Cadence Design Systems is purchasing National Instruments subsidiary AWR Corp. for $160 million. In conjunction with the acquisition, Cadence and NI, which have been working together for some time, have also entered a strategic alliance to work in tandem to serve mutual customers in the communications sector.

AWR specializes in design tools for millimeter wave (mmWave) and microwave products, largely at the board and system level, while Cadence’s heritage is in chip design and IP. AWR also has more experience with III-V semiconductors that out-perform silicon in high-frequency devices.

The foundations of the combined Cadence and AWR product lines will be Cadence’s Virtuoso layout suite of tools, for analog, digital and mixed-signal designs, and its Allegro tools for a variety of packaged circuits. One of the areas where AWR and Cadence have been working together is with a product that bridges packaged chip design with printed circuit board design; it’s called AWR Connect for Cadence Allegro.

RF board

Cadence’s Glen Clark, corporate vice president, R&D in the Custom IC & PCB Group, said Cadence had been considering the possibility of buying AWR for some time. Cadence was encouraged to pursue the deal as mutual customers began asking specifically for an integration of the Cadence and AWR tools.

“Where we’ve been focusing a lot of our efforts, especially on Virtuoso side, is enabling people to not have to leave as frequently to get done what they’re doing,” Clark said, describing how customers would have to jump back and forth between tools dedicated to different aspects of an overall design.

“We built out integrations with Allegro to get information moving back and forth more seamlessly. One of the areas where we always struggled historically was what to do for the guys doing the really dirty RF design work, where their ability to get stuff moving back-and-forth between their detailed design to the broader chip design was a real problem for them.”

That can be addressed with better coordination between Cadence and AWR tools, he said. “We’re really excited about getting the opportunity to explore what we can do together. I think there will be some interesting things we’ll be able to start talking about in the next few months when you look at what they can do in microwave and their associated tools and integrate it within the Cadence framework.”

Asked about how AWR’s and Cadence’s tools will fit together, Clark said, “You spend a lot of time in mmWave just optimizing a single device, you can spend a long, long time on that, and that’s very different from what we do. They have technology around designing circuits of that type that we didn’t have. In addition, they have strength in analysis capabilities needed for RF design. With Axiom they a have an electromagnetic solver that complements our Clarity offering, they have some really nice harmonic balance simulations. Especially with the foundry aspects, that will complement what we have with our Spectre and Spectre RF.

“They have a system-level simulator, and as we get more into designing beyond the IC, and into the board, and then beyond board and into chassis, that system-level simulation capability will help us get people started at the architectural level of their design phase,” Clark added.

In a prepared statement, Joseph E. Pekarek, general manager of AWR, said, “RF / microwave / mmWave applications need best-in-class solutions to achieve first-pass success with optimal design performance. By joining forces with Cadence, our goal is to be able to leverage the strength and heritage of the Virtuoso and Allegro platforms along with the AWR Design Environment platform to deliver complete solutions for complex ICs, packages and boards.”

The customers most likely to use the mmWave and microwave RF design tools are in 5G sector, in the classic mil/aero communications segment, and also in the automotive space, where vehicle manufacturers are adopting radar and lidar detectors. “Look at the market research and those are all high-growth areas,” Clarke noted.

About 110 AWR employees will end up on the Cadence payroll. Clark noted that the crew coming aboard will include a highly technical sales staff. Cadence’s PhDs tend to work in the R&D department, Clark noted, while there are PhDs in AWR’s sales operation — a useful resource when speaking to customers who have highly sophisticated technological requirements.

National Instruments bought AWR in 2011.