ICI Security Systems is a company with pyrotechnics as its main business.
The objective of the project was the development of an improved product for the protection of valuables. Specifically the product which was improved in this AE stains bank notes when they are stolen. The existing product included electronics which consisted of 10 active circuits, and 40 passive components, assembled on 2 small PCB boards, interconnected with a flex cable. The new product had to be downward compatible with the existing one, and also needed to have lower power consumption and much lower weight and volume. It needed to have significant higher functionality and should be lower cost. A mixed analogue/digital ASIC was the only technology that could be used to achieve these goals. The ASIC consists of a two-channel receiver with analogue and digital filters, and a complex state machine. The minimal power requirement put high demands on the design, specifically on the analogue front end and the oscillator circuit. The use of level shifters between the analogue front end and the digital part allowed the digital part to work at a lower voltage, which is favorable for power consumption.
The cost of the AE was 98K ECU as planned. However it took 18 months rather than the 14 months as planned. And after this period the FU had to fund a design iteration which took a further 7 months in order to obtain an ASIC which was suitable for production. The total cost of developing the production was 500 ECU, of which approximately 150 K ECU was for the ASIC.
The payback period of the total investment is estimated to be 2 years, with a product lifetime of 4 to 6 years, depending on the market niche.
The FU learnt from this AE that analogue electronics should be developed with observability in mind, and should not be optimized for area and pin-count when making a first prototype. This should only be done when switching to the volume-product version. Also focused Ion Beam can be used to apply small design changes, to avoid costly (both in time and money) design iterations.
To ensure good management of the development of a microchip the project manager must understand the different development segments. Firstly there is the writing of the functional specifications of the end product to be designed. Then the technical specific actions will freeze these requirements in a technical description that will allow the designers to produce a design. This design work is the core of the development. The various tools (CAD) which are used to design, test and crosscheck should be known to the managers.
This will allow the managers to ask specific tests or simulations to the design team and ensure maximum chance for a successful design. Following the design, the ASIC is put on MPW and manufactured by the silicon foundry. The finished chip will then be available for testing.