Case Study

Design in business | Intel

The company

Intel first came to Ireland in 1989, establishing what was to become one of Europe’s leading semiconductor manufacturing locations at Collinstown Industrial Park in Leixlip, County Kildare.

The Leixlip campus is home to a semiconductor wafer fabrication facility which produces latest generation silicon microprocessors that are at the heart of a variety of platforms and technology advancements which are essential to the way we learn, live and work today.

Leixlip is also the base for a number of Intel research activities which include:

  • A Silicon Nanoelectronics Research team who collaborate extensively with research institutes such as the CRANN Nanoscience Research Centre in Trinity College Dublin and the Tyndall National Research Institute in Cork. The team also collaborates with universities, other companies from across Ireland and Europe, and more than 50 PhD students.
  • The Innovation Open Lab – Ireland who facilitate and engage in open research and innovation opportunities in Europe that can ultimately lead to value-driven technology solutions. The lab is focused on The Internet of Things, and Dependable Cloud & Services research.

As a component manufacturer, Intel has wafer processing facilities in the US, Ireland and Israel, followed by final product assembly facilities in China, Vietnam or Malaysia. Intel performs all manufacturing stages in-house starting with the primary raw material, Silicon.

Intel products represent the high value, central building block of many end market products in the electronics industry. Its direct customer base therefore consists of large manufacturers of products such as Nike and Samsung.

Software design activities in Ireland have been operating since 2004. However, in September 2013, Intel announced a new family of products that represent a core element of Intel design activity in Ireland. Quark products are designed by a Dublin-based team at the cutting edge of the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable markets.

Design activity in Ireland

Design in Intel is understood as the whole process from developing a new concept to the realisation of the final end market product from PCs to ATM machines and digital signs. The creation of a new silicon is often the starting point.

The majority of new product ideas initially come from existing customers. Designing and developing new features for Intel products, such as a solid state disk drive and a performance boost to cameras that recognise hand gestures, are critical to drive new PC experiences.

Accepting the constraints of the laws of physics, the available design headcount and the features requested, the key challenge is to identify the most appropriate ideas to take forward. Driven largely by the market, decisions are taken regarding which features should be developed to coincide with one of two main PC buying events, Christmas and Back to School.

Design teams will take ownership of particular features to be developed. The teams fall into two categories, design teams focusing on evolutionary developments, i.e. working on the continuous improvement of certain features, and design teams focusing on revolutionary developments. Typically, a design team focused on revolutionary features will first create a mini prototype product to show management what is possible.

Revolutionary and evolutionary design and development processes will usually be on a par in terms of the number and scale of projects at any one time. Under the revolutionary approach, there is an expectation that a considerable proportion of projects should fail so that the solutions that are considered and prototyped will often not ultimately come to fruition.

Many more staff are employed in design as compared to basic ‘Blue Sky’ research. The central SOC / processor design team is made up of more than 20,000 staff. This is in recognition of the fact that the ultimate challenge is to convert research results into actual products.

A key challenge for the Intel design process is to gauge the most appropriate time to engage external players into the design process. In a highly competitive world, it is vital for the process to be internal for a certain period of time before the design-in phase can start in collaboration with manufacturers of the end products who are known as the eco system players

The laws of physics themselves are a further constant challenge for the Intel design teams who have to deliver more functions with each generation within a constrained cost and thermal footprint.

Design in focus

Intel® Curie™ is a recent product based upon a Quark SOC that was designed and developed by the Leixlip-based Quark team. It is a small wearable processor that can be incorporated into objects such as buttons, watches, or glasses for a diversity of uses in security and systems control applications.

IoT / Wearable products as a segment was identified by corporate management as an emerging market. In response, a new division was set up to oversee the development and design process.

The first stage in the design and development process, completed in early 2014, was to develop a detailed product concept. Drawing on multiple different use cases and a specification of the particular capabilities that the team was aiming for, a set of key features was determined. In several iterations the design team presented the product concept to corporate level decision makers until all the required use cases had been synergised into a workable concept and product architecture.

Only then did the design team move on to focus on the implementation side of things, considering the basic properties of the new product such as its size, the necessary battery capacity or the type of interface. This stage also involved mapping out the individual features and associated costs, followed by an iterative process of considering specific design solutions until a particular platform and silicon had been determined.

As wearables are a very nascent area of activity, much of the design process would still have been framed by the two main poles of design considerations, namely the laws of physics and the market needs. Reconciling the two into a workable product concept was the key task for the design team before the process could be moved into the deployment stage.

Intel® Curie™ is a stand-alone product, but it nevertheless needs to be thought through with the wider product eco system in mind, as it is the latter that ultimately reaches the end customer. The deployment design team therefore worked closely with the other eco system players.

Following the start of actual product manufacturing, the deployment team will focus on a small number of marquee implementations. For these, the team works closely with the manufacturer of the end product in order to further stimulate the evolutionary design process. Intel in combination with the eco system formulates further proof points for the product.

The ultimate market launch is then down to the eco system players. Following this learning phase during which the design team remains involved with the product, support teams will take over for day-to-day interactions with the eco system partners.

Impacts from design

Three main metrics are used in Intel to measure the success of the design process. The first, and narrowest, measure is whether the product functions as specified. The key question at the second level relates to how robust the design specification is in an actual manufacturing environment. Finally, the ultimate measure of the impact of design is the success of the product in the market place.