SimplifyDA: Time for a New Autorouter Paradigm?


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At DesignCon, I spoke with SimplifyDA CEO Zen Liao and Director of Sales and Marketing Dale Hanzelka. SimplifyDA is putting a new twist on the old autorouter by utilizing topological technology. I asked them to discuss their approach to autorouting, and how they plan to entice more PCB designers to use routers. Is it time for a paradigm shift in autorouting?

Andy Shaughnessy: It’s good to see you, Dale. I haven’t seen you since you started with SimplifyDA a few years ago. Can you tell us about your job responsibilities? I know you’re an old designer at heart.

Dale Hanzelka: I am an old designer and application engineer. I’ve been in the industry for 23 years now. I worked with another EDA vendor before this and made the move over to working with a more specialized product, and I’m currently in charge of sales and marketing. At DesignCon, we’re demonstrating our autorouter.

Shaughnessy: Zen, can you tell us a little bit about the company? I’ve heard that routers are sort of your sweet spot.

Zen Liao: I started my career as a router developer about 25 years ago. I first joined Cooper & Chyan Technology (CCT) in the early 1990s. I was one of the developers working on the core engine of the autorouter, which was shape-based. Shape-based routing technology has its strengths and weaknesses. Since CCT was acquired by Cadence, I stayed at Cadence for a couple of years, but then I left. But I kept thinking about what we can do for our customers with the design in their head. Back then, I was sadly informed that designers have been using autorouters less and less frequently, and I wanted to know why.

Because current PCBs use an increasing number of BGA components, the original shape-based routing technology is not enough, because if you cross any angle, they don’t route. I was still wondering what we could do about these kinds of designs when I read some papers on topological routing. I thought it was good, but it was only on paper at that time because nobody else was seriously doing it—these were only academic ideas with university research, etc. I started doing something about it and found that it is very effective for certain types of designs.

Also, topological routing typically is for very narrow areas of routing originally, but I think that it can be expanded to more general PCB routing. I founded Simplify Design Automation for IC packaging designs and PCBs in general. It had some difficulties, but we succeeded in overcoming those difficulties and have become a highly effective autorouting technology. Now, we have the best completion rate when compared to any other competitors.

Shaughnessy: Are you talking about PCB and IC packaging?

Liao: Yes. Our mission is to try to automate the design process, which can be done only manually currently. We have a very clear focus. We don’t try to compete with something that is already automated, such as digital circuit designs. There’s a major market for those big companies.

Shaughnessy: There are a lot of people already in that.

Liao: Exactly. We succeeded in delivering the autorouting solution for PCB and IC packaging designs. The good news is that more and more customers are asking for autorouting technology each year, and we have seen favorable growth for the last two years. Also, we are licensing our technology to some big vendors in the same design tool industry.

Shaughnessy: That’s what I was wondering. Would the big three EDA companies be interested?

Liao: Not the biggest companies yet, but some major ones are our OEM customers. They don’t want to mention it, so we respect that, but people will know eventually.

team-simplify.jpg

Hanzelka: We’re also working within the flat-panel display area as well.

Liao: Correct. We’ve done that by teaming up with some manual design tool companies. The designs require any angle routing and no one else tries to automate it, so it’s a good market for us.

Hanzelka: We are trying to be a solution-based software router rather than an all-in-one company.

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