Cadence: 30 Years of Innovation Driving the Semiconductor Industry

Every year new consumer electronic products are introduced to the market. The driving force behind them is advanced semiconductor technology that can make product design more powerful and longer lasting. Founded in 1988, Cadence is the only electronic design automation (EDA) company that offers seamless design flow solutions for integrated circuits (ICs), packages and circuit boards covered by system design. The company has continued to drive semiconductor innovation for more than 30 years.

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Cadence employs more than 7,200 people globally. The company chiefly provides software tools and intellectual property (IP) for designing ICs, systems on a chip (SoC) and printed circuit boards (PCBs), covering analog, digital, mixed-signal design, verification, packaging, PCB design and other areas.

Before the merger of ECAD and SDA to form Cadence in 1988, ECAD had already begun to serve the Taiwan market. In the more than three decades since then, Cadence has developed a broad customer base in Taiwan and has established very close collaboration with partners such as TSMC and Arm.

According to Cadence Taiwan General Manager Brian Sung, mobile phones continues to be the sector with the highest demand for semiconductors. With increasing demands for high performance computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and in-vehicle systems, he notes that more and more companies are now focusing on the concept of “heterogeneous integration.” This approach involves the use of new software and tools to integrate different wafers through packaging or other technologies. The process is similar to constructing a building, and requires refined construction methods and design.

With the rise of new ideas that challenge the limits of technology, such as heterogeneous integration and “More than Moore,” Brian finds that while consumer electronics product cycles are unchanged, more complex and efficient chip designs are needed – which requires improving performance and productivity to deal with more difficult problems.

Cadence makes investments in R&D from 40% of its total revenue every year. By using machine learning, analysis and optimization techniques, it has taken a leading position in the industry in the development of electronic design processes, and in the future will utilize machine learning to optimize chip design.

Recently, Cadence was selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to support the Intelligent Design of Electronic Assets (IDEA) program with a US$24.1 million fund. The Cadence-led team includes Carnegie Mellon University and NVIDIA. This is one of six new programs within DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) to use advanced machine learning techniques to develop a unified platform for a fully integrated, intelligent design flow for systems on a chip, systems in a package, and printed circuit boards.

As a result of its favorable view of Taiwan’s talent and geographical advantages, Cadence has been gradually expanding its R&D team in Taiwan in recent years. The company’s R&D manpower in Taiwan has increased by more than 110% over the past four years. It is worth mentioning that the Conformal design team has gradually increased, and the core technology of R&D has also begun to be led by the Taiwan team.

Brian notes that Taiwan’s large-scale OEM electronics factories and IC design houses have rich experience in manufacturing. During the process of collaboration with them, he has come to appreciate the importance of cultivating talent and fostering the commitment of the Taiwan team as a basis for establishing trust and goodwill.

As IC design and semiconductors are already highly capital-intensive industries, the threshold for newcomers to join has increased dramatically. Moreover, the number of transistors on a chip has been increasing, boosting the complexity of the process and raising the importance of doing a good job from front-end design so as not to risk chip failure. For example, Cadence’s partnership with TSMC entails close collaboration between experts from both sides to bring about good results.

Looking ahead at the future of semiconductor development, Brian expresses optimism about two important trends. The first is 5G, which he says will change the basic needs of human communication. The faster communication speed will not only make it more convenient to navigate by mobile phone, but will also raise demand for audio and video services.

The second area is automotive electronics. Brian says that this sector is still a relatively closed market in Taiwan. Despite leading the world in manufacturing, the country still needs to cooperate with large U.S. or international companies to jointly develop standards for the Internet of Things. Shenzhen, for example, has become a good IoT industry base. In the IoT era, Taiwan may need to form a subtle relationship of cooperation and competition with other markets.

Starting in 2015, Cadence has been recognized as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Fortune magazine for four consecutive years, thanks to all the employees who are committed to helping create great products that can change human life, and to promote a high-performance culture within the company. Those are the practices and values that everyone from basic employees to leaders at all levels must take to heart.

Cadence Taiwan General Manager Brian Sung

Brian says that an atmosphere of mutual trust is necessary for talent to achieve a high level of creativity. If the team’s leaders make an effort to create that trust, it will be easier to promote a “people-oriented” culture when the semiconductor industry goes through one of its periods of revolutionary change.

Forming a company culture is like playing on a basketball team, Brian says, noting that chemistry and mutual trust are essential. In his first six months with the company, he has devoted the most time to this area, and he has taken the initiative to seek advice from his teams, lower his posture, and avoid any misunderstandings. The teams have therefore been very willing to help out, enabling mutual trust to gradually develop.

“When people teach others, they also grow,” says Brian. The key is to require all colleagues to work together to overcome challenges. Brian encourages teams to think like their customers and to first understand other people’s ideas before putting forward their own ideas on how to solve problems.