Sankalp: Innovating analog mixed signal solutions

Date:   Thursday , January 31, 2008

A team of engineers at Sankalp was engaged with a major customer working on state of the art 45nm memory modules. They had a daunting task of delivering eight modules, which were delayed by two months at the time of engagement. The team was young and new to this technology and everybody was skeptical about his or her success. Once the work started they realized it was not as easy as expected. The team put their thinking hats together and came out with innovative ideas - to reduce cycle time and to avoid iterations for quality - and went ahead with implementation. Eventually the team completed the project well within the deadline and also lived up to the customer expectation on quality. The effort was not only applauded by the local customer but also recognized by the U.S. counterpart and they went ahead to use those innovations for their own benefit and productivity improvement.

This is the kind of exciting environment in which the engineers at Sankalp work each day. For a company started two years back with a clear vision to engage in the challenging opportunity to design integrated circuits (IC) in the analog/ mixed signal space, Sankalp Semiconductor has strengthened its position as a service provider to some of the largest semiconductor companies in the world.

“With the evolution of the System-on-Chip (SoC), new doors have opened for chip designers,” explains Vivek Pawar, CEO of the company. “We plan to tap this opportunity”, he adds. Pawar led the Mixed Signal Technology Center, Texas Instruments, before he co-founded Sankalp with five others.

Today, Sankalp is engaged in some of the very challenging chip designs in analog, mixed signal space that includes areas like Successive Approximation A/D converter, Pipeline ADC, Analog Input multiplexers, LVDS, DC-DC converters, Low Drop Out regulators, and many more. Engineers at Sankalp work towards providing analog design service and solutions for IC manufacturers by means of methodology innovations and automations. They work on chips that vary from 180 nm to 45 nm. They have recently started working on 32 nm chips as well. Customers get engaged with Sankalp at different levels of service. “While many seek our complete service, some others want just a specific part such as automation, development, or layout development,” says Pawar. Either way, the chips that Sankalp designs find their way into multiple domains such as telecom, microprocessors, automobile, broadband, networking, and bio-medical.

But, what sets apart Sankalp from other players in the design space? “We hope to distinguish ourselves with the methodologies and automations by which we want to foster innovation and co-innovation to deliver our services with benchmark quality and time to market,” quips Mrinal Das, VP-Engineering. Working on a complex area such as analog mixed signal design means there should be checklists at each stage to ensure quality and avoid iterations due to errors. Methodologies are developed for the various stages of design, layout, and reviews to ensure consistency in the quality of the output irrespective of the person doing it. Thus, Sankalp provides higher impact and value to its customers in whatever domain they are engaged in.

Most processes are also automated to avoid any human mistakes and to ensure that the final delivery is of very high quality. Innovating new methodologies and processes of automation are things Sankalp strives to achieve. They also engage in the model of co-innovation, i.e. innovating together with their customers.

“We also offer consulting services to many of our customers beginning with advising them on architecture, design, and verification eventually getting engaged in design and layout services,” says Das. It associates with many EDA toolmakers and deciding how the next generation analog mixed signal EDA platform could be shaped up to make it more robust and scalable.

Unlike a low-end technology industry, an engineer in the semiconductor space needs to be a tough nut with strong fundamentals in mathematics, physics, and analytical skills. Apart from these, a designer in the analog design space also needs to have in-depth knowledge of technology coupled with a sharp skill set and patience. For Sankalp, each of its employees is an asset and every care is taken to see that they are nurtured in all aspects. A full-fledged internal training program driven by Prof. Subbanna Bhat, Ex-HOD, NITK (formerly REC, Surathkal) is in place to make sure they stay abreast of the latest developments in the semiconductor space. Employees are inspired to take up further studies such as post graduation and do specialization. The company provides them the facility to do their doctoral research work as well. Also, there is a constant endeavor to encourage intrapreneurship in them. Though a relatively new company, Sankalp offers good career growth to its employees. Prajit Nandi, who was earlier working with top-notch companies such as Intel and SanDisk, joined Sankalp a few months back and is now ready to head the company’s new center in West Bengal. The company also has grown relatively fast within two years of its inception. Currently, Sankalp is 66 strong, with plans to touch 100 by the end of 2008.

However, right talent is hard to find and this is true especially for the semiconductor industry. In a recent survey, the ISA has cited that there will be a shortage of 25,000 engineers in the VLSI industry by 2010. The crunch is already being felt by many of the large companies. To avoid facing a similar situation, Sankalp has strategically placed itself in a small city like Hubli and is operating from the campus of one of its growing institutes, BVB College of Engineering. “Most electronics graduates upon graduation move away from their niche area to join software firms and the brunt is felt by the semiconductor companies,” states Pawar. Hence, operating from a college campus has allowed them to have close interaction with the students from an early stage and train them.

The professors also attend the company’s internal training programs to keep themselves abreast of the advancements in the industry. Seeing the success at Hubli, Sankalp has selected some seed colleges across India to replicate the same strategy. Its next focus is to grow centers in West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh apart from strengthening its base in North Karnataka. It hopes to affiliate with one of the premier technology institutes in the country to carry forward its research work in the field of Medical Electronics.

Today, two years after inception, Sankalp is going steady with three of its customers being world’s top 10 semiconductor companies and the addition of many more blue chip companies to its clientele. Last year it won the award for being one of the highest exporters from Karnataka. “With our work programs and strategies, we hope to distinguish ourselves as a scalable world-class technology provider with a proven edge in technical competency,” says Das.