A Visit to Uniquify -- Unique and Impressive

Uniquify’s ideas2silicon

Today, Uniquify has a three-part strategy. [1] A design services division, [2] the IP division that complements design services, and [3] a design services platform or what EDACafe readers may remember as "the old-school turnkey business model." Or, as Bob Smith described it, “We can start from the beginning by developing a specification, crafting the RTL code and then work our way through logic design, physical chip design, including IP, and then work all the way through to the foundry and test chips. We are flexible and set up to do as much, or as little of the process as our customer needs us to be.”

Uniquify has also moved into manufacturing services, providing a complete solution from specification development to delivery of packaged, tested parts.

At this year’s DAC 49 in San Francisco, Uniquify unveiled its ideas2silicon platform for rapid selection and implementation of IP to shorten time to market for SSoCs. SSoCs, as noted above, is a huge market and even bigger opportunity for Uniquify. More on the definition of SSoC later in the profile; I promise!

Below is a photograph of the Uniquify Team as they exhibited at this year’s Design Automation Conference, launching ideas2silicon. This illustration served as the backdrop to Uniquify’s booth. From all reports, the Uniquify team was kept busy through the entire conference meeting attendees.

ideas2silicon is a comprehensive design services platform that turns the turnkey design services model upside down, by offering faster turnaround, lower costs and a transparent business model that gives project teams complete visibility into the cost structure. It provides a rapid solution for quickly assembling IP blocks into a base system that can be used to validate the customer’s value-added logic, IP and software.

According to Uniquify literature: By combining design and leading-edge process expertise with manufacturing services and an extensive IP portfolio, Uniquify offers a turnkey solution, unlike any other, that spans chip specification and design through volume delivery of packaged and tested parts.

"Uniquify believes that openness is the secret to building long-term and successful partnerships," suggested Bob Smith and Josh Lee.

Other design services companies –– and there are a few others in Silicon Valley –– live by what Bob Smith and Josh Lee claim is the old ASIC business model, with neither flexibility nor transparency, an outdated, outmoded and obsolete model. These companies cannot successfully compete with Uniquify.

In essence, the 'OLD-MODEL' customer is given a single price and has no way to judge whether that price is reasonable or not. Uniquify provides its partners with a full breakdown of costs, including its fair margin on services, procurement and management. This gives its customers a full view into costs and tradeoffs that can be made in a project.

As the EDACafe.com team listens to the words of Josh Lee and Bob Smith, we can’t help thinking that Uniquify treats its customers as partners. When the writer asks them if this is an accurate assumption, they wholeheartedly agree. Lee added, "We are not a job-shop or contractor outsourcing provider. We closely engage as a partner with our customers to give us total alignment on the end goal.”

Perseus, a Not-So-Secret Uniquify Strategy

One not-so-secret strategy is Uniquify's proprietary Perseus design management system. Perseus enables Uniquify to deliver fast, repeatable and consistent turnaround on complex ASIC, SoC and SSoC design projects that often include multiple processors, special-purpose processing engines, on-chip networks, memories and different peripheral and I/O functions.

The genesis of Perseus goes back even further than the founding of the company itself. The founders had created bits and pieces of software that would eventually be upgraded to become Perseus to help them with their design projects. Over the past eight years, Uniquify has developed Perseus into a totally new full-fledged design management system that automates and manages all aspects of a design project including analysis, build, data and monitoring.

Every Uniquify project is managed under the Perseus system. At the beginning of a project, it is used to analyze the design and rapidly pinpoint areas of the design that will be the most challenging, allowing the design team to focus on them. Intelligent management of resources allows many projects to be worked on in parallel, reducing schedule times and lowering costs for Uniquify partners.

Uniquify University 

Another aspect to Uniquify’s success is its internal training program, dubbed “Uniquify University.” While conventional wisdom suggests that complex SoC and SSoC designs can only be undertaken by engineers with long years of experience, Uniquify takes a different view. Although each design is different, the majority of a given design can be handled by designers early in their careers provided that they have received the proper training and use a deterministic and convergent ASIC/SoC management system such as Perseus. A small number of experts are still required on the team to focus on the toughest design problems and to provide project management.

Uniquify builds its teams by recruiting new graduates from top California engineering schools. After arriving at Uniquify, the new grads enter the internal training program (Uniquify University) where they not only learn about best chip design practices but are also given other relevant background in such topics as device physics.

Most important, they are taught how to use the Perseus system, the backbone of all design activity at Uniquify. Each project team is comprised of recently trained designers along with a few senior staff to manage the project and provide expertise. The outcome is a highly trained and motivated hardware design team that works hard, gets top-notch results and plays hard when the day’s over.

Results are impressive. Over the past eight years, Uniquify has completed hundreds of customer designs. “We kept up with the pace of increasing semiconductor complexity by developing expertise in the latest process nodes such as 28nm, as well as building a reputation for implementing low-power designs,” remarked Josh Lee, with some pride.


Aligning to Meet Common Goals

Customer engagements are kept hush-hush in the design services business, but Uniquify tells me that their engagements span customers in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, including some of the largest names in consumer electronics. The company has strong relationships with the leading semiconductor foundries including TSMC (it’s a TSMC Design Center Alliance partner), Samsung, GLOBALFOUNDRIES and SMIC and works with a number of leading packaging and test vendors.

Design teams not only need discreet partners, but competent ones as well. Uniquify has been at this business for eight years and has a track record of success based, what Josh Lee and Bob Smith call solid business acumen and a solutions-based approach.

Uniquify’s approach to its business plays off the concept of  “partnering” as opposed to being just a “hired gun.” The design services industry is rife with small companies that place contract engineers and designers on-site at the customer and charge an hourly, weekly or monthly rate, they recalled. In this approach, the service company is not well-aligned with the project success –– resources are paid for by the customer whether or not the project is successful. The service provider is not on the hook to deliver and project management is solely the responsibility of the customer.

Uniquify’s approach closely aligns both Uniquify and the partner company toward the common goal of delivering a successful chip project where the Uniquify team and the customer team become one team. “A common theme that runs through each project is the close cooperation, communication and joint problem solving that distinguishes Uniquify as a true partner,” Josh Lee commented. “This is why we enjoy such a high level of repeat projects with many of our customers.”

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