Hirschmann employs 2,700 personnel world-wide, and has manufacturing facilities in Germany, Austria and Hungary. There are 6 product divisions within Hirschmann Germany, one of which is the Interactive Broadband Network (IBN), employing 140 staff at Neckartenzlingen site, and involved in this Application Experiment (AE). Of the 140, 20 are electronic engineers involved in R & D. This product division designs and manufactures system solutions especially for receiving satellite-TV and FM signals, and distributes these on networks of any size. The new generation of 4 x 4 multiswitches, which is the focus of this AE, comprises receivers for 4 different digital and analogue satellite signals plus a terrestrial channel and their subsequent broadcasting to 4 subscribers.
The original multiswitch was built on a multilayer printed circuit board (PCB) and included over 400 active and passive surface mount components. In this AE most of the surface mount components were integrated in to an 'Application Specific Integrated Circuit' (ASIC). Since this combined both digital and RF analogue functions, a mixed signal ASIC was required. The result was one low cost ASIC to replace 260 discreet components, and a 2 layer PCB to replace a 4 layer PCB, with an overall cost saving of 30%, compared to the original product. The market for this multiswitch unit is estimated to be 0.5 to 1 million pieces/year in Europe alone. There is one main European competitor with 25-30% of the market share, and the rest of the market is shared by around 100 European companies, including Hirschmann.
The AE cost Hirschmann 100 K ECU, and took 8 months. The subsequent product development took a further 8 months and cost an additional 100 K ECU. This included a design iteration to improve the isolation between channels, which was marginal over the required frequency range, 900 to 2,400 MHz with the first design. The new product is due to go on the market in 1999. Estimated figures for the following 3 years for the new product show an immediate increase in sales over the existing product, based on the fact that the new product will sell at 60% of the 1995 price (80% of their 1998 price). This still results in a significant profit, since the internal cost has also dropped to 55% of the 1995 value. Using these figures the payback period will be within the first year of sales, or within 2.5 years of starting the AE. This takes into account the total cost of the project being 200K ECU. The ROI, assuming a 3 year life for the product, will be around 700%.
The AE has been considered as a success to Hirschmann, since the target price and performance has been realised. In addition the company has acquired additional skills in dealing with ASIC designers and foundries. Two major lessons which they learnt were that isolation between high frequency analogue signals is difficult to model, and it is often not advisable to try and include all functions in to an ASIC.