PARTICIPATION OF ASICENTRUM LTD. IN COPERNICUS PROJECTS

Antonin PLESTIL

e-mail: asic-prg@login.cz

ASICentrum Ltd., Novodvorska 994, 142 21 Prague 4, Czech Republic

ASICentrum at the exhibition during the 1st BENEFIT workshop (photo)

Abstract. The situation in microelecronic industry before and after the year 1989 in the Czech Republic has changed dramatically. From our point of view the internationally based and funded projects helped a lot in the process of these changes. Some aspects in organizing such international projects are discussed namely how to prepare a project proposal that has the chance to be selected. COPERNICUS projects with participation of ASICentrum are briefly introduced. Contributions of COPERNICUS projects for the EEC participant are in transfer of know-how, upgrading of HW and SW and last but not least creating new links to universities, institutes and industry in other European countries.

1. MICROELECTRONICS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

There was little contact to the outer world before the year 1989. The main customer for microelectronic design centres was the state and the main design method was so called „reverse engineering". They were three important centres in microelectronic industry in the former Czechoslovakia:

Lot has changed since the time.

  1. Borders were opened for both the electronic products and for the know-how. The first reasoned in collapse of three quarters of electronic industry in the country and made the reverse engineering method superfluous. The second made such internationally based programmes as COPERNICUS, COST, TEMPUS and other possible.
  2. The privatization of industry started. This, also, has influenced the microelectronics in a negative way. In the atmosphere of changing the owner and uncertainty it was not an ideal climate for starting innovations of higher order. Only such innovations bring the need of design of a new integrated circuit.
  3. What more - the new state executive stopped any form of support of research institutes, so that TESLA VUST collapsed. From the most important divisions of this institute private companies were born - among others ASICentrum.
  4. Some international companies entered in Czech electronic industry such as Siemens or Motorola. They all are potential customers for Czech microelectronic industry. Motorola has a special position given by creating its own microelectronic design centre in Roznov and rescuing the essential part of bipolar plant TESLA Roznov which is now known under the name TESLA Sezam.

This were changes on more or less macroeconomic level. Also on the level of a small company as ASICentrum a different situation is more than visible:

  1. While before we have used SW and HW either home-made or without any support, now we can have any modern tool with full support of the producer. The only limit are finances.
  2. Before 1989 we need not bother about our customers. Because of our monopoly there was enough of them. Not now. We must fight for every single contract which is new for us. We had to learn marketing and many other skills. Competition, in central planned economy unknown phenomena, today exists.
  3. The style of design has changed. We in ASICentrum have stopped all reverse engineering projects and fully concentrated on design of application specific integrated circuits (ASICs). It was our luck we have started with ASIC design as early as in 1986 creating our own gate array family and standard cell library.
  4. Emerging of many new small companies and projects brought the need of prototyping new products. The use of programmable devices is ideal in these cases.
  5. After the borders have opened, we could start international contacts in many different forms. Discussions, subcontracts, co-operations, joint projects etc. we had in the fields of design, testing, assembly and providing the EDA SW. We gained also customers from abroad.

An important part concerning the last point played COPERNICUS projects in our case.


2. HOW TO WRITE A PROJECT PROPOSAL

Here we would like to summarize some experience from our point of view that may help in organizing international projects in the future.

Ninety percent of the success is to find and to be integrated into the right team. It is necessary to have good personal contacts at the universities and institutes both home and abroad. Crucial point is the co-ordinator of the project and his previous experience with organizing similar projects. On one hand he must have very good name and authority in the field, on the other hand it is better, when he is not in a leading position of a bigger firm or institution so that he has time enough to do the hard co-ordinating job.

The second main condition to have the chance for the success is to respect all criteria announced in the moment of „call for the project proposals". I had a chance to work in the evaluating team for INCO-COPERNICUS '96 Programme in Brussels and I can estimate some 50 % of project proposals were rejected due to lack of conformity with the scope and objectives of the call for proposals, in other words violating some essential criteria.

Of course the project proposal must bring high benefits and must be of excellent technical quality. The work should be splitted into workpackages saying who will do what. Time planing and financial planing should be also included.

Last remark concerns the expectations. In all cases the sum of financial means necessary to cover all the project proposals that have arrived exceeds several times the financial means available. Hence it is very normal that even promising project can be rejected. From the applicant's point it is necessary to take it as a stochastic process or, if you will, as a gamble. If you are involved in three project proposals and none of them is successful, than it is a bad luck; on the other hand the expectations to have success in two proposals out of three are unrealistic..


3. ASICENTRUM AND COPERNICUS PROJECTS

ASICentrum is a small private company Ltd. It is an open design house co-operating with more foundries. All types of ASICs are being designed: both gate arrays, standard cells, full custom and programmable devices. Company has many contacts with universities, above all with Czech Technical University in Prague. It was also an Liaison Office of ChipShop for the Czech Republic.

ASICentrum was/is involved in three COPERNICUS projects:

First two projects ended in 1996, the third one will last until 1998. All of them contributed to upgrading of ASICentrum capabilities and to know-how of ASICentrum stuff. Most important during the work on the project is the communication among project partners. It is of greatest advantage if all the partners have the e-mail address. This makes the life much easier.


4. SUMMARY

They are multiple contributions of COPERNICUS projects for the EEC participants. Quality of technical and scientific work is positively affected by transfer of know-how. This would not be possible without upgrading of HW and SW. Last but not least the joint projects support existing and create new links to universities, institutes and industrial partners in other European countries. COPERNICUS and similar projects supported by EC helped to save lot of R&D potential in EEC. This support is a big investment in the future.


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