The New Verticals

Chasing the vertical OEMs is not a new strategy in EDA.

But it is becoming that much more widespread as the major players extend their reach from automotive (long the domain of Mentor Graphics) to other sectors.

Semiconductor design companies — the linchpin to the product development and cash flow of Synopsys, Mentor and Cadence — are expected to consolidate over the near term, and the revenue outlook from that market is being tempered.

But the “new verticals” — military, aerospace, IoT, cloud — offer the chance for the EDA titans to extend their reach by not only selling IC design software but also an ever-growing array of emulation, analysis, and system design tools to a single customer. Doing so tightens the binds between EDA firm and customer, potentially making the deal more profitable as some list price devaluation that naturally occurs with bundling is offset by a lower cost of sales (including commissions).

As Cadence CEO Lip-Bu Tan said this week, “We had been emphasizing system design development. That basis is providing the entire vertical solution spec that is from IT tool and PCB and a host of system design and verification and we strongly believe that is the strategy going forward to meet the requirement of some vertical (markets).

“IoT, the cloud infrastructure and the massive cloud infrastructure fueling up; the automotive as kind of the connective devices; some of the medical field and DNA sequencing … and a few others: those can be clear application for some of our IT portfolio and some of our EDA flow and also some of our hardware PCB and system analysis requirements.”

We are starting to hear the major EDA companies discuss the PCB segment on their quarterly conference calls. This is an emerging trend; not long ago PCB was an after-thought to most analysts because the revenues were so puny compared to those of semiconductor. Now that PCB is part of a larger strategy, as opposed to simply a (profitable) business unit, that’s changing.

As this strategy ramps, it could very well shift the scope of acquisitions by the major EDA players. For decades, Synopsys has stayed far away from owning PCB design tools  although some of its tools have been tied into Zuken’s. Its last foray into PCB came when it acquired Viewlogic in 1997; management quickly bought out the PCB design segment the next year. Would a shrinking semi customer base lure them back in?

Most PCB design M&A related deals these days are tied to filling gaps in technology. There’s still a disconnect between ECAD and MCAD, and there will be some shakeout as new disruptive hardware startups enter the field. So while Cadence and Mentor are pursuing true top-down strategies, not everyone is following suit.

Altium corporate director, technology partnerships and business development Dan Fernsebner told me at PCB West last month, “Incubators and hardware startups have to put products out very quickly, and they have to be right the first time.” Fernsebner says the model for these companies is shifting from enterprise engineering to relying on reference designs.

Does the change to entrepreneurship pose a challenge for the developers in terms of having to reevaluate their business models, I asked Fernsebner. “I think you’ll see explosive new companies changing the business model for those who have been in it for years,” he said, citing Telsa, Nest and Skully, companies that develop products that are field-upgradeable.

It’s rare that any single model wins out completely. But if the end-customers in key industries begin to flex their muscles, it won’t be long before the M&A activity gets really interesting.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow