UK-based Agile Analog brings automation and optimization into analog IP design

Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: Agile Analog

Agile Analog, an analog IP provider based in Cambridge, UK, is revolutionizing analog IP design by giving designers of ASICs (application-specific ICs) and SoC (system-on-chip) the option to fully optimize their analog IPs. Through its Composa methodology, Agile Analog allows its clients to choose what features and specifications they want on their IP instead of just settling for existing IP products.

In an interview organized through the collaboration between DIGITIMES Asia and the Epoch Foundation, Agile Analog CEO Barry Paterson stated that amid this wave of semiconductor expansion, the company has identified a "greater integration of analog functionality like sensors," into consumer electronic products, which has given more momentum to analog IP design/licensing companies like Agile Analog.

"For all that new fab capacity, you need to have new designs going into them to get the utilization rate up. In parallel with the expansion of capacity in the industry, there needs to be an expansion in design and Innovation." Said Paterson. He also stated that for customers who want to innovate and get to market quickly, they need to start looking at IP licensing as a method for doing so.

Agile Analog was founded in 2017. It currently has a team of around 60 people stationed worldwide, with a vast majority of its employees being engineers. The company has clients across the globe, with an emphasis on regions where the semiconductor sector is strong like North America, Taiwan, China, and Japan.

Agile Analog's primary product is analog IP licensing. It covers a variety of different analog functions, including foundation IP, data conversion (both analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog), security, power management, and sensors. Besides licensing individual IP cores, the company also does sub-systems, where they integrate several IP cores into a solution that can be easily implemented into the customers' SoC designs.

Offering custom, configurable analog IP design

The current IP market consists of mostly standard IP products. However, while standard IP works great in the digital domain, the same cannot be said for analog IP due to the fundamental characteristics of analog systems. The required parameters for analog systems differ from application to application. The behavior of analog circuits also varies significantly from process to process and node to node.

It's all these variables and limitations that resulted in analog IP design not enjoying the same design automation as digital designs. Rather, it's a very manual process that's slow, difficult, and expensive. Hence why until now, analog IP buyers often have to settle for a standard product that is "the least bad" rather than one that's perfectly crafted for its application.

There is where Agile Analog comes in with its revolutionary new approach to try and remove some of those restrictions and offer the ability to integrate analog functionality and capability very quickly. At the center of this new approach is an internal technology named Composa, a "configurable, multi-process analog IP platform," that allows the company to be process-agnostic.

Composa has two major advantages it can offer. For one, it offers a certain level of design automation for analog circuitry due to advancements in design automation, simulation, and AI applications. This is something that has eluded the semiconductor industry for many decades.

The introduction of automation overcomes one of analog IP design's greatest challenges, that it's a time-consuming and expensive manual process. Composa allows Agile Analog to, essentially, "design once and reuse many times." The company can now develop analog solutions and architectures, then simply retarget these designs via Composa into any process and PDK (process development kit) used by the customers.

The other major advantage of Composa is connected to its automation capabilities. No longer bogged down by the slow manual process, Composa can offer a level of flexibility not available elsewhere in the analog IP market. Customers can choose what features and specifications they want on their IP, and Agile Analog can simply generate it by optimizing existing designs through Composa. The automation also means this process is quite fast, as a typical customer can go from final specification to fab-ready in as little as four weeks. In short, rather than asking "what IP product have you got?" Composa allows customers to ask, "What IP do I want?"

Moving analog design automation forward

When asked about the company's next step, Paterson stated that for 2023, the main focus will be to build out an IP portfolio. For the past several years, the company has been working on Composa. Now, with Composa stable and working, the company needs to expand its portfolio so it can offer more products and solutions to customers.

The company is well located too, as according to Paterson, the UK semiconductor sector is particularly strong in the design area as it's a knowledge-based economy. Multiple companies from Taiwan and the US have also made investments into the ecosystem in the UK to further increase their design capability.

In the long term, the company is looking to move analog design automation forward to tackle even more advanced process nodes and increasingly complex analog IP cores including power management. It's also aiming to design for the most advanced process nodes e.g., 5nm and smaller.

Photo: Agile Analog CEO Barry Paterson Credit: Agile Analog

Photo: Agile Analog CEO Barry Paterson.
Credit: Agile Analog