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EETE JANUARY 2013

executive interview Seeing the light By Nick Flaherty a Focus oN seNsors For health equipment and high brightness LEDs may seem two very different markets, but the chief executive of Plessey semiconductors sees them as key opportunities for the growth of the company over the next few years. The key says Mike LeGoff is that Plessey is not a commod- ity company, even though it is entering into several commodity markets, including the consumer market. Instead it is a sensor company that understands the links between electronics and human physiology, whether that’s sensing the body or the per- formance of the human eye. this is a long way from its recent past when it was an ana- logue component maker with a fab in Plymouth in the south- West of the uK and design in swindon. “We bought Plessey three years ago in May 2009 and the whole process took six to nine months,” said Le Goff. “It’s been absolutely brutal, the 2008 assets were cheap so we were able to bootstrap the busi- ness but to really grow and expand we had to choose what we wanted to do, and that is health and fitness, energy and LEDs.” as a result the Plessey from three years ago has gone com- pletely, he says. “We had a legacy analogue tuner business for set top boxes and we did a lot of cMos imagers for space and “We want to get off the commodity curve”says Plessey’s CEO defence as well as for dental imaging. That has all changed,” he Mike Legoff. said. one area that is still interesting is using the sensors for Because we are looking at specialist applications for things genome sequencing, which ties into the health applications. The like accent lighting eventually to high brightness for lighting sensors are used to take the image of the separated DNa and LEDs by the end of 2013, we’ll be sampling from May.” much to LeGoff’s delight are thrown away after each sample. he believes this puts Plessey in an elite group of companies. “That’s good business,” he said. “The best use is for plant and “there are huge competitors. at the moment even the vegetable DNa. a good example is the recent e.coli outbreak to Chinese can only do LED on 2-inch sapphire wafers and that’s track down where the outbreak came from.” very expensive,” said LeGoff. “You have BridgeLux and Toshiba But it is the EPIC sensor for health applications that is the on 8-inch wafers, Samsung on 8-inch, Osram on 6-inch and initial growth engine for the company. “the explosive growth will Plessey on 6-inch. This will lower the cost 10 fold from $2 to come on the back of EPIC and on the back of that will be the 20c.” high brightness LED,” he said. This is entirely consistent with the strategy, he says. “We un- the move into leDs follows the acquisition of university of derstand electronics and the manufacture and performance of Cambridge spin out CamGaN in February, which had been part- sensing technology. We are not an IC company we are a sens- nering with Plessey for several years. “We have been working ing company. We have a growing strength in how we as human with the Cambridge group for four to five years and we have a beings interact with electronics through touch, through fields, reactor in Plymouth for lateral LEDs,” he said. through reactions to light. That’s the problem in the marketplace that companies from automotive to apple are trying to solve. We want to gain a better understanding of all the physiological changes, things like lighting with LEDs.” he is very aware of the risks of the strategy. competing with large suppliers such as samsung and toshiba could see Plessey becoming a commodity supplier of leD die for a few cents and vulnerable to the larger companies with larger econo- mies of scale. “We want to get off the commodity curve,” he said. One of the ways to do that is partnering, both in China and with the potential competition such as Samsung.” We are a solutions provider – we don’t do commodity. We go into a smartphone manufacturer with human body models, interfaces and licensing options as well as the electrodes and the chip. We need to work Plessey plans to launch its own health monitor called impulse closely with customers.” the global partnerships and markets are vital. “We have as part of its new strategy. very strong partners in china. We sold a lot of the equipment in 10 Electronic Engineering Times Europe January 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE JANUARY 2013
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