Here again we have a case where the presence or absence of a standard can help or hinder the creation and/or growth of a market. In the world of EDA standards most often define the details of interface or protocols. The existence of a standard lowers the risk that a buyer’s investment in a proprietary technology will be obsolesced by the later emergence of an incompatible standard whether this be de jure or de facto. The existence of a standard lowers the cost of the development and manufacture of products by eliminating the need to support multiple conflicting proprietary interfaces. Further more, standards enable vendors to compete on price, quality, speed and capacity rather than on the merits of proprietary interfaces.
Standards do not necessarily represent the best possible solution. A clear example would be the QWERTY keyboard layout that was original proposed to deliberately slow down typists so that the typewriter keys would not stick. Today this de facto standard defines the primary interface for a computer and certain classes of cell phones even though the typewriter is a relic from the past. A standard can be an arbitrary definition such as the side of the road that one drives a car on or the voltage coming out of a wall socket. A standard developed by consortia or committees often is the result of compromises between competing self-interests or the lowest common denominator. Nevertheless standards can have significant and long term impact of both the consumer and the vendor.
The relevant standard for this editorial is Autosar. The AUTOSAR standard will serve as a platform upon which future vehicle applications will be implemented and will also serve to minimize the current barriers between functional domains. It will, therefore, be possible to map functions and functional networks to different control nodes in the system, almost independently from the associated hardware.
I had an opportunity to talk with Serge Leef, General Manager of the System-Level Engineering Division at Mentor Graphics. He has been at Mentor for 18 years. Today Serge leads three business units focused on markets where system-level design plays a pivotal role. One of these business units concentrates on applying advanced system-level design automation techniques to the challenges associated with functional design of automotive distributed systems. Prior to joining Mentor Graphics in 1990, Leef was responsible for design automation at Silicon Graphics. Prior to 1987, Leef managed a CAE/CAD organization at Microchip Inc. From 1982 to 1987 he worked at Intel Corp. Serge holds a BSEE and MSCS from Arizona State University. Also on the call was James Price, Marketing Manager..
Mentor consciously decided to enter the automotive market. What attracted Mentor to this market at the time?
That’s actually a good question. The management and I had taken a look at the automotive market probably half a dozen times before 2005. In all cases I came back to my management with the conclusion that it was not worth it to get involved in that market. The reason for this conclusion was based on the fact that there were no standards in the market. There were very small design automotive players and they were all subservient to particular OEMs, i.e. car companies. Because of the lack of standards, if you wanted to add value in producing some kind of automated tool technology, you needed to connect yourself to a large car company and understand their needs and then construct an offering around those needs. That essentially prevented an emergence of a vibrant ecosystem of suppliers because these companies were naturally small and they were all slaves to the big OEMs. What changed things for me when I looked at the market in 2004 was the emergence of Autosar. To me, I could see for the first time that there were a set of standards that were being proposed and were gaining traction that would enable a large EDA player to come into this market and develop tools that would add some value and have an appeal to multiple players in this space. To me it was Autosar that was the turning point. Now, we are talking a long term look at this market. We understand that things in the automotive arena move very slowly. What we are doing is constructing a set of solutions for the next generation Autosar-based designs, Autosar Projects. Autosar by the way is a standard which is developing at lightening speed. The whole concept of Autosar was introduced for the first time in 2003. This year the first vehicle with Autosar content hit starting production. There are probably a half dozen cars that are Autosar-based in the pipe line. I think by 2011 or 2012 timeframe at least 1/3 to 1/2 of all new car projects will be Autosar-based. Autosar and the emergence of standards are what tilted me towards becoming a proponent of our entry into this market.
Mentor acquired Volcano in 2005. Why Volcano?
There were many companies in this space that basically had an attitude toward design which is build it, then test it. We though that Volcano was unique in that space. The philosophy they have is top down which starts with architecture and basically by build correctness in through best practices thereby reducing or eliminating the need for testing at the detailed end of the process. We purchased Volcano. There were human assets there that turned out to be quite key in getting a foothold in this market. Volcano was one of the early participants in the Autosar Consortium and a lot of the work that Autosar has done is essentially very similar to a standardized version to Volcano’s proprietary tools. We basically used that footprint to go from in this space.
Where was Volcano located?
Volcano was actually located in Switzerland when we bought them. The original site was in Gottenberg, Sweden. Their primary R&D site was and continues to be in Budapest, Hungary.
Editor: According to Mentor Graphics’ 10K they acquired Volcano Communications Technologies AB (Volcano), a provider of network design tools, in-vehicle software and test and validation products for the automotive industry, in May 2005. The acquisition was an investment aimed at expanding the Company’s product offering within this specialized industry and driving revenue growth. The total purchase price including acquisition costs was around $23 million.
How large a group is the automotive group today?
There are several automotive entities inside Mentor. There is the Cable and Harness operation which is not in my division. I would estimate that this group is in the sub 100 person area. The size of our group is in the same neighborhood. Our operations span across multiple locations including Gottenberg, Munich, Budapest, Cairo and Wilsonville, Oregon.
Editor: When asked about revenue numbers in the automotive arena, Serge sent me a recent report (Hansen Report) available on Mentor’s website.
From that report we have: The Mentor Graphics serves the automotive market by providing design tools for electrical systems for cable harnesses and for printed circuit boards as well as tools for networks, mechatronics and embedded software development.
Mentor Graphics’ annual revenue ($K) in the automotive arena is shown in the table below
Mentor Graphics changed its fiscal year. As a result FY08 was 13 months long. The two largest areas by revenue are integrated electrical systems at around 40% and pc board design as 33%. By geography the revenue is split about 30% America, 30% Europe and 40% Asia (mostly Japan).
What is the percentage of electronic content in cars these days? The number has been gong up over time.
The number that is cited by BMW with respect to their Series 7 that just came out this year is between 40% and 45%.
That covers which types of systems?
It basically covers the electronic systems both analog and digital as well as software.
Those systems would be entertainment, comfort, ..
All of the domains. The BMW Series 7 has something like 80 engineering control units, essentially 80 relatively autonomous computer and control systems. They are divided into different functions: climate control, comfort, entertainment, safety. It is a really sophisticated computer system.