If you’re a startup specializing in analog integration, or you just want to experiment or do basic circuit research and try out your results, a silicon brokerage house such as CMP (Circuits Multi Projets) may be a good option to get you started quickly.
Earlier this week, CMP announced that it added STMicroelectronics' CMOS H9A 130nm process to its portfolio for both analog and digital devices and for applications such as energy harvesting, autonomous intelligence, and home automation integrated systems.
All these are ripe for higher levels of both analog and digital integration, especially as we tumble headlong toward the Internet of Things where more and more devices will be trying to sense -- and make sense of -- the analog world.
The main purpose of a house such as CMP is to make advanced processes more available to those that would not otherwise have access, including universities and researchers, as well as the startups or go-it-aloners mentioned above. With such access you can do small-quantity runs, anywhere from a few dozen all the way up to a few thousand units.
CMP currently has a portfolio of processes that include CMOS, BiCMOS, SiGe BiCMOS, High Voltage, FDSOI (down to 20nm), pHEMT GaAs, and MEMS, and since 1981 has served more than 1000 Institutions from 70 countries with more than 6,000 projects prototyped through 700 runs.
Interestingly, 60 different technologies have been interfaced. That's a lot of process flexibility to go with the ability to do small test runs. Great for research!
But is it something you should be thinking about for your own design? Would you consider "rolling your own" design instead of opting to push the limits of your current IC supplier? Interesting thought. There are clearly tradeoffs. Yes, you get access to a wider range of processes, but what about tools integration, intellectual property protection, cost, and the support you may need to get the device to market? Is the IC the heart of your design or does your IP reside elsewhere? Is it worth it?
So, I'm curious: Have you ever tried a CMP or other third-party process brokerage? Should you?