Monday, March 10, 2014

Global semicon industry trends in 2014: Analog Devices

Sam Fuller
I recently met Sam Fuller, CTO, Analog Devices, and had an interesting conversation. First, I asked him about the state of the global semicon industry in 2013.

He said: “Due to the uncertainties in the global economy in the last couple of years, the state of the global semiconductor industry has been quite modest growth. Because of the modest growth, there has been a buildup in demand. As the global economies begin to be more robust going forward, we expect to see more growth.”

Industry in 2014
How does Analog Devices see the industry going forward in 2014? What are the key trends?

He added: “I would talk about the trends more from an eco-system and applications perspective. Increased capability on a single chip: Given all the advances to Moore’s law, the capability of a chip has increased considerably in all dimensions and not just performance, be it the horsepower we see in today’s smartphones or the miniaturization and power consumption of wearable gadgets that were on show this year at CES.

“In Analog Devices’ case, as we are focused on high performance signal processing, we can put more of the entire signal chain on a single die. For our customers, the challenge is to provide their customers a more capable product which means a more complex product, but with a simpler interface.

“A classic example is our AD9361 chip, which is a single chip wideband radio transceiver for Software Defined Radio (SDR). It is a very capable ASSP (Application Specific Standard Products) as well as RF front end with a wide operating frequency of 70 MHz to 6 GHz.

“This chip, coupled with an all-purpose FPGA, can build a very flexible SDR operating across different radio protocols, wide frequency range and bandwidth requirements all controlled via software configuration. It finds a number of applications in wireless communication infrastructure, small cell Base stations as well as a whole range of custom radios in the industrial and aerospace businesses.”

Now, let’s see the trends for 2014!

More collaboration with customers: There is a greater emphasis on understanding customers’ end applications to provide a complete signal chain, all in a System on a Chip (SoC) or a System in a package (SiP). The relationship with our customers is changing as we move more towards ASSPs focused with few lead customers for target markets and target applications.

While this has already been ongoing in the consumer industry with PCs and laptops, customers in other vertical markets like healthcare, automotive and industrial are and will collaborate more with semiconductor companies like Analog Devices to innovate at a solutions level.

More complete products: We have evolved from delivering just the silicon at a component level to delivering more complete products with more advanced packaging for various 3D chips or multi-die within a package. Our solutions now have typically much more software that makes it easier to configure or program the chips. It is a solution that is a combination of more advanced silicon, advanced packaging and more appropriate software.

With providing the complete solution, the products are more application specific and hence, the need for more collaboration with customers. For example, there may be one focused on Software Defined Radio, one for motor control, and one for vital signs monitoring for consumer health that we have launched recently.

We need it to be generic enough that multiple customers can use it, but it needs to be as tailored as possible to the customers’ needs for specific market segments. While because of the volume and standardization, availability of complete reference designs in the consumer world has been the norm, other market segments are demanding more complete products not-withstanding the huge variation in protocols and applications.

Truly global industry: The semiconductor and electronics industry has become truly global, so multiple design sites around the globe collaborate to create products. For example for Analog Devices, one of our premier design sites is our Bangalore product design center where we quite literally developed our most complex and capable chips. At the same time our customers are also global.

We see large multinational companies like GE, Honeywell, Cisco, Juniper, ABB, Schneider and many of our top strategic customers globally doing substantial system design work in Bangalore along with a multitude of India design houses. Our fastest growing region is in Asia, but we have substantial engagement with customers in North America and Europe. And our competition is also global, which means that the industry is ever moving faster as the competition is global.

Smarter design tools: The final trend worth talking about is the need for smarter design tools.  As our products and our customers’ products become more complex and capable, there have to be rapidly developing design tools, for us to design them.

This cannot be done by brute force but by designing smarter and better tools. There is a lot of innovation that goes on in developing better tool suites. There is also ever more capable software that caters to a market moving from 100s of transistors to literally billions of transistors for an application.

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