Introduction: – VLSI which means ‘Very Large Scale Integration’ is all about Integrated Circuit (IC) design. Usually we call it as Chip design. Integrated circuits or IC chips are semiconductors which contain numerous pathways, which connect thousands or even millions of transistors and other electronic components. Integrated circuit design, or IC design, is a subset of electrical engineering and computer engineering, encompassing the particular logic and circuit design techniques required to design integrated circuits, or ICs. In IT-parlance, the chip is the wafer thin slice of silicon that forms the base for an integrated circuit.
Engineering students who want something more challenging and creative than a routine software job can choose this field. Electronics students who are good at programming with strong mathematical and analytical background, are well suited for this career area. Chip design is a field with continuous changing technology, which envisages the need for constant technological and innovational up gradation. Hence one must continue studying as a routine process, to keep up with the ever changing scenario.
Chip designers are basically design engineers who define the chip’s architecture, create circuit designs, run simulations, supervise layout, tape out the chip to the foundry and evaluate the prototype once the chip comes back from the laboratory. Chip designers work to make faster, cheaper and more innovative chips that can automate parts or the entire function of electronic devices. A chip design engineer’s job ranges right from the architecture, logic design, circuit design and physical design of the chip to the testing and verification of the final product. So a chip architect visualises the product, do complete research or study about it, measure the cost against estimated markets for the chip. The two popular languages being used today for chip designing are Verilog and VHDL.
Over all there is great potential for Chip Design. There is a demand for chips in every sector, be it automobiles, consumer electronics or high-end servers. In our daily life too, the role of these chips are very significant. Chips are present in most of the electronic appliances which we use everyday, from mobiles, remote of TV to dishwashers and so on.
The most rewarding aspect of a career in VLSI / Chip design is, however, the advantage of a sense of ownership of what is developed. The ability to get patents and the scope available for applied research and publication make Chip design a dream career for many engineers.
An entry-level engineer in IC design would at the very least possess a B.E or Bachelor of Technology in Electronics, Telecommunications or Computer Science. You could either go for a M Tech or PG in the subject or take up short-term courses. At times Chip design is offered as a subject along with Electronics Engineering. Apart from IC-related knowledge, one should also have knowledge of assembly level programming and ‘C’ programming.
One should have sound knowledge of both computer software and hardware. He/she must have strong analytical and problem solving skills, communication skills and ability to excel in a team environment. Must be self motivated, adaptive, patient, logical and analytical as well as be able to evaluate situations and take quick decisions.
Job Prospects & Career Options :-
At present, India has huge potential in the market. India’s chip industry is growing at a rate of 20 per cent annually. There are over 160 Chip design firms in India-the vast pool of talent and growing domestic market has helped the country emerge as an important centre for chip design. The increasing demand for consumer electronic items has opened up a range of career opportunities in chip design industry.
There is no dearth of job for chip designers in India. In fact, the demand is in excess when compared to supply. All the NITs and IITs totally produce only one fourth of the demand annually. To address the shortage of engineers possessing the right skills, the Indian government has set up a special manpower development programme (SMDP) in this area and spent a huge amount to introduce VLSI in institutes like NITs and IITs.
Some of the major recruiters are Texas Instruments (TI), PMC Sierra, Alliance Semiconductor, Analog Devices, Cadence, Synopsys, Cypress Semiconductor, HCL Technologies, Intel, Micron Tech, Philips Semiconductor, Qualcomm, Wipro, eInfochips etc.
The hierarchy of jobs in chip designing are many, so one has wider options to choose from. The architecture team is at the top of the ladder as they design the chip. The logic design team then implements the defined design in a high level language. The circuit design team synthesizes the logic description into a circuit. The physical design team form a layout of the chip, which is used to produce masks for the final manufacture of the chip. Then comes testing and verification.
Depending on whether a candidate is a fresher or an experienced professional, his role in the organisation could range from a technical individual -contributor to a technical leader to an engineering manager. Freshers are naturally given the grind – work of testing, but as you gain experience, you move up the ladder to the ultimate goal – designing or architecting a chip.
The main job functions in this industry are Design, Production, Testing, Applications and Process Engineering.
Design Engineer : Takes specifications, defines architecture, does circuit design, provide consultancy for layout, tapes out the chip to the foundry and evaluates the prototype once the chip comes back from the lab.
Product Engineer : He is responsible for production release and is therefore regarded as a team leader of the project. He ensures manufacturability, develops characterization plan, assembly guidelines, quality and reliability plan. He evaluates the chip with the design and verification engineer, through characterization, from the reliability qualification and manufacturing yield, point of view (statistical data analysis).
Test Engineer : Develops test plan for the chip based on specifications and data sheet, creates characterization and production program for the bench test or the ATE (Automatic Test Equipment), designs test board hardware, correlates ATE results with the bench results to validate silicon to compare with simulation results. The work of Product and Test engineer are interdependent. Test engineer work closely with Product engineer to ensure smooth release to production and post release support.
Applications/Systems Engineer : Defines new products from system point of view at the customer’s end, based on marketing input. His mission is to ensure the chip works in the system designed or used by the customers, and complies with appropriate standards.
Process Engineer : This is a highly specialized function which involves new wafer process development, device modeling and lots of research and development projects.
Packaging Engineer : This is another highly specialized job function generally part of System Engineering team. He develops precision packaging technology, new package designs for the chips, does the characterization of new packages, and does electrical modeling of the new designs.
CAD Engineer : This is an engineering function that supports the design engineering function. He is responsible for acquiring, maintaining or developing all CAD tools used by all other engineers. He is supposed to evaluate and integrate new tools in the company specific flow.
Salaries and remuneration paid are also one of the highest in the industry. Besides other factors, it is this huge salary package which attracts young candidates to Chip Designing.
The starting salary for a fresher is Rs 400,000 upwards per annum, with the variation depending on the nature of the organisation and competency level of the candidate. Salaries keep pace with experience and within three years, deserving VLSI professionals are known to earn Rs. 75,000 to Rs.1, 00,000 per month.
There are many universities in India that offer good education in this field. All IITs and NITs offer high-quality education in chip designing.
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