The integrated circuit (IC) development process is complex and arduous. The high level process for developing an integrated circuit starts with defining product requirements, progresses through architectural definition, implementation, bringup and finally productization. The various phases of the integrated circuit development process are described below. Although the phases are presented here in a straightforward fashion, in reality there is iteration and these steps may occur multiple times.
Before an architecture can be defined some high level product goals must be defined. The requirements are usually generated by a cross functional team that addresses market opportunity, customer needs, feasibility and much more. This phase should result in a product requirements document.
The architecture defines the fundamental structure, goals and principles of the product. It defines high level concepts and the intrinsic value proposition of the product. Architecture teams take into account many variables and interface with many groups. People creating the architecture generally have a significant amount of experience dealing with systems in the area for which the architecture is being created. The work product of the architecture phase is an architectural specification.
The micro-architecture is a step closer to the hardware. It implements the architecture and defines specific mechanisms and structures for achieving that implementation. The result of the micro-architecture phase is a micro-architecture specification which describes the methods used to implement the architecture.
In the implementation phase the design itself is created using the micro-architectural specification as the starting point. This involves low level definition and partitioning, writing code, entering schematics and verification. This phase ends with a design reaching tapeout.
After a design is created, taped-out and manufactured, actual hardware, 'first silicon', is received which is taken into the lab where it goes through bringup. Bringup is the process of powering, testing and characterizing the design in the lab. Numerous tests are performed starting from very simple tests such as ensuring that the device will power on to much more complicated tests which try to stress the part in various ways. The result of the bringup phase is documentation of characterization data (how well the part performs to spec) and errata (unexpected behavior).
Productization is the art of taking a design from engineering into mass production manufacturing. Although a design may have successfully met the specifications of the product in the lab during the bringup phase there are many challenges that face product engineers when trying to mass produce those designs. The IC must be ramped up to production volumes with an acceptable yield. The goal of the productization phase is to reach mass production volumes at an acceptable cost.
Once a design is mature and has reached mass production it must be sustained. The process must be continually monitored and problems dealt with quickly to avoid a significant impact on production volumes. The goal of sustaining is to maintain production volumes and continually reduce costs until the product reaches end of life.