Screentec Ky is a company located in Oulu, Finland, whose main business area is in membrane keyboards and related interface electronics. Screentec was founded in 1988 and it employs now 25 people. The turnover in 1997 was 10 million Finnish marks. The company has developed a new technology for manufacturing keyboards to applications which require good resistance against vandalism and outdoor environment. The technology is based on Electromechanical film, EMFi, a thin, elastic electret film, which generates a charge signal when pressed.
The existing products of Screentec are keyboards consisting of EMFi elements and interface electronics installed in a protective cover made of materials such as aluminum, steel and plastics. The interface electronics for the existing products have been realized using PCB with standard surface mount components.
The objective of the AE was to design and manufacture a Full Custom Mixed Signal ASIC, which includes all the interface electronics required for a 16 key element. The rationale was to improve the competitiveness of the product by decreasing the production costs. The main benefits of the ASIC are the lower production and component costs of EMFi keyboard, totaling in 50% saving in the electronics and 35% saving on the whole product. The product will also be smaller and more reliable.
During the experiment we have learned about the technical and economical aspects of using ASICs. We have learned how to specify an ASIC and the basics of analog and digital ASIC design by designing ourselves functionally the analog and the logic sections of the ASIC. We have also learned about the design and NRE costs and the cost savings possible with ASICs. This ASIC and the experience gained during this project are very useful to us because there are several other applications of EMFi, which have the potential to become mass volume products.
The cost of the AE was 100 000 ECU and the duration was 12 months. The experiment started on 1.11.1996 and ended on 30.10.1997. We believe to reach the annual production volume of 25.000 pieces by year 2001. The investment will be paid back in 26 months. The Return on Investment calculated over the 6 years lifetime of the ASIC is average 39% annually.
The project succeeded according to plans and it showed that with good planning and right partners even a First User can get a mixed signal ASIC right first time. After this project we have a new version of the 16 key keyboard which is cheaper and easier to produce and which offers new features for configuring the keyboard output.