The process of electronic design has been fully manual for a long time until the first computer, which was a game-changer, appeared. This article will tell you about the whole transformation process of how manual operation turned into an automated one.
Bell Laboratories creating the first transistor in the 1940s, has changed not only people’s lives but industries’ too. In particular, it was a kickstarter for appearing smaller, more powerful electronics, consequently devices, to compete in the market and get the maximum benefits from it.
The bright illustration of the then situation was in a copy of Tracy Kidder that was released in 1981. The book’s name is ‘The Soul of A New Machine’ that won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Non-Fiction. The plot is about a competition between two computer design giants who want to be the first in inventing the most powerful computer. The main problem that spreads over the whole text is a contradiction of time to market and poor engineering quality. The obstacle was eliminated only when the electronic design automation (EDA) tools appeared. They significantly reduced the market tension and triggered faster production of PCB (printed circuit board), ICs (integrated circuit), and other electronic units.
The first designs of integrated circuits were created, literally drawn, by hand. Furthermore, some handymen partially automated this process with geometric software, creating a mockup for Gerber photoplotters. Those could produce a one-color image that, actually, duplicated hand-drawn designs, and subsequent operations such as electronics-to-graphics translation were performed manually as well.
Slightly closer to the automated EDA were developers who created placement and routing applications in the 1970s. They integrated these processes as additional options into drafting applications.
The crucial thing that influenced rapid EDA development was the release of a scientific article written by Lynn Conway and Carver Mead at the beginning of the 1980s. It introduced a new approach to chip design, which in turn, involved compilation to silicon with programming languages.
Thanks to this invention, the chips became more complex and could perform more tasks than before. Since that time, the chips were more comfortable to work with: they were easy to arrange, and they almost never failed because of the ability to simulate and check all the components’ work before they are installed.
Despite the fact that new technologies, programming languages, and software appeared, the principle of the automation process of electronic design is still the same. However, the applications used for the automation process are more complicated.
They have a modular structure with a comprehensive interface where all the scenarios can be checked, and the estimated results are seen before the design process is launched. Besides, the design software usually comes with a library of components and their behavior pattern so users can simulate and verify each design.
There are no limits for EDA improvement, but integrating Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence into the current software solutions for the automation process will significantly change and accelerate such a process.