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AnalogicTech CEO remains upbeat, embraces chaos

Posted: 22 May 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:analogue chip  ModularBCD process  fables  foundry business 

EE Times: Any exceptions to the rule?

Williams: Maybe LED backlight is a little more generic, but it also has been more commodised. People who did have LEDs had to start dropping the prices to keep out the people that didn't have LED. But suddenly, the number of suppliers in that market went from maybe five to 40 or 50. You know what that means? The price keeps hurdling on down. The products that are still generic are the industrial market. In maybe the future, that will become more specialised.

EE Times: Any signs of an IC recovery?

Williams: We've definitely had increased business. Our lowest bookings month was November. Every month since then has increased. Not necessarily linearly. We believe the top-tier guys are showing true demand increases. The third- and fourth-tier suppliers, especially in the handset space, are handled through distribution. There you can't tell what's replenishment and what's demand.

EE Times: Do you see a second half recovery?

Williams: It's hard to tell, but the bookings are picking up gradually. The handset is picking up. The smartphone is not picking up as fast as the ultra-low cost handset. The gadgets are not picking up as fast. GPS and hands-free car kits have not picked up. The notebook has not picked up in a big way.

EE Times: Will we ever see major mergers and consolidation in analogue?

Williams: The lack of a common platform is why that doesn't happen in analogue. If you find that special sauce that each analogue company has, it's like a recipe. And it's different. It's like consolidating RC Cola, Pepsi and Coke. They just don't believe in the other guy's recipe. And there is no way to mix those product lines. So they will die fighting to preserve their secret recipes. That's why M&A has been challenging and unsuccessful in the broad-based analogue market. For example, if you take a mid-tier company and merge it into On Semiconductor, all that happens is that the competitiveness of the mid-tier company goes away.

EE Times: You are a fabless analogue player. Some say you need a fab to survive in analogue. Some say you need to work with a generic foundry in analogue. Which is the real case?

Williams: We started our company on the principal that both views are wrong. A general broad-based foundry commercialises every bit of intellectual property they have among all the analogue customers. And that takes away some of the advantages that they have on their competition.

We know the fab model has inflexibilities. For example, I was at Siliconix for 18 years. We ended up with a German fab. Then, we stopped asking what the customer needs. We started asking: 'What can we use to fill that fab?' It was like operations had suddenly taken over the company. We were not asking about the market. We were only asking about the fab. That's the problem. When owning a fab, it's almost obsolete before you sign the paperwork.

'Fabless without foundries'
EE Times: What is your manufacturing strategy?

Williams: Our vision is to be fabless without foundries. What we did is we partnered with basically DRAM fabs. DRAM fabs have the highest volume, lowest cost and most advanced technology on earth. They only know make DRAM. They have to keep moving the curve and when they do, they have to vacate their last fab. Then, they have to backfill it with something. Normally, they have to backfill it with LCD line drivers and camera image sensors.

So we went to those fabs and took our own process technology. We say: 'Make that process for us and we'll show you how. And then you'll have all of our business or half of it as long as you use our technology and don't sell it to anyone else.' We have now gotten to the point where we can bring up a process without anybody knowing exactly what it does.

EE Times: Who makes your product on a foundry basis?

Williams: The two fabs we work most closely with are MagnaChip and Vanguard. We've also worked some with a China fab call CSMC. We have more fabs than we know what to do with it.

EE Times: South Korea's MagnaChip is an IDM and foundry provider. Taiwan's Vanguard was in the DRAM business years ago, but it now focuses on the speciality foundry business. Are you interested in partnering with TSMC?

Williams: Absolutely not. Whatever I teach them, they will use against me.

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