become more complicated. In certain situations, you are restricted in the area you can occupy. In Formula 1, you only have a limited space to put everything required by the regulations. The same is true for a lot of other devices. Your smartphone also has limited space to fit everything, making packaging more crucial to extract more performance than the competition can provide. The big issue is that we are running into fundamental physical and chemical limits in power and size. The breakthroughs will have to come from optimizing performance per area in whatever we are building.
Formula 1's main issue with packaging techniques is their effect on reliability. Since everything is packaged inside, you usually do not have a performance penalty when you don't pack things well together. However, how you package the components decides whether the car makes it to the checkered flag. A hot engine next to a high-voltage battery line is a recipe for disaster. When any failure happens, that system typically goes up in flames. The same is true for tight packaging that causes some wires to get disconnected, leading to a system in the car malfunctioning. In modern F1 cars, this deficiency in density and compact design optimization usually leads to a failure in the steering wheel or the ERS malfunctioning.
Moore's law has traditionally been the guiding light in the semiconductor field. Unfortunately, like in F1, companies are starting to discover natural limits in how small they can shrink semiconductor devices. They are finding that they must compensate for those deficiencies with density and compact design optimization. The way you package your semiconductor devices is now an essential piece of the puzzle. In the CPU space, AMD was able to storm into a healthy lead against Intel by hitting on optimized packaging with its Chiplet architecture. It is now replicating those achievements In the GPU space against Nvidia. However, time will tell what they can accomplish with vertical stacking and other packaging innovations. You can only shrink transistors so much until we reach physical limits and have to start stacking them vertically. Companies must now figure out more intricate ways of packaging transistors while maintaining reliability.
F1 isn't the only place where this packaging matters. Density and compact design optimization are only growing in importance because of the constraints device designers have to deal with. Companies understand the need to create even more exotic ways of packaging semiconductor devices to stay competitive. The best devices are the ones that can offer the most performance in a limited area. When power usage is limited, the best companies are the ones that can extract the most performance out of that limited power. That power extraction depends on how optimized the packaging is for a design.
Cadence understands density and compact design optimization's importance to the modern semiconductor space. That is why there are multiple offerings in density and compact design optimization to help companies package their circuits as efficiently and accurately as possible. The major benefit of these tools is that they automate a significant portion of the process without sacrificing accuracy.
Check out what Cadence has to offer in the IC packaging space today!