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

Chapter One: Vendor Management Evaluation


To inform the evaluation team of major vendor management practices that help assure a qualified ASIC, delivered within the required time and cost constraints.

In this guide, we recommend that the evaluation team base the management review on the company's organizational structure, business plan, work force, facilities, and equipment. Company policies, strategies for growth, and future direction are also strong considerations in vendor management evaluation. The important task of management evaluation verifies that the existing management structure can adequately deal with the needs of a high- reliability procurement. Furthermore, the review determines if the company has sufficient organizational depth to stay in the high reliability market during the anticipated procurement period.

Top Level Organization Review

Reviewing the organization at the top level provides insights into the company's operation and management structure. The organization review determines whether the company can produce high quality, reliable parts and that the management is capable of, and committed to, meeting both cost and schedule.


We suggest the evaluating team becomes familiar with the ASIC vendor's corporate structure. Consider the influence of the corporate office on its design and fabrication facilities in day-to-day operations. A corporate office may pressure a manufacturing facility to change priorities during the development of your ASIC, causing a serious delay. If several different facilities will be used for your ASIC development work, then check out their locations, interactions, and means of communications. Poor management in these areas could also cause a delay in delivery.


Request a copy of the company's program management organizational chart and the process flow they will use to manage the ASIC development. The program's process flow will help you understand the steps through which an ASIC development moves; it also verifies that appropriate procedures are in place and that timely technical and management skills are available to resolve various issues as they occur during the development cycle. Note the programmatic lines of authority and descriptions of appropriate departments, such as quality assurance, reliability, fabrication, assembly, test, screening, etc., as well as the functions, responsibilities, and interaction of their key technical personnel. Clarify the program manager's responsibilities and authority to both manage and control the resources and subcontractors needed for optimum contract performance. A company's resources consist of personnel, financial status, and facilities, etc.

Business Plan Review

Obtain a detailed technology plan from the vendor. This plan should illustrate the company's goals and policies towards future ASIC technology. Take particular note of their plans for ASIC technology included in your requirements--i.e. rad hard, low power, etc.; major line of business; commitment to ASICs versus off-the-shelf devices; upgrades; upcoming device technologies; process; and CAD tools.


This review examines the commitment and future direction of a vendor towards rad hard ASICs and evaluates both the potential long- and short-term business goals. It also ascertains if the vendor has plans to discontinue the process and associated tools you need to use during your ASIC development cycle.


"The important task of management evaluation verifies that the existing management structure can adequately deal with the needs of a high-reliability procurement."

Checking revenues and the company's financial status assures that vendor financial problems are not likely to jeopardize your ASIC program. Review the company's annual reports for the last three years to determine the revenues generated by the various categories of products and industries, such as defense, space, commercial, etc. Also review financial statements including bank references and established lines of credit for the past three years. Independent agencies such as Dun & Bradstreet also offer another source for checking the company's financial soundness.

Marketing Strategy and Procurement Support Review

Procurement organizations have a set of rules and regulations that must meet the formal Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). The vendor must abide by these rules and regulations once you award a contract. Work to resolve issues with the vendor, thereby avoiding future contractual problems.

We also recommend that you review the vendor's marketing goals and strategies to determine if they are compatible with your ASIC program. Most high-reliability ASIC contracts are low volume and, therefore, relatively low dollar value to a vendor. Find reasons, other than financial, for the vendor to work with you. This will help ensure the vendor's long-term commitment to your ASIC program. Learn the vendor's marketing goals and strategies and try to position your ASICs within them. If you fail to do this, the vendor marketing group may move to put your contract on lower priority or abandon it in favor of another contract that meets their goals.

Personnel, Facilities, and Equipment Analysis

"Visit a vendor's facilities to get first-hand knowledge of their capabilities."

The personnel, facilities, and equipment review shows how these elements contribute to the vendor's ability to meet the technical challenges of your ASIC program. This review also offers first-hand knowledge of the personnel performing the work, enabling the design team to contact them directly should the need arise.

Make sure the vendor provides a list that both describes the facilities, personnel, and equipment that will be needed for the ASIC program and clearly states availability. The vendor should describe the engineering, fabrication, assembly, and test facilities in detail. Make sure the description includes size of the facilities, location, planned availability, and corporate commitment to these facilities. The vendor must have contingency plans to address potential conflicts regarding facility availability.

Visit the vendor's facilities to get first-hand knowledge of their capabilities. Identify all the proposed key management and technical personnel, then review their rsums. Learn about the vendor's tool-based design methodology: What platform is it based on? Where do software tools originate? What is written in-house? What is purchased? Have the vendor discuss the capabilities and availability of a technical group for supporting your designers.

The evaluating team should also find out the vendor's line qualification and certification status, such as under the Qualified Manufacturers List (QML) or the Qualified Products List (QPL). Chapter 2 of this section, "Quality and Reliability Analysis," discusses QML and QPL.


Understand the vendor's capabilities to design, layout, fabricate, assemble, test, and screen the ASIC part in-house. Know how much, if any, of the work that the vendor plans to subcontract. Evaluate the vendor's ability to manage and control the subcontracted work. Make certain that good communication exists between the vendor and subcontractor and that there are no conflicts on the amount of work to be done or on delivery schedules. Following these steps will help ensure reliable, quality subcontract work.

Past Performance Analysis

The best way to verify a vendor's capabilities is to check references. Past performance provides the company's history in delivering ASICs. Review recent experience in fabricating and testing devices of similar complexity and technology of your ASICs.

When you contact a customer of the ASIC vendor, you want get a strong impression that the vendor established the correct kind of relationship with that customer. Determine this by simply asking the customer if they would select that vendor to do an ASIC similar to yours.

Get a list of ASICs the vendor has fabricated. Along with that list, obtain complete part descriptions, contacts at the ASICs' buyer organizations, and dates of development and manufacture. The part descriptions should include the type of ASIC (gate array /standard cell, etc.) and the technology used (1um, 1.5um, etc.).

We recommend asking the vendor to provide sample products. Check out the vendor's product delivery, failure analysis, and quality assurance track record. Make sure they can provide process information about levels of radiation hardening, maturity, stability, life-test data, field returns, etc.

Schedule and Cost Review

Examining schedules for past projects helps verify the feasibility of the targeted delivery schedule for your ASIC. Reviewing schedules also aids in evaluating whether the vendor can devote the resources necessary to meet your schedule. Past schedules for similar procurements to the proposed ASIC should show whether the vendor stayed on target for important milestones.

Estimated costs for developing your ASIC provide a framework for internal budgeting and for cost comparison with other vendors. The estimates must account for non-recurring engineering (NRE) charges as well as required quantities of the part. Ask the vendor to provide a history of costs for similar projects to yours.


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