The Silicon Review
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Over the last decade, the speed and complexity of electronic systems has increased dramatically. At the same time, applications have demanded lower and lower power consumption, leaving little margin for error in system design and manufacturing. In addition, software, firmware and hardware have become increasingly interdependent. Each must be debugged within the context of the others. And that’s why the vision for the ASSET InterTech, Inc. created SourcePoint and ScanWorks platforms, calls for them to be brought closer together, creating a seamless validation, test and debug environment across hardware and software. That’s real insight into root causes.
ASSET InterTech develops and supplies software and hardware debug, validation, and test tools. It offers SourcePoint, a platform of debug and trace tools for C/C++ embedded software and firmware for Intel, AMD and Arm systems; ScanWorks, a platform that validates, characterizes, and test chips and circuit boards in development, manufacturing, and field service; Boundary-Scan Test, test software that develops interconnect tests and device-programming actions for use on first-prototype boards to accelerate the bring-up process; and Processor-based Functional Test, development software for engineers to increase test and fault coverage via at-speed tests using low-level control of the processor. Both ScanWorks’ test technologies enable test reuse from design with tools that support the manufacturing and repair procesess. Additional tools in the ScanWorks platform focus on fast device programming. Fast FPGA-based in-system Programming (FFP) is a tool with downloadable design functions to program large memories quickly to keep up with the manufacturing line beat rate. Complementing FFP is Processor-based Fast Programming (PFP) to achieve the same goal when memories are accessible from the processor instead of the FPGA fabric.
The company also offers ScanWorks Embedded Diagnostics (SED), a custom embedded In-Target Probe (ITP) implementation that provides on-target run-control via baseboard management controllers (BMC) for target applications; SED supports two embedded applications; test during power-on self-test applications and debug for system hang applications as a forensic tool to aid in finding intermittent field faults in software or hardware.
In addition, ASSET InterTech offers a variety of hardware modules and accessories, including probes, trace ports, analyzers, controllers, adapters, interposers, and other hardware for the SourcePoint and ScanWorks platforms.
The company was incorporated in 1995 and is headquartered in Richardson, Texas. It has additional office locations in Anaheim California (Development); Letterkenny Ireland (Development); and sales/support offices in Shanghai China; San Diego and San Jose California; Minneapolis Minnesota; Boston Massachusetts; and Stoke-on-Trent UK.
Glenn Woppman, ASSET InterTech, Inc. President/CEO/ Chairman of the Board, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.
Q. Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?
ASSET InterTech is a spin-off of a Texas-based company called Texas Instruments (TI). The company was incorporated in support of a new, revolutionary test technology called boundary scan, based on the IEEE 1149.1/JTAG standard established in 1990. As systems manufacturers were moving to surface-mount packaging technologies and more density of functions on printed circuit boards, physical access for board test was becoming more and more difficult. Thus, the boundary-scan/JTAG standard defined an architecture to put IO cells in silicon at each pin to enable virtual access. This technology drove the need and opportunity for a new way to test using a software-based test tool running on a low-cost PC versus the traditional hardware-based solutions sold as capital equipment. As part of the TI semiconductor business, the ASSET team was able to do the missionary work to champion the standards adoption across the semiconductor industry. But once adopted, the advantage of being in TI became limiting since for the test product line to have a chance of success it had to work with the entire semiconductor industry. Thus, TI agreed to spin off ASSET into – ASSET: ‘The Boundary-Scan Company’.
Boundary scan was widely adopted by the semiconductor industry in the second half of the 1990s. The major customers that took advantage of this new board test technology and tools were in the communications, defense/avionics, and computer systems segments. ASSET’s ScanWorks became the leading boundary-scan test and programming tool on the market supporting these three segments. The key test value ScanWorks delivers is high test coverage and robust diagnostics to the pin-level to find the fault. The key value from a device programming perspective is the ability to do in-system programming based on a standard, versus individual custom solutions. A standard way to do in-system programming enables a host of manufacturing process efficiencies in terms of re-programmability and just-in-time manufacturing changes that off-board or custom solutions cannot achieve.
The company expanded its offerings over the years investing in new technologies built on the IEEE 1149.1/JTAG foundation. Examples of those investments include supporting IEEE 1149.6 to address AC-coupled differential signal testing; FPGA Fast Programming IP and tools to accelerate in-system programming; and Processor-based Functional Test and Programming technology to support at-speed testing to further expand the fault domain that can be covered. All these technologies are integrated into the ScanWorks test platform for ease-of-use and deployment.
ASSET’s first acquisition was a company in Ireland that was focused on functional test through an IEEE 1149.1/JTAG-based debug port, which supported Intel processors for PC motherboard testing. Through the years, ASSET acquired technology and products from a host of companies worldwide, such as Tektronix for a VXI boundary-scan controller card, Saab Test Systems for a test application, and others. This helped ASSET move faster to address customer needs than if we had a not-invented-here attitude that would have precluded these technology acquisitions resulting in a negative impact on the company.
Recently, ASSET made a second acquisition, purchasing a company in California that was a leader in Intel-based software debug. That product line, SourcePoint, originally supported Intel Xeon and Core x86 products for software debug focusing on UEFI (BIOS in PCs and Servers). ASSET has expanded SourcePoint recently to support AMD EPYC server processors.
Both ScanWorks and SourcePoint are platforms with multiple applications to give engineers access to debug, validation and test of complex electronic boards and systems. The usage of the tools is driven by advanced packaging technology, sub-micron semiconductor process technology and lack of physical access. Both tools are primarily software communicating with silicon IP to help address the engineering challenges of today’s electronics technology.
Q. If you have to list five factors that have been/ are the biggest asset to your organization, what would they be and why?
Q. Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
Our foundation for test and debug is very strong and in the near-term future, we will be working to deploy the technology from a PC to embedded in-system to address the critical need of 24/7 uptime for globally networked devices. A second key focus of that embedded strategy is to help the defense industry where systems are in the field for 20-30 years–in terms of addressing the billions of dollars it invests for “no trouble found” in the repair process.
We’re also looking at the company’s core competencies to find another ‘Blue Ocean’ opportunity for future growth and longevity – that activity is now under development.
Glenn Woppman | A Formidable Leader
Glenn Woppman serves customers by making sure that everyone at ASSET continually strives to increase customer satisfaction. He is in charge of new initiatives and stays close to the market by spending the majority of his time with customers, prospects, and the people working closest with them. Mr Woppman led the ASSET business at Texas Instruments before spinning ASSET out of TI in 1995. The original ASSET focus was boundary scan test and he led the company through its expansion and transition to a leader in embedded instrumentation.
Mr Woppman holds an MBA from SMU and a BSIE from the University of South Florida.