BENEFIT Panel on
Systems Engineering in CEE countries
EMSYS'96, Berlin, 23-25 Sept. 1996

Electronic System Design in Poland - an Overview

Wojciech Sakowski

Institute of Electronics, Silesian Technical University,
ul. Akademicka 16, PL-44-100 Gliwice, Poland
tel. +48 33 371643, 371747, fax +48 33 372225,

1. Polish microelectronic and electronic industry in the past

Polish microelectronic industry was developed in seventies. A scientific and industrial semiconductor center called UNITRA CEMI was established in Warsaw. The manufacturing facilities for integrated circuits, both analog and digital, bipolar and MOS technology had been created there. TTL series of SSI/MSI integrated circuits as well as MOS memories and calculator chips were fabricated there in the second half of that decade. CMOS technology became available too.

In 1980 or so a clone of i8080 was designed and brought to production. From my personal contacts with people from the Institute of Electron Technology (which was then a part of this semiconductor center) I know that 8086 microprocessor and 8051 microcontroller were reverse engineered in the beginning of 80'. Both were redesigned (8086 in CMOS) to meet local processing requirements, but the production yield was so low that these chips never entered the mass production. In the second half of eighties this technology gap increased due to lack of money for investments and due to COCOM restrictions.

Polish electronic system companies were doing very well in seventies and eighties. Such enterprises like TEMED (medical equipment), MERA-ELZAB (terminals, microcomputers, development systems) or MERASTER (minicomputers) to name only those located in Silesia region used to sell more than 80% of their production to the Soviet market. They were surely among the leading electronic enterprises in Eastern Europe (may be with exception for Soviet space and military industry, that was surely ahead of all others). The consumer electronic industry was also reasonably well developed.

The end of the last decade brought us political freedom, liberalization of foreign trade regulations and blessing of free enterprise. However for Polish electronic industry all that meant a catastrophe. The Soviet market disappeared overnight. This hit industrial electronic manufacturers severely. Import of cheap consumer electronic products from South East Asia raised incredibly. COCOM restrictions were removed, so availability of any kind of electronic components and ICs swept out our microelectronic manufacturers from the market. Polish products turned out to be old-fashioned, Polish enterprises were lacking marketing skills, no state protection was offered to the electronic industry.

2. The present situation in Polish electronic industry

So what is the situation today ? What electronic systems are built in Poland and how they are designed ? I have arranged my remarks on these issues according to the questions sent out to panel participants. It is necessary to say that the situation is not that dramatic as it was three years ago. Some Polish electronic manufacturers went bankrupt, but others were bought out by foreign investors (that were particularly active in telecommunication) or managed to recover on their own. Many small private enterprises were established and they locate themselves smartly on highly specialized niche markets.

Microprocessor Industry

If we agree that microprocessor industry is the one that consist of microprocessor manufacturers we must say that such industry does not exist in Poland any more.

Software Development Industry

Software industry is growing in Poland, but the vast part of original developments are PC-based applications. The applications that dominate are those supporting accounting and managing of the enterprises (particularly small and medium sized companies) and all kind of databases. Educational software is being created too. Most of popular software packages have now local versions (including MS Windows, Microsoft Office as well as AutoCAD and its numerous applications etc.). It is worth saying that Computer Aided Design applications are developed in Poland too. Several Polish software products found already their way to western markets usually those developed in cooperation with western partners. Among them I would like to name the ActiveCAD system for FPGA design from Aldec (Newbury Park, California), which in large part was created in Poland.

Design technology - implementation strategies

In order to gain an idea what system engineering technologies are used in Poland nowadays we have to look at ways the electronic systems are implemented and the tools that are used to implement them. Unfortunately lack of high-tech manufacturing facilities, lack of knowledge on using FPGAs and ASICs or lack of money for advanced CAD software for designing them results in a tendency to minimize original design effort and to construct digital systems from ready-made building blocks.

That is why many industrial applications of electronic systems are based on Programmable Logic Controllers, usually of western origin. Recently two or three Polish enterprises undertook effort to manufacture PLCs, but for the time being their quality is poor.

In many applications of digital technology the personal computers are used as a main computing resource with one or more specific interface card(s) responsible for communicating with object controlled or observed and possibly performing some processing. These cards sometimes contain microprocessors.

Fortunately there are still many applications where using PLC or buying PC makes no sense and in these cases embedded systems are constructed and used. I will discuss this in more detail below. As to logic implementation using of TTL or CMOS ICs still dominates, but programmable logic devices (usually traditional PALs) are being used more and more often. FPGAs from Xilinx and CPLDs from Altera are also known on the Polish market and their use grows. The only Polish provider of simple ASICs based on Lasarray technology could not resist this competition and went bankrupt. The possibilities of having ASICs manufactured through EUROPRACTICE are used for the moment mostly by universities.

Design technology - tools

The tools used for design of electronic systems are PC-based. The software that dominates includes wide choice of cross-assemblers, debuggers and C cross-compilers for development of software for embedded systems, schematic entry tools and PCB design packages of such companies like OrCAD, Protel, PADS, Accell (P-CAD /Tango) and Viewlogic.

PLD design tools from Logical Devices, Data I/O and Minc and form FPGA vendors (Xilinx, Altera, Lattice, AMD) are available but as mentioned above they are still not used very often. Simulation tools are used even rarely (IsSpice, PSpice, Smash).

The participation of Polish Universities in TEMPUS and EUROCHIP/EUROPRACTICE programs made available for education professional UNIX-based packages for ASIC design (Cadence and Compass mostly), but to my knowledge this kind of tools are not used in industry.


Despite growing import of electronic systems more and more different applications is again developed and manufactured in Poland. The applications include consumer electronics, telecommunication products (like small switch boxes for in-office use, phone sets), automotive electronics, specific industrial electronics (like electronic equipment for coal mining) or diverse home appliances (like gas heating controllers). Many small companies design and manufacture in low volume specialized measurement and control equipment. I know also several small private companies that design and manufacture really sophisticated biomedical devices.

Embedded systems

As I mentioned above in many applications embedded systems are constructed and used as they provide best economic and technological solution. I have contacted several companies that distribute microprocessor development systems trying to find our what kind of processors are being used in this applications. We must take into account that such statistics is based on the number of systems designed rather that the volume of production of these systems.

The figures are as follows. About 90% systems constructed are based on 8-bit processors. Among these 8051-based architectures dominate with more than 80% of applications. In this amount about one fifth of applications is based on advanced 8051 derivatives, others use just the basic 8051 architecture, usually with external EPROM. The rest of the 8-bit market is divided between Microchip's PIC (number two, about 10% market share), SGS Thomson, Motorola 68HC11 and NEC processors.

About 10% of embedded system applications is based on non 8-bit processors. The data I managed to gather show that more than about 60% of these applications use DSPs, with dominant position of Texas Instruments processors (and few application based on chips from Analog Devices and Motorola). Most DSP development systems were sold to universities that probably realise designs for industry. The 16-bit processors used include Intel's 80186/188, 80286, Motorola's 68HC16 and microprocessors from SIEMENS. 32-bit processors (80386) are used accidentally (less than 10% of non 8-bit applications).

Although the data I presented are not very precise, they surely give understanding of the current situation and reflect proper proportions between processors used in construction of embedded systems in Poland.

Open Microprocessor Initiative - unknown yet

Even if such technologies like DSPs, FPGAs and particularly ASICs are not really known in Polish industry they are known at many Polish technical universities and the related skills have been already taught for some time there. But I think I will not risk a big mistake if I say that until recently Open Microprocessor Initiative was not even heard of in Poland, including universities. I think that the BENEFIT actions were first events at which basic information about OMI activities was transferred to Poland.

From what I said above it is obvious that majority of embedded systems designed nowadays in Poland is rather simple. Thus no Real Time kernel is used neither needed. If the embedded system is connected to PC for some reason some home-made extensions of MS-DOS must do to handle real-time events. Dominant position of a single architecture (8051) eliminates software portability problems even if most of the software for embedded systems is still written in assembler. Needless to say, OMI Standards are unknown.

VHDL at universities and in industry

Concerning the VHDL language the situation is only slightly better. The first Polish publications on VHDL were printed in one of scientific magazines as early as in 1988. At my University VHDL had been taught for many years before we actually bought a simulator to do the lab exercises.

To my knowledge there exist at least three academic centers where VHDL is used for teaching or research: Gliwice, Zielona Góra and Warsaw. Polish VHDL Users' Group have been recently created by the people from Zielona Góra and the Technical Centre of European CAD Standardization Initiative operates at IET in Warsaw. A VHDL course for people from CEE countries is being prepared in Gliwice within the framework of EUROEAST project.

However, I must say that in industry VHDL is neither used nor even known yet.

3. A look into future

The picture I have created above is rather pessimistic. However, I am deeply convinced that this situation will improve in coming years remarkably. My belief is strong enough to keep me personally involved in activities aimed at changing this situation. Why do I think so ?

According to SPOERLE ELECTRONIC - a German distributor of semiconductor products that recently entered Eastern European market - the semiconductor sales in Poland will grow 300% between 1994 and 2000 (from 50M$ to 150M$). This is of course a measure of expected growth of electronic industry.

A growing number of foreign electronic companies started investing money in Polish electronic industry. At the moment the investments in telecommunication are most visible with companies like Siemens, Alcatel, Northern Telecomm, ATT involved. The Korean giants like LG or Daewoo declared recently important investments in coming years of which a part will be done in electronics. For the time being most of these investments aims at manufacturing. I did not heard about investment like the one that Motorola had done in Czech republic where a design center had been established. I am sure however that foreign companies will sooner or later try to cut development cost by exploiting lower labor costs of Polish skilled designers, like many companies have already been doing in software industry for several years.

One of the major obstacle to improve system design technology in Poland was and is the price of professional EDA software. Now, with the growing role of Windows NT as a platform of choice and growing quality and capability of PC-based EDA tools I can see possibility of acquiring very good design software at much lower prices than that from leading EDA companies. This should help our companies to access modern design technologies.

3. What we can do to bring OMI to Polish designers ?

The crucial thing for achieving technology transfer is to ensure an easy access to information. This may be effectively done through Internet. As the access to it becomes fairly popular in Poland we just have to make people to look for OMI pages on the web.

The existing programs of European Union like Copernicus and TEMPUS provide a very good framework for design technology transfer. Many Polish technical universities took advantage of TEMPUS program to establish VLSI design laboratories and courses. The same should be done for modern embedded system design technology.

Finally we should use Copernicus program to set up research projects related to OMI activities and ensure the participation of industrial partners in such projects. I heard about a Copernicus project in which Warsaw University Technology and a small enterprise EMTEL (Zabrze, Poland) with help of a western partner (INSERM, France) worked on analog fuzzy controller for self-adaptive pacemaker. This is a good proof that TEMPUS and Copernicus programs may be effective in achieving technology transfer from West to East and from university to industry. If it works for ASIC design it should work for OMI-related technologies too.


I would like to thank companies that provided me with information CONTRANS TI (TI distributor), ELMARK and WG ELECTRONICS (Nohau distributor), and individuals that tried to help me by responding to questions on their design experiences - Marek Mencel (ProLogic), Jan Wójcik (OBRUM Gliwice), Andrzej Blaszkowski (Silesian Technical University).