One to watch: Analog Design Automation Inc.

One to watch is a series that profiles young technology companies. It is not an endorsement, but an exploration of the firm’s potential.

Your cell-phone has one and so does your wireless PDA. In the future many more devices will have one. It’s called an analog interface and

is needed wherever digital technology meets the real world.

Ottawa-based Analog Design Automation Inc. (ADA) is banking on the notion that designers of analog technology are going to need a lot of help.

Growing out of research conducted at the University of Saskatchewan, ADA has released a suite of products designed to streamline the repetitive, time-consuming and often arduous task of designing analog components for digital devices.

The product family, known as Genius, allows designers to automatically optimize the size of transistors as well as simulate their operation under a variety of temperature and voltage conditions. In effect, it offers analog designers what has been available to digital designers for some time – the ability to streamline some of the more repetitive tasks.

But optimizing analog design work can be even a more difficult task than in the digital world. “”Because you’re not just dealing with ones and zeroes, but you’re dealing with this whole spectrum of values, the amount of data and the amount of complexity is much larger,”” says Amit Gupta, vice-president of marketing and business development at ADA.

Taking the broad view, the market for analog design tools looks bright. According to a report from San Francisco-based Robertson Stevens, the electronic design automation (EDA) market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 15 per cent from US$ 3 billion in 2001 to US$ 6.3 billion in 2006. And the portion of the market directly pertaining to the Genius product line is expected to grow at an annual rate of 50 per cent.

However, ADA will not be alone in chasing this prize. “”There are a number of smaller companies that play in the analog space from both a design and verification point of view,”” says Garo Toomajanian, EDA research analyst with Boston-based RBC Capital Markets.

Toomajanian suggests ADA will have a role to play in a market just emerging known as SOC or system-on-a-chip, a process whereby components created on several chips or one chip with extra components is all integrated on to one piece of silicon. “”What that means is you need to figure out a way to get analog circuitry on there, because the real world is analog signals”” Toomajanian says. “” So the whole analog interface is something that’s become very important for system on chip designs.”” TI currently uses a proprietary system based on Analog Artist from San Jose-based Cadence Design Systems Inc. Although unfamiliar with ADA’s product, Koch says: “”There is worthwhile energy out there in trying to automate the areas of design that are iterative and things that can automate iterative processes, I consider to be good things.””

Dallas-based Texas Instruments is one of the potential customers for ADA’s product. A specialist in high-performance analog design, TI’s Paul Koch says: “”The value of an EDA tool is to do design experiments in software instead of silicon.””

The current revolution in design is helping to reverse a trend that has allowed analog design to lag behind digital design. “”As a result, there’s this huge bottleneck that’s been created,”” Gupta says. It always seems that analog is holding you up.”” Automating analog design will help to free the time of scarce analog designers.

But the very scarcity of analog designers may impose a severe limit on the market for ADA’s product, argues Gary Smith, EDA analyst for San Francisco-based Gartner-Dataquest. “”There’s only 2-4,000 analog engineers and you can’t make a big business out of it,”” Smith says. “”You have to have a parallel analog design process to the digital process, then you have a market of 90,000 designers.””

Toomajanian, however, suggests that the market for ADA’s product is still emerging. “”It’s a young market, it’s anybody’s game right now.””

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