NASA Office of Logic Design

NASA Office of Logic Design

A scientific study of the problems of digital engineering for space flight systems,
with a view to their practical solution.

The NASA ASIC Guide: Assuring ASICs for SPACE

Appendix Five: Procurement Support


To discuss the responsibilities of ASIC technical managers and ASIC engineers in the suport of ASIC procurement activity.

Most procurement organizations presently have little experience in procuring custom integrated circuits. Successful ASIC procurement requires a certain amount of technical sophistication to create a contract, negotiate and evaluate various parts of the procurement process. Without an understanding of the wider ASIC market and the ASIC development flow, unsatisfactory pricing, schedules and deliverables may result. Depending upon the procurement personnel and policies, technical management and engineers may support procurement behind the scenes, be directly involved face-to-face during vendor negotiations, or participate in some mixture of the two.

Sections One through Four of this guide contain a number of references to procuring ASICs. This appendix is organized around procurement considerations relative to these sections.

Procurement in ASIC Management (Section One)

The ASIC technical manager must take the lead in dealing with procurement. The procurement activity can either hinder the successful completion of the manager's ASIC work, or it can prove a valuable addition, providing much needed assistance in developing an effective relationship with the ASIC vendor.


When an ASIC manager creates a list of tasks and responsibilities for the ASIC group, procurement liaison activities and responsibilities must be included.

A task list should include, but not be limited to:

A responsibilities list for the ASIC group should include, but is not limited to:

Section One and other parts of the guide expand upon the tasks and responsibilities discussed here.


Planning your ASIC group's resources to deal with procurement has two major facets. First make a detailed version of the tasks and responsibilities outlined above, and craft them to the unique requirements of your ASIC group, procurement group, and wider organization. Second, make sure that your group has the skills mix to address these tasks and responsibilities.


You must work closely with procurement to make sure that the contract with the ASIC vendor handles risk correctly.

On the one hand, you want the vendor to assume the maximum amount of risk, both to minimize the impact of problems on your budget and to motivate the vendor to eliminate problems as early and as cheaply as possible. The vendor will try to pass as much risk back to you as the design organization by saying that ASIC design is your responsibility. At this point careful negotiation will ensure that the vendor's design support will be adequately forthcoming and that they do, in fact, take their fair share of design risk. This may require you to assume some up-front costs in areas such as design-for-test circuitry support, test generation, macrocell development, design library translation, etc. However, if the vendor's responsibilities in these areas are clearly spelled out, you can enjoy insulation from a number of problems that would otherwise cost a lot more down the road.

On the other hand, ASIC vendors in the high-reliability business are often small vendors, relative to their commercial ASIC brethren, and may be forced out of business by the negative impacts of risk they assume. This, of course, can ripple through to you and severely harm or destroy your ASIC program. Therefore, enter intelligently, with win-win as the desired final scenario.


Procurement must understand that an ASIC procurement involves the massive transfer of information between vendor and customer. Because an ASIC is a single electronic part, procurement personnel unfamiliar with ASICs may assume that information exchange with a vendor is similar to that required for COTS VLSI, such as microprocessors and memories.

While ASIC part acceptance does generate approximately the same amount of information as other high-reliability VLSI procurements, ASICs also require information transfer much earlier than, as well as during, the design and design verification portions of an ASIC contract.

As an ASIC manager you assume the responsibility to see that procurement knows of, and contracts for, such issues as:


Procurement must also understand the various reviews for an ASIC program. ASIC managers must inform procurement personnel of reviews that they must participate in and alert them to contract properly for all reviews involving the vendor.

Procurement must know about reviews that correspond to significant milestones. This knowledge ensures that review-related milestones and deliverables are stated in clear, unambiguous language suitable for use in reconciling invoices.

Procurement in Vendor Evaluation (Section Two)

In many organizations, procurement spearheads vendor evaluation. Whoever takes responsibility to lead ASIC vendor evaluation must understand the technical ASIC issues involved, as well as more traditional commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) or job-shop vendor evaluation issues.


Procurement/ASIC management must structure a team to perform a management-level analysis of the target ASIC vendor(s). This evaluation determines if the rest of the vendor's organization can back up their technical ability. It does no good to select a vendor with great technical ability if their business plan is to phase out ASICs before you need them. Two authors of this guide have had such an experience with two different vendors.

The nature of ASICs, makes building a relationship with an ASIC vendor different from building one with an off-the-shelf common product VLSI vendor. The rich and complex relationship between customer and vendor needed to effectively produce high-reliability, mask-programmable ASIC devices must develop into a strong partnership. We therefore suggest you use cautious consideration in selecting a vendor.

For in-depth description of management evaluation, please see Section Two: Chapter 1.


Procurement must support and preferably lead the vendor technical evaluation. They must also support the coordination of technical and management evaluation results.

The vendor technical evaluation measures the vendor's capability to meet all technical requirements levied on the one or more ASICs you would like to contract with them.

Since the complex customer/vendor relationship can take some time to achieve, it behooves you to stay with the same vendor. Make sure that the ASIC vendor you select is also moving in the direction of your future requirements. This will minimize the chances of having to go through the costly process of establishing a relationship with another vendor in the future.

For an in-depth description of technical evaluation, please see Section Two: Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Procurement in ASIC Design (Section Three)

Procurement substantially aids effective ASIC design. Modern ASIC design requires contracting for products and services with a number of organizations outside of your own. These include:

Procurement should be aware of a number of issues related to procuring the above items. Such things as single-source justifications, source evaluations, competitive procurements, etc. are procurement's reason for being.

As an ASIC manager it behooves you to sit down with procurement early in an ASIC program to go over your plan for ASIC technology, software, hardware, and other tools. This will help eliminate unpleasant surprises such as an unexpected competitive procurement for a vital tool when you can least afford the time or cost.

Procurement in Part Acceptance (Section Four)

A good ASIC manager will spend considerable time going over the deliverables from ASIC part acceptance. First, decide about the need for engineering parts and the associated vendor data about them that must be gathered and delivered. Then decide about tests and data for final "flight" devices. This decision making must be made in the context of reliability and other requirements of your particular ASIC program. If your project requires QML or QPL qualified ASICs, consider the various options of those two programs, relative to the ASIC program requirement mix. Once these decisions are made, fully inform procurement of the decision details, so they can prepare to properly contract for each detail. Many of the military-style tests and screens are relatively expensive, both in time and money, and must be carefully weighed against the constraints of your program. The ASIC manager must work closely with procurement to devise the best mix of trade-offs because procurement personnel know vendor costs and other resource information that the ASIC manager is not familiar with.

A well-developed working relationship between an ASIC manager and a procurement team trained in ASIC concepts can contribute significantly to creating the ASIC contract, helping define technical goals, and saving time and money for further engineering that would otherwise go to procurement costs. To ensure a successful relationship with the procurement team, the ASIC manager must invest time with his organization's procurement group during the early days of ASIC use. We know you will find procurement organizations eager to learn new technologies, such as ASICs, especially from a well organized and interested manager.

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