06 September 2010

What if Henry Ford was an fpga designer?

Over 100 years ago, when Henry Ford was conceiving a mass produced automobile, it was in an environment where cars were specified and built to order one by one. Each car was 'hand crafted' with the care and precision warranted by a fledgling auto market where society's elite were the only ones who could afford such a revolutionary contraption.

But in 1908, Henry Ford realised his dream of creating an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, efficient and produced en masse. His new manufacturing methods totally dominated the market and by 1918, half of all cars in America came from his factory. What Ford recognised was that by removing the dependence on hand craftsmanship and replacing it with well designed, interchangeable components that connected together in a standardised fashion, he could achieve the joint goals of creating a robust product that was fast (and cheap) to produce.

So if Henry Ford were still alive today and he decided to try his hand at fpga design, what might he think of current design methodologies? Would he applaud the influx of GUI based, high level design entry tools that let designers rapidly assemble complete systems using standardised ip blocks? Or instead, would he join the chorus of designers who are determined to maintain value around their hard fought, low level programming skills and argue that 'hand crafted code is more optimal than code produced by high level design entry tools'?

I would argue the former, but maybe my emotive language has already given my position away.

The fpga market is now 25 years old and has come a long way in that time. Bill Carter, designer of the first Xilinx fpga, recently gave an insight into what those early days were like. It's interesting to note that Xilinx's early marketing strategy was not to target the big name players because they knew that those companies had very long qualification processes. Instead of marketing to the 'Who's Who' companies, they targeted the 'Who are they?' companies. These were the technology guys who liked new things and would give them a shot. So Xilinx's initial customer base was niche product producers rather than established ones.

Some might argue that Xilinx still markets to a niche customer base and while this is true to some degree, there are now niches within niches. The networking market, which has bankrolled much of Xilinx's development, is a powerful lobby group demanding the sort of performance that can only come through hand crafted designs. But in its wake are emerging businesses for which fpga performance is now high enough and pricing levels affordable enough for the real challenge to be the speed with which products are designed and brought to market.

It is in this environment that applying Henry Ford's principles of using standardised, large scale building blocks makes sense. Using high level design tools means that niche design companies can rapidly assemble new designs which perform to spec without relying on hand crafted code. And high level design tools make fpgas more accessible to more designers who are not as versed in low level fpga programming skills but who still want to use fpgas.

So while the increasing use of high level design techniques in fpgas may not be true for every design, the ever diminishing price of fpgas and the ever improving performance certainly makes it true for many of them.

So if Henry Ford were an fpga designer, I suspect he'd gravitate to high level fpga design tools too.

Dr Marty Hauff, Altium.

Author
Dr Marty Hauff

Supporting Information

Websites
http://drmarty.blogspot.com/
http://www.altium.com

Companies
Altium Ltd

This material is protected by Findlay Media copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.

Do you have any comments about this article?


Add your comments

Name
 
Email
 
Comments
 

Your comments/feedback may be edited prior to publishing. Not all entries will be published.
Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Related Articles

Programmable pal for ASICs

Lattice Semiconductor has introduced an 'application friendly' FPGA, the ECP5, ...

FPGA design in the cloud

By using the computing power available in the cloud, fpga developers could ...

ST heads EU MEMS project

STMicroelectronics has begun working with research partners to develop a pilot ...

Many core magicians

The volume of data being transmitted around the globe is reaching staggering ...

Logical moves

Modern networks are carrying vast amounts of data in various formats – recent ...

Small process, big ambitions

Programmable logic is one of the first technologies to be manufactured on the ...

Precision inverter modules

Using the example of an integrated servo drive developed for a specific ...

High speed board layout challenges in ...

This white paper from National Semiconductor outlines the layout challenges ...

Field programmable controllers for cost ...

This Xilinx white paper presents the end markets, FPC solution, and its ...

Industrial Ethernet solution

Lattice Semiconductor has launched its Sercos III real time Ethernet solution, ...

CHAMP-FX3 for digital signal and image ...

The CHAMP-FX3 is a 'next generation' module in Curtiss Wright Controls' range ...

Virtex-6 fpga based XMC card

Alpha Data, a supplier of COTS board solutions, has announced the release of ...

The NanoBoard 3000

The NanoBoard 3000 is not your average fpga based development board. For a ...

Curtiss-Wright Controls CHAMP-FX2 video tour

This Video Product Tour provides an overview of the Curtiss-Wright Controls ...

The Heartbleed glitch

Last week we were awakened to the news of a new software 'glitch' called ...

IoT: Making a difference

News stories about the Internet of Things (IoT) tend to focus on fun consumer ...

Small tech firms fight back

At the beginning of the year I attended the Scotland IS Technology Trends 2014 ...

Jamie Urquhart

Jamie Urquhart tells Graham Pitcher the time is right for the UK's electronic ...

Sean Riley, vp, Lattice

Sean Riley, Lattice Semiconductor's corporate vice president and general ...

Claire Jeffreys, NEW

Claire Jeffreys, events director, National Electronics Week, talks with Chris ...