Functional Safety Moves To Chips

Functional safety affects an increasing number of chip and IP designs. Vendors are precertifying chips, IP, and tools to make it easier for their customers to achieve certification.
Bryon Moyer
Bryon Moyer

Conventional wisdom says functional safety is a system consideration, meaning chip designers needn’t worry about it. But intellectual-property (IP) and chip vendors that design with functional safety in mind will have a distinct advantage when selling to system builders.

Systems with safety implications must meet standard certification requirements; the system components need not. But demonstrating that a system is safe includes proving the subsystems and components are safe. That process becomes easier if those components have precertification; given a choice, system builders will opt for known-safe components.

Inexpensive consumer electronics are notorious for unpredictable failures—either permanent or resolvable through a restart. When electronics pervade systems with serious failure consequences, however, failure prevention is more than just a matter of convenience: it protects against injury or death as well as damage to expensive equipment.

Automobiles are the most common example, but numerous consumer, industrial, medical, transportation, and other systems must battle electronics’ tendency to fail. They do so under the banner of functional safety: the idea that if it’s functioning incorrectly, it may be unsafe.

Functional safety—often abbreviated FuSa—applies to both hardware and software. It’s distinct from security, but developers often discuss the two together because an insecure system is unsafe. FuSa affects electronic, optical, and mechanical systems. Anything that can fail must be prevented from doing harm. Exactly how to prevent harm varies by market, but general functional-safety principles apply across the board, differing only in the details.

FuSa is a broad and complex discipline with a language all its own; incorporating it requires effort and cost. But as attention to FuSa moves through the supply chain, chip and even IP vendors are making it a priority. Understanding its fundamentals gives companies and engineers a competitive advantage.

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