Chip design automation, is naturally linked to the large tool makers, selling simulation tools, synthesis, timing and physical design. The answer in that case is clear, everybody need them to develop any chip of any size and complexity. The real debate revolves around the local efforts to develop low level design automation tools.
Those tools are mainly scripts, written by overloaded design engineers for the purpose of alleviating some of the more tedious, repetitive and error prone tasks of logic design. The development of such tools is never considered important enough for management to allocate resources but in many cases have a significant positive impact on both schedule and quality.
The initiative to develop low level design automation tools such as configuration register sets, memory wrappers, interrupt controllers, top level connectivity, IO and JTAG connectivity and many more, usually comes from capable engineers on their available time and not as a concentrated effort driven by managers.
The result is that after some time, every design team will have some level of automation which is really “design automation” helping the design and verification engineers perform their tasks. The question to be asked is why is this effort not given its place in the development process? Why not use good processes to develop such tools, and why not invest some resources and funds to establish those tools as an infrastructure of logic design?
The main advantages of those tools come not only from saving valuable time, but also from the uniformity of design which enables chip wide standardization. A good register set code generator can produce verification tests, software infrastructure and documentation and also maintain coherency between all this information throughout the development. A good memory wrapper, handling BIST, soft errors and reliability modes, enables tight control of the memories in production.
The critics of such approach would say that it takes away some of the designer’s fun and creativity, but I believe that the creativity can be channeled to more productive aspects, those that differentiate the design and make it unique and valuable to the customers.
Automation of simple tasks in chip design has huge benefits which are not used to their full productivity potential.