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Manufacturing expansion AMS’ fourth business unit is foundry, Laney said. “We keep foundry for differentiation in high-precision solutions and outsource the digital to TSMC,” said Laney. “We have a manufacturing capacity of 160,000 wafers per year. We are looking for additional foundry capacity.” Laney explained that AMS is shopping for a 200mm wafer fab that is coming to the end of its life as a source of digital chips and that AMS can re-invigorate Entrance to the modern AMS offices and wafer fab complex. by using it for analogue, MEMS and sensor production and possibly for 3D circuit production. “There are a lot of considerations when exploring these opportunities. It is about finding the right sort of relationship because this will be a transition process. The fab must have some product running that we are prepared to take over and then we can phase our products in at 180nm.” Laney said that he was 95 percent certain AMS’ fab acquisition would not be in Europe. “We’re look for a dollar-based fab. Asia could be a preferred location,” Laney said. IoT and wearables In terms of AMS digital capability the company offers ARM- and 8051-based microcontrollers. “Where sensor solutions need to be small we can produce a system solution. That’s why wearables and the Internet of Things is an interesting space for us. I don’t like the name Internet of Things but I think it is a reality. “Imagine humidity sensors buried in sheetrock plasterboard. If they are triggered they can send a message to cut off the main water supply potentially saving thousands of dollars in damage repairs. And the information can be uploaded to the Internet to send a message to a cell phone. That’s just one of thousands of examples. The IoT is going to link sensors around the world. And AMS manufacturing can help make tiny autonomous wireless sensor nodes by performing 3D assembly of die, said Laney. “One of the reasons I felt it was very competitive to put TAOS with AMS was its ability with through-silicon vias (TSVs),” Laney said. “TSV is very important with optical chips because flip chipping is often not an option, because usually optical sensors have to look up. The ability to offer reliable solutions for optical systems is often about stacking die. Foundries offering TSV have an advantage.” That Dialog miss However, AMS was nearly integrated out of existence through a merger with Dialog Semiconductor plc. It appears the company’s have agreed not to merge but does that mean AMS is now “in-play” and at risk of being consolidated rather than being a consolidator? “We know the guys at Dialog pretty well. We both sell PMICs but we don’t compete that much. It would have created a powerful number-four chip company in Europe but it’s hard to layer one structure on top of another. The customer concentration didn’t bother us but the margins and revenues are different.” “The market view is that the parting of the ways has been favourable for AMS. Dialog would have been a challenge in terms of integration.” As to whether AMS is “in-play” Laney doesn’t see specific danger of that happening despite the spate of mergers and acquisitions going on throughout the electronics and semiconductor industries. “Mergers don’t take place unless there’s good alignment,” he said. “We’re leveraging great analogue design capability to create high value sensor solutions. I think sensordriven lighting, spectral sensing, automotive, wearable and medical are going to be great for us.” Could AMS’ expansion be bad news for Europe? By Peter Clarke An Austrian chip manufacturer getting hold of another wafer fab has to be good news for Europe, right? Yes, unless… It is good to see Austria’s AMS wants to expand its chip manufacturing but the issues are complex and there are many ways this could yet play out. At first glance this might seem positive for Europe but delve a little deeper and we may find allto familiar geographical business tides are running. As analog, MEMS and sensor chip company AMS not only manufactures for itself but also offers foundry services to others, it should come as no surprise that it wants to expand its manufacturing. CEO Kirk Laney told EE Times Europe that he wants to do this by acquiring a 200mm wafer fab that is near the end of its life making digital circuits and repurpose it for the various manufacturing processes that AMS can run. Laney made the point buying an older fab usually entails taking over the manufacture of legacy products for the vendor on a supply contract that usually lasts a few years and therefore not only the right sort of fab but also the right sort of relationship needs to be found. If there were no products running through the fab the equipment would have been sold and taken out the building. A fab is like an organism that lives while gases, materials and wafers flow through it, like air and food flow through an animal. When that flow stops the fab dies and it is almost impossible to resuscitate such a fab. It is true that buying a fab that is running some product would have the potential advantage of bringing additional process capability to AMS that could be reused for other foundry clients. It all depends on the detail of the deal that can be cut. But this is the strategy that has been followed with some success by the pure-play foundries Tower Semiconductor Ltd. (Migdal Haemek, Israel) and X-Fab Silicon Foundries AG (Erfurt, Germany). And there are so many struggling IDMs that are looking to get rid of wafer fabs, along with their responsibilities to the workers employed therein, that it is possible to get a great deal on a wafer fab or even be paid to take manufacturing of companies’ hands. However, what may be of concern to European readers is Laney’s statement that he is 95 percent certain that an AMS wafer fab acquisition would not be in Europe. One argument given 16 Electronic Engineering Times Europe October 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE OCT 2014
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