EDA began as a captive capability. Before EDA was a market segment, large, vertically integrated OEMs operated captive chip design and manufacturing capabilities. These organizations employed large teams of software engineers to develop the required tools to automate the design, implementation, and verification of the chips that were manufactured. All chip production in this case was used by the OEMs to include in their own products.
Bell Laboratories, Texas Instruments, Intel, RCA, General Electric, Sony, and Sharp are examples of these companies. The birth of commercial EDA tools essentially happened in three phases.
The first phase began in the 1960s and saw commercial availability of computer-assisted interactive graphics design systems. These systems targeted multiple markets, including cartography, mechanical, and architectural design. These systems also found use for interactive design of integrated circuit layouts. The three primary companies leading this phase were Applicon, Calma, and Computervision. It is interesting to note that in these early days Calma developed a format to represent IC layouts called GDS, named after its product, Graphic Design System. The GDS II version of this format continued to be used as the de-facto format to communicate IC layout information for decades. This phase of the industry was known as CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing).
The second phase of EDA began in the early 1980s. Something rather significant happened during this time – the commercial application-specific integrated circuit, or ASIC, industry was also born. With the emergence of the ASIC industry, the custom chips that were previously reserved for the very large system OEMs were now within reach of many more design teams. This began the semiconductor revolution that continues today. Early ASIC companies include LSI Logic and VLSI Technology. With this new market, the need for tools to automate the simulation, design, and verification of chips became far more widespread. This development spawned many new companies to serve the need. A lot of the internal, captive teams at the large OEMs found new, exciting, and lucrative work in this new market and so the commercial EDA industry began to grow.
During this phase, the primary focus was on software and some special-purpose hardware to capture the description of a design and simulate it. The three primary companies leading this phase were Daisy Systems, Mentor Graphics, and Valid Logic. This phase was known as CAE (computer-aided engineering).
In the latter part of the 1980s, the EDA industry began to mature as its third phase began. Point-tool companies were replaced with broad-line suppliers of multiple software and hardware products aimed at automating a larger portion of the IC design process. The three primary companies leading this phase were Synopsys, Cadence, and Mentor (now Siemens EDA). This phase saw the birth of the term EDA (electronic design automation). Today, many still identify with this phase of the industry. The three leading companies remain the same.
With the dramatic expansion of semiconductor technology, there is a movement toward a need for a larger platform of tools and technologies which may signal the next phase of the industry’s development.