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Catalyst Semicon focuses on analogue R&D

Posted: 22 Sep 2006     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CAT3636  analogue device  EEPROM  Catalyst Semiconductor  memory device 

Catalyst's vice president of marketing <a href=Scott Brown" HSPACE="7">

Brown: We've also been an analogue company for 20 years, because our analogue capability has been embedded inside our EEPROM products.

For a company that has made major inroads in the non-volatile memory business in the last 20 years, the decision to invest heavily in analogue devices is a natural transition to a related and equally profitable business. So despite the fact that 90 per cent of its revenue comes from its memory business, Catalyst Semiconductor Inc. has opted to focus its R&D initiatives on new analogue products. In a recent interview with EE Times-Asia, Catalyst vice president of marketing Scott Brown, said that 90 per cent of the company's R&D budget has been earmarked for investments in analogue.

"When we conducted a product review several months ago, we had a total of 52 new products in development, and that's a lot of products for a relatively small company like Catalyst," Brown said. One of the new products from Catalyst is the CAT3636, the first LED driver that will adopt its patent-pending Quad-Mode charge pump architecture.

He attributes the company's aggressive product development efforts to its fabless business model. "When we spend 13 per cent of our revenue on R&D, almost all of that goes into product development." Its competitors with fabs, on the other hand, spend as much as half of their R&D budgets on processes. Another contributing factor is its excellent engineering facility in Romania.

Adopting a fables business model enables Catalyst to devote almost all of its R&D budget—13 per cent of its revenue—into product development. In comparison, its competitors with fabs spend as much as half their R&D budgets on manufacturing processes.

Even with its heavy investment on analogue business, Catalyst will continue to reinforce its memory operations. The company ships 100 million units of memory products per quarter. "We are investing a lot to make sure we remain cost-competitive in EEPROM, which is a large portion of our memory business," Brown revealed.

Unusual synergy
Brown acknowledged, however, that Catalyst remains committed to the stable, highly profitable EEPROM business for the long term, its growth strategy is based on analogue products. "There is a surprising level of synergy between the two businesses. Many of the customers that we are selling EEPROM to are potential customers of our analogue products," he pointed out

In developing analogue products, the California-based memory maker hopes to leverage the same technology that it has been using for EEPROM. In some cases, it can even add certain functions or enhance its product development techniques "to leverage its EEPROM capability in ways that its analogue competitors cannot." The company has also opted to use the same packages and processes used in EEPROM devices so it can develop new analogue products without investing in new capital equipment.

Finally, Catalyst intends to achieve the same level of operational efficiency for its analogue products so it can be "very cost-effective even in commodity analogue."

Brown stresses that EEPROM devices have a lot of analogue functionalities. "We tend to think of memory products as a digital function, but in reality, a lot of analogue functions are embedded inside EEPROM," he said.

The company has for many years been integrating analogue devices such as DC/DC converters into its EEPROM products. It has adopted a lot of these design techniques in developing EEPROM products and transferred them into its analogue family.

"So we can say that we've been in the EEPROM business for 20 years, but we've also been an analogue company for 20 years, because our analogue capability has been embedded inside our EEPROM products," he said.

The first phase of its growth plan involves the introduction of commodity, general-purpose analogue products, while the second will include ASSPs and high-performance analogue devices. According to Brown, the company's tremendous cost structure and business model, which require comparatively lower growth margins, will be its competitive edge.

- Regina Gepte
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia




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