26 Oct 2023 -

ASICs: the key to tackling component obsolescence?

integrated circuit

When manufacturers receive an obsolescence warning, it’s a red flag that disrupts production. Old chip designs are frequently phased out for newer models, and market dynamics can result in a chip being deemed unprofitable, leading to discontinuation. Manufacturers might opt for a “last time buy” (LTB) to stock up on the soon-to-be-obsolete chips, but there’s always a challenge regarding the exact number required and the associated costs.

Another option is to find a similar chip from other suppliers, but compatibility issues could arise, necessitating additional design adjustments. A repetitive cycle of obsolescence might ensue if this replacement chip also becomes outdated.

However, the silver bullet might be the application-specific IC (ASIC), suggests EPS News. It’s a customised chip tailored specifically for a particular application. An ASIC boasts greater flexibility, enhanced performance, and reduced power usage compared to standard ICs. If a chip is becoming obsolete, skilled ASIC designers can recreate its functions onto an ASIC, possibly on a more advanced silicon process. This solution provides benefits akin to ASIC designs while fulfilling the original IC’s needs.

Time can be a hurdle when adopting ASIC, especially if obsolescence warnings are sudden. Yet, if the chip’s original schematics are on hand, the design phase might be streamlined. A seasoned ASIC design firm will have a wealth of intellectual property (IP) libraries, enabling designers to utilise pre-existing circuit-block IPs. This approach expedites ASIC development and is cost-effective.

In urgent scenarios, a dual strategy could be employed: purchasing an LTB for immediate production needs while concurrently initiating an ASIC project. This two-pronged approach ensures chip availability and offers a long-term solution to obsolescence.

ASICs inherently guard against obsolescence. Two primary components at risk of becoming obsolete are the silicon process and the packaging. An ASIC designer can guide the apt silicon process, considering both performance metrics and product longevity. In the rare event of premature obsolescence, ASIC providers usually have around two years to strategise, including potentially transitioning the design to a new silicon process.

For financial prudence, rather than procuring a costly LTB of packaged chips, an LTB of wafers might be preferred. Wafers are not only more economical but can also be stored for up to three decades in dry nitrogen. This extended storage capability allows the ASIC provider to meet orders over a prolonged period.

A transparent and collaborative decision-making process between the customer and the ASIC provider is pivotal. With expert guidance, manufacturers can ensure a strategic obsolescence plan from the inception of the ASIC design, minimising the risks of supply shortages or sudden, large financial outlays.

In conclusion, while component obsolescence poses challenges, manufacturers aren’t without options. From LTBs to the cutting-edge world of custom IC design, the industry is equipped to adapt and ensure production continuity, now and in future product iterations.

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