More than 90% of the domestic market is occupied by three foreign companies

  The chip industry chain's "two pulses" urgently need to be opened up

  □ Our reporter Chen Chengmei Jianfei

  "In the past two years, everyone has known that the chip is "jammed", and even the lithography machine has been popularized by science, but seldom knows that EDA (Electronic Design Automation) software tools are also in urgent need of breakthrough." As a senior analyst in the semiconductor industry, Li Jing He has witnessed the development of China's chip field, but he is not very optimistic in the upper reaches of the industry chain. One of the important reasons is that EDA software is controlled by others.

"EDA software is basically regarded as chip design software in the industry." Li Jing said that if chip manufacturing is compared to building a building, then chip design is the design drawing of the building, and EDA software is the design tool of the drawing. The complexity of EDA software is N orders of magnitude higher than that of architectural design software, so it is called the “two pulses of both supervision and control” of the chip industry chain."

  As the most upstream and highest-end industrial node of integrated circuits, EDA software has actually become the fate of China's chip industry. Faced with the huge control of foreign EDA leading companies on the downstream industry, how can Chinese companies break through?

Recently, the reporter visited a number of upstream and downstream enterprises in Jiangsu along the transmission path of the industry chain and found that many manufacturers have been committed to making the domestic EDA industry bigger and stronger.

  Focus on "Small and Beautiful" subdivisions

  According to statistics from the China Semiconductor Industry Association, the size of my country's EDA market will be 9.31 billion yuan in 2020, a year-on-year increase of 27.7%, and it is expected to exceed 18 billion yuan in 2025.

However, this tens of billions market is occupied by three foreign companies with more than 95% of the market.

People in the industry generally believe that, as a result, all links in my country's chip industry chain can be "struck" with precision at any time.

  At 1:51 on March 12, 2021, China's Wenchang Space Launch Site, my country's new generation of medium-sized high-orbit liquid carrier rocket-the Long March 7A carrier rocket lifted the test satellite 9 to pierce the night sky.

What is less known is that this industry-leading satellite is equipped with a "special" chip, and its design is based on the EDA software developed by Suzhou Kejingda.

  As a start-up company, Kejingda seizes opportunities for industrial development in a timely manner.

"In the past 10 years since its establishment, the company has made some bold ideas in order to form a complete product line and technical service capabilities in the wafer manufacturing EDA industry segment as soon as possible." "It is that the company decided to integrate three teams with different technical backgrounds to create a new force that can provide complete EDA localization solutions for fabs.

  This move is not easy.

Wuxi Chuangwei Investment Zhao Zhidong said that the field of basic industrial software is an entrepreneurial track that looks glamorous in appearance, but needs to endure loneliness and continue to work hard.

In the continuous integration and innovation of subdivisions, Kojingda is now in the field of large-scale semiconductor device simulation, and it has achieved 10 times the performance acceleration and 10 times the memory reduction compared with similar foreign products.

  During the interview, the reporter found that most of the current EDA manufacturers in Jiangsu are adopting a strategy similar to that of Kejingda-choosing more subdivided areas of the sub-industry to make a breakthrough.

At the end of November this year, Xinhua Zhang, headquartered in Jiangbei New District, Nanjing, officially released 4 digital verification EDA products with independent intellectual property rights. These products focus on improving the overall verification efficiency of the chip, while achieving multi-tool coordination and lowering the threshold for EDA use. Become a milestone event in China's independent research and development of integrated circuit industry ecology.

  Founded in 2016, Corelink is an innovative EDA company that specializes in intellectual property forensics.

"In order to get out of its own development path, Chipset uses analysis software as an entry point to help chip companies improve their competitiveness. At present, they have completed more than 3,000 chip competitiveness analysis projects for customers." The person in charge of the company told reporters.

  Based on the core algorithm technology of independent innovation, Wuxi Feipu Electronics focuses on providing modeling, verification tools and professional technical services for the technical research and development of aviation, aerospace and other engineering fields.

With the continuous deepening and extension of the product line, the company has also made a number of major application progress in national key projects, and completed a Pre-A round of financing of tens of millions of yuan in June this year.

  The upstream and downstream of the industrial chain "group for warmth"

  Industry trends show that with increasing attention, domestic EDA manufacturers have ushered in development opportunities in multiple dimensions.

"Among them, the biggest advantage is that under the dual-cycle pattern, more and more domestic downstream manufacturers are willing to accept us." The relevant person in charge of Feipu Electronics revealed.

  "Baotuan has always been the most important direction for the development of the semiconductor industry." Li Jing told reporters that the semiconductor integrated circuit industry is closely linked, and success can only be achieved through the upstream and downstream linkages of the industrial chain.

In the past, the domestic EDA industry developed slowly. The biggest problem faced was that the country did not form a complete and mutually reinforcing industrial chain. The biggest manifestation was that domestic EDA tool manufacturers seldom participated in cooperative research and development downstream of the industrial chain, and EDA products were produced. , Also can not get use and feedback, naturally it is difficult to make progress.

"Fortunately, nowadays, domestic downstream manufacturers not only actively use domestic EDA products, but are more willing to spend time and effort to make progress together with the upstream, so as to avoid the key link being "knocked"." Li Jing said.

  The Xinhua Chapter, which has just launched a number of new products, is enjoying the dividends brought about by the increasingly close coordination of the domestic industry.

According to Wang Libin, Chairman and CEO of Xinhuazhang, the "Smart V Verification Platform" launched by the company can integrate different tool technologies and provide customized comprehensive verification solutions for various designs and different scenarios.

The smooth R&D and subsequent upgrades of the platform are bound to be inseparable from partners to provide more landing scenarios.

  In this context, the domestic chip company Xinlai Technology has helped a lot.

"We have a highly complex scenario involving CPU verification. The requirements for EDA are very high. The tools provided by Xinhua Zhang can quickly help us build complex scenarios." A person from Xinlai Technology said that for this product, the company has always been involved. We have been actively communicating with Xinhuazhang, and will have more in-depth technical exchanges and cooperation with Xinhuazhang in the future.

Coincidentally, Chen Gang, an associate researcher of the Institute of Semiconductors of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, revealed that after using the new products of Xinhuazhang, the institute will adjust the design within two weeks.

Behind this kind of high efficiency is still inseparable from the early synergy.

  The most obvious feeling for the trend of industrial chain cooperation is Huang Jie, the head of the EDA platform management department of Zhongke Integrated in Suzhou Industrial Park.

"In the park, more and more chip companies are beginning to pay attention to domestic EDA software, and many excellent domestic EDA companies have appeared in many segments." She told reporters that as early as 2003, Zhongke Integration became One of the main goals of the key project of the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Suzhou is to provide integrated circuit design technology and platform services for Jiangsu and the entire Yangtze River Delta integrated circuit companies.

"At that time, in order to solve the common EDA needs of chip design companies, the EDA platform of Zhongke Integration was equipped with EDA software from three major international manufacturers." Huang Jie said that with the passage of time and the changes in the external environment, in order to better meet For the design requirements of integrated circuit companies, Zhongke Integration is considering the introduction of excellent domestic EDA software.

"In our survey of enterprises in the park, 50% of the enterprises put forward a demand for domestic software, especially the software of the domestic leading EDA company. A total of 30% of the enterprises put forward a potential demand."

  Huang Jie also shared with reporters her judgment on the development trend of the EDA industry in Suzhou Industrial Park. According to her observation, the park has cultivated several EDA software-related companies. Although it is still difficult to cover the entire industrial chain, they are all in their own Breakthroughs in professional fields.

And this process is accompanied by the development of the integrated circuit industry in the park from the early "package and testing" to higher-end design fields, and the trend of "grouping and warming" upstream and downstream of the industrial chain is obvious.

  Breaking through resistance requires "ecological thinking"

  The upstream and downstream are working together, and domestic industrial software companies based on EDA are now ushering in a period of growth.

According to the company's data, in 2020, the number of domestic companies involved in EDA products reached 28, a 75% increase compared with the 16 companies in 2017.

  The fact that the trend has been established does not mean that the gap can be smoothed out in the short term.

In the interview, many chip companies still said that it is difficult to consider the products of domestic EDA companies for the time being.

"The biggest resistance is that domestic EDA often makes achievements in certain professional fields and point tools, but lacks full-process solutions." A head of a chip company in Wuxi told reporters that it is difficult for local manufacturers to provide platform-based product services. , The company still needs to purchase EDA tools from the Big Three abroad.

  Another obstacle lies in the lack of cooperation between domestic EDA manufacturers and head fabs, making it difficult to match the most advanced technology.

"The big three foreign companies have long been tied to the head fabs, so they can always be in the leading position in the process. The process below 28nm is almost the world of foreign EDA." Li Jing said that this obstacle will not only be encountered by domestic EDA manufacturers. In essence, it is also a problem that the entire integrated circuit industry needs to face.

  Of course, new opportunities are also brewing.

In recent years, with the rise of new applications such as AI chips, it has brought new challenges to the existing EDA industry and chip design process, and it has also brought many new technical research directions to small and medium EDA companies, making them a breakthrough in the advantages of EDA giants. New opportunities for barriers.

"AI technology is being widely adopted in EDA companies. The Empyrean Mcfly we launched uses AI algorithms to accelerate IP verification. AI learns previous IP cases and verifies the new IP with a verification accuracy of about 99%." The relevant person in charge of EDA industry leader Huada Jiutian told reporters.

  During the interview, the reporter also found that the shortage of talents has always been the biggest "pain point" of enterprises in the industry.

Regardless of Kejingda, Corelink, or Zhongke Integration, BGI, everyone agrees that "there are too few talents in the local EDA industry".

Huang Jie said, “EDA development engineers need to understand mathematics, chip design, semiconductor devices and processes at the same time, and have high requirements for comprehensive skills. It often takes 10 years to train an EDA R&D talent from university subject research to practice. However, due to the long period of EDA software development and research, the low input-output ratio, and the low salary of the industry as a whole, it has caused a serious loss of local talents."

  How to break the game?

In the Suzhou Industrial Park, the only national industrial software collaborative research platform in the Yangtze River Delta, the reporter learned that the problem of talents still needs to be resolved around the industrial ecology.

“As an important carrier for the development of the integrated circuit industry in the park, the Suzhou International Science and Technology Park has gradually formed an integrated circuit industry in the form of a vertical division of labor, which has produced more and more obvious ecological collaboration effects.” The relevant person in charge of the park introduced that at present, the Suzhou International Science and Technology Park It has gathered 56 integrated circuit design, testing and related companies, with an output value of 40 billion yuan in 2020, a year-on-year increase of 11%.

Relatively perfect industrial conditions have also laid the foundation for enterprises to attract, train and retain talents.

  "Talents follow the industrial ecosystem. Kejingda was originally a small team of 3 people, and now has a professional team of more than 40 people." Shen Chen said that the company can match high-quality talents, on the one hand, it needs the local government to give " "Additional deduction of R&D expenses" is a good policy for sending charcoal in the snow; on the other hand, a complete industrial chain is needed to achieve the talent gathering effect, and the latter is the biggest reason why the company is always willing to stay in the Suzhou International Science Park from the beginning to the development. .