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To give you some context for his historical viewpoint,
Fabrizio Sacchi's first design was a 70-transistor preamp for a television
remote control. He worked on that at a time when Bettino Craxi became Italy's
prime minister and Ronald Reagan was in his first term as U.S. president.
Today, Sacchi supports a division within ST Microelectronics developing products for some of the main telecommunication equipment
"So you can imagine the complexity of these types of
devices," he chuckles when he compares today's projects to his 30-year-old
Because of his experience and his history with a global
semiconductor giant like ST, Sacchi (pictured, right) is a perfect engineer to talk to for
perspective, as we continue our series on electronics design innovation as part
of Cadence's 25th anniversary.
Looking back, Sacchi sees two enormous engineering
achievements that also served as design influences: mobile computing and the
Internet. A third potential driver-green energy-has not lived up to what he thought
its promise would be.
For the first two, Sacchi said it's hard to pick the more
influential technological achievement.
"They impacted all the people in advanced societies and to a
lesser degree populations in less-advanced societies," he said of the Internet
and mobile communications. And the technologies very quickly revolutionized
countless aspects of culture.
years ago I read that the farmers in Indian villages were obliged to sell rice
at prices imposed by the dealers because they couldn't communicate with each
other and negotiate the price. With the first low-cost cell phones, the farmers
were able to break this dealer monopoly by communicating with each other."
It has been in the area of green technology where the
promise has fallen short over the years, Sacchi believes (although he still
holds out hope that it will take firm root soon).
speaking, I was more optimistic on green technology. All this is related to
ecology and energy sources, reduction in pollution and so on. In this field,
the world has to do better."
He remains optimistic, however, because it's all about cost.
Right now the cost of fossil fuel sources remains relatively low, but once, for
instance, petroleum prices rise sharply, then a tipping point should occur,
Sacchi looks back on a career and an electronics-industry
evolution that's marked by increasingly productive engineering teams that
tackled thornier problems, while EDA vendors kept pace with new products and
At the time of his 70-transistor preamp, Sacchi worked among
small, focused analog design teams. But over time, Moore's Law and innovation
saw teams growing and adding system know-how to their designs, "to put it into
a more complex system to understand what's around our product. So we added
verification experts to the team and then software engineers."
"It was and is a never-ending story to add complexity to our
environment," Sacchi added.
Today, for example, a few meters from his office at ST
Microelectronics sits an optics expert. This symbolizes ST's "More than Moore" strategy,
in which sensors, optics, and other non-traditional semiconductor features are
combined along the march into the next great system-design frontier.
Amid the evolution, Sacchi tips his hat toward EDA vendors
for a singular innovation that's propelled engineering teams to new levels of
productivity: mixed-signal verification. He calls this the biggest improvement
in the field of verification.
Today mixed signal is analog plus digital plus some
behavioral description of electronic components, but it's not enough.
"We will never finish," he said.
But design challenges remain, particularly as engineering
teams using contemporary tools are confronting tomorrow's problems right now
and wishing they had tomorrow's tools.
"Every time we are writing something new, it's not
necessarily in the mind of the EDA vendor," he said. "Now we're developing
something with electronics and optics and there is no solution for codesign."
He believes EDA needs to begin to deliver solutions outside
the traditional electronic-design automation world and deliver them soon.
He pointed to thermal issues in design. There are some point
solutions but they're early in their development and not integrated into broader
platforms and methodological flows. In some cases, he said, ST Microelectronics
engineers build a solution themselves and use an Excel spreadsheet for analysis
There's a similar challenge for mechanical issues: something
starts to be available, for example for 3D-IC design, but isn't usable in
production by the design teams, Sacchi said.
For many semiconductor vendors, these topics may not be a
priority, but for a company like ST Microelectronics-which is differentiating itself
with "More than Moore" solutions-it's vital.
He sees other challenges for semiconductor vendors in
general, almost midway through the second decade of the 21st
He describes today's environment as a "digital business, in
the sense that if you have the right products, you are in; if not, you are out."
Asserting "there is no middle ground," Sacchi added: "You
have to have the right vision, otherwise you're dead."
Cost is king
A second industry challenge is and will always be cost.
Silicon vendors (fewer of them today) can shoulder the burden of owning their
own fabs, but even fabless companies have to negotiate pricing with foundries.
Contracts and costs ebb and flow with changes in supply and demand over time.
Third, partnerships are increasingly crucial to success,
"You have to do the right choices with your partners. You
can't do everything," Sacchi said, adding that the right customers also are key
So what does this longtime industry veteran see as the most
important future trends in electronics design?
don't see one single technology that will have a disruptive impact. I see a
continuous penetration of electronics into all aspects of our lives. Mechanics,
MEMs we are developing at ST, 3D printers and also data communication and
transfer. Don't forget medicine and, hopefully, green technology. There is
convergence of electronics in a lot of things."
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