Maxim sees integration as the engine of sales growth

Interviews |
By eeNews Europe

“At Maxim we have a view of that analog electronics can make the world smarter, safer, more convenient, more energy efficient. We see cars being smarter. We see safer more convenient transportation,” explained Chris Neil, Senior Vice President of Maxim Integrated’s Industrial and & Medical Solutions group. “We see that there will be better matching between power consumption and power generation with the introduction of the Smart Grid. We see more efficient factories with increased up-time which benefits all of us and gives us higher quality products. We also see that we need healthcare to be more widely available and more convenient”.

“And we think integration is the way to achieve all of this. And that is why we have changed our name to Maxim Integrated from Maxim Integrated Products. Although we realize we have a strong reputation for creating innovative, ‘clever’ products and that we make products in a wide range of technologies nowadays we need to supplement all of that with a customer-centric view”.

“Over 29 years we have developed 31 different product families and 7000 different products. We have roughly 9200 employees and generate $2.4 billion in sales. And during that period we have been growing very well with some exceptions such as 2008 and the Credit Crisis then. 2012 looks like also being an exception as well now that everyone is trying to deal with some of the current global economic uncertainties. However, overall we have grown pretty solidly, especially compared with our peers”.

“The world is getting smaller and cycles in new generation products are also decreasing,” continued Neil. “People want things faster and they need help designing them. Everything is getting smaller. Products such as cell phones, computer and wireless basestations are all much smaller today. We see the trend not just in consumer and computing applications but we also see it in communications. We see it in automotive and industrial applications as well as healthcare”.


The trend to greater integration

“In the past 30 or so years what has been going on in the analog industry has been focused around building block products. There are currently about 40 000 analog products for sale through distribution. However, customers are increasingly wanting more and more help with their designs to help them reduce time to market. Where system solutions make sense we are seeing a path towards integration. We mostly see this in cell phones but we also see it in automotive, industrial and healthcare applications. We see the trend going on and this trend has been going on in digital for quite some time”.

“But it is difficult to achieve this in analog for a variety of reasons. Some of the challenges are because different analog products are often built with different processes. For example, you can have high-speed products such as an ultrasound receiver that is effectively a high-speed data receiver. That may be made using a 5 V or 3 V process but you may want to integrate that with the transmitter which is a 200 V process. The transmitter sends out the waveform. So how do you reconcile that difference?”

Neil added: “You can also have problems where you have sensitive analog circuits that are very close to very noisy digital circuits. So you have cross-talk and interference. Then you finally have to choose when you have a chip that has digital and analog. Which one do you want to optimize for. Is it the speed and power of the digital or the current capability and dynamic range of the analog? So those trade-offs have to be made. They are made by understanding the system, working with customers and partnering with them to find a solution”.

“At Maxim Integrated we are very focused on end market applications. We think about integration with the end goal in mind,” declared Neil. “So when we develop single function block products we know that it will be easy to put them into a single piece of silicon once they are proven”.

“Since 2007 highly integrated products have grown from about 18 percent of our total revenue to about 37 percent,” commented Neil. “In absolute terms this was about 18 percent of $2 billion so that’s about $360 million. And now it is 37 percent of $2.4bn which equates to $900m. Highly integrated products are a growing portion of our business”.

“The growth is just not in the consumer market such as tablets and smart phones. It is certainly driven by that but we see applications for this in a lot of other markets as well”.

“Of the highly integrated portion of the business we see that 55 percent is in consumer products, mostly mobile phones and flat panel TVs but 45 percent is in computing, communications and industrial areas. Examples would be utility meters or financial terminals, communications or automotive”.

“Our success in this highly integrated area is shown by our growth in revenue just before the October 2008 Crash in the financial markets following the ‘Credit Crisis’,” continued Neil. “Since that time, which we think is a good reference point, Maxim has done well with its revenue compared to our leading peers. Maxim has grown at 21 percent from $501m in September 2008 to $605m in June 2012. Our next closest competitor has grown at six percent in that period. As a total, with ourselves included in this, the group of leading analog companies have actually decreased in revenue by about three percent”.

“The analog market is not just going towards integrated solutions for reasons of the demand for smaller, more complex, higher performance solutions. Customers also want faster-time-to-market they want us to more work for them because they have their own operational expenditure concerns. We can see this progression from building blocks to system solutions to integrated analog products”.


Fresh identity and thought leadership

“Our new branding – Maxim Integrated – has been developed to emphasise our position on integration where we take a leading position both in terms with our customers in terms of market share but also in terms of ‘thought leadership’,” suggested Neil.

“The other reason for the new branding is to let our customers know that we have become very customer-centric and not just focused on innovative products but also more focused on delivering those products to them and to get them there on time and be easy to do business with. Our top customers have understood that and learnt that over the past five years but we have 30 000 customers to deal with and a lot of those customers are small and that message has not trickled down to them so the new branding is a way of getting the integration message and the customer-centric message across to them”.

“The analog industry has been evolving. Well frankly it has been consolidating. In 1991 the top ten analog suppliers and their market shares were pretty evenly distributed and spread out. At that time Maxim was not even in the top ten. However, by 2001 Maxim had grown to be in about the Number Five position. About ten years ago the top players consolidated their positions and almost doubled their market share. Today there has been further consolidation and Maxim has also grown and we have done well in this area because we have just put out a product every single day and we have built a very broad portfolio at a time when the market needed it. But our growth most recently has been because of our emphasis on highly integrated products particularly for the consumer space”.

“We are also seeing over the past 15 years that customers want more than simple documentation and a sample with some application support. We commissioned a study last year and we found that customers wanted ready made reference designs and they want more skilled technical support with people who understand their systems and want to improve their time to market. The study says to us that customers are moving away from a supplier who just provides them with components to a partner who can help them with end-to-end solutions”.


Who wants 40 000 more analog products?

“We asked Avnet to help us with worldwide distribution because with 30 000 products we have quite a long tail,” explained Neil. “We asked Avnet if they could help us figure out how many analog products were for sale through distribution channels in the past. We estimated that in 1991 there 10 000 products available for sale. Ten years later in 2001 that number had gone to 20 000 and ten years after that, by 2011, it had risen to 40 000. If this trend keeps up we can see there will be 80 000 products for sale through distribution nine years from now. The question you have got to ask yourself is does the world really need 40 000 more analog products? How differentiated are the products going to be?”

Our conclusion is that the world does not need 40 000 more analog products. That would be ten products a day for the next ten years. It is time for change and the change we see is that there has been a flattening of growth in the analog industry and we are at an inflection point now where customers are wanting faster time to market, better performance, lower cost, smaller size and more help with their designs. They are now looking for analog suppliers to do what digital suppliers have been doing which is to provide a more integrated solution.

Companies that just continue to build their portfolio or are going to just sell building block products will have some growth going forward but the companies that understand how to do analog integration will see much more rapid growth. Maxim has already demonstrated that with our sales because of our ability to participate in the consumer marketplace with our highly integrated products. We are also seeing growth going forward driven by our smart meter products where integration is driving that as an industrial example. We believe no one has a claim to ‘thought leadership’ when it comes to analog integration. That is where Maxim recognizes our strength lies”.


End market focus


“In 2007 Tunc Duloca became Maxim’s CEO and he set in motion at Maxim a lot of activity involving the reorganization of the business units by end market to improve the organizations’ customer focus,” said Neil. “So now we are very focused on the end market”.

“Duloca invested in supply chain management and invested tens of millions of dollars in ERP systems. He also reduced bottlenecks we had in manufacturing to make sure that we could have shorter lead times. He strengthened our distribution channel by partnering with Avnet to help reach the smaller customers. He also expanded the leadership team by consolidating the fab manufacturing and the back end operations under one person. He put in place customer service vice presidents and organizations”.

“We have also moved to a hybrid manufacturing model to give us a flexible, multisource capacity. The result is now that 37 percent of our revenues are from highly integrated products”.


Drivers for faster growth

“The industrial sector has grown faster than any other segment in the analog market during the past five years,” explained Neil. “The sector has grown at about nine percent over the past five years. It is projected to continue to grow at that rate for the next five years – from $7 billion up to $11bn. It is a very fragmented market and is comprised of many sub-markets. One of the reasons the industrial segment is growing so rapidly is because there are some very expensive problems to solve in the electronics space and analog will help solve those problems”.

“For example, in the energy market more than $300bn is going to be spent annually building new power plants to meet the demand for higher electricity. There is currently 30 trillion kWh of energy being used. The Smart grid will help reduce the number of power plants being used and will help people spread out their energy consumption throughout the day and also enable better sharing of grid network and offer better use of the power plant”.


Healthcare impetus

Neil added: “In healthcare there is a $6 trillion annual spend and the numbers keep rising and it is a problem that people have to deal with across the Globe. One way of reducing those costs is to reduce hospitalization costs. One way to do this is to monitor the health of patients to prevent them going to hospital. For example if they have a chronic condition they can wear a medical device they can monitor that condition and only have to go to hospital when the condition gets acute. If the patient does have to go to hospital they can wear some kind of vest while they are recuperating that enables them to leave the ICU and go to general recovery earlier and still have the confidence of the physician that there is some supervision of the person’s condition going forward so this is a way of reducing hospitalization costs. The wearable device is going to require accurate measurement of your vital signs and it is going to require some form of communications, probably wirelessly, and it is going to require security because you do not want people being able to hack into your medical data especially if the patient is wearing something like an insulin pump or a pacemaker”.


Keeping factories running

Neil also pointed out: “In factories $800 billion a year is spent annually maintaining factories. The problem is that a lot of that is unnecessary. So how do you reduce these maintenance costs? How do you keep factories up and running for longer? Well you can measure the health of motors. You can make sure your communications is robust and make sure that your factory is secure from cyber attacks”.

“We are seeing thought leadership from us in terms of powerline communications. We authored the IEEE standard for this and we chaired the committee. This is the most robust way of communicating on the smart grid using copper wires and it is based on a technology which was invented and developed by Maxim and offers proven security”.


Ensuring security

“Security is becoming a very big differentiator for Maxim,” stressed Neil. “We believe our competitors don’t have the necessary security expertise and I see it is the thing with customers that more and more really makes them sit up and take notice. They become more attentive when I say I want to combine accurate measurement and communications with security”.

“There are tens of thousands of customers and they are all choosing separate components to do these functions so you can imagine this is what really drove the portfolio expansion because there were tens of thousands of customers choosing 15 or so different functions and all of them being single function ICs. This really drove all the fragmentation and diversity in the market but the point has come when people do not have the time to develop these systems every time they want to do something different and they rely more and more on us to help them. So the first step in industrial applications is to provide the system level solutions to customers and what makes sense is integration in a single IC”.

“Maxim does about $1 billion of business in building block products so it is a big part of our $2.4bn sales and it is growing,” admitted Neil. “But it is not going to grow at the accelerated rate that we desire that is about the inflection point. To get that kind of growth you need more of a systems solution or integrated approach”.

“An example of how we provide accurate measurement with robust communications and security can be seen a smart meter application,” said Neil. “This is a good example of building blocks leading to systems solutions which leads to integration and it is for a big market. There are about 65 million smart meters sold last year and the market is growing at about 12 percent per year. About 30 percent of the 65 million use passive smart touch SoC type solutions that integrate analog and digital functions to make the measurement. That’s going to switch to 60 and 70 percent over the next couple of years. So not only is the market growing but there is a shift going from discrete solutions to SoC solutions. We see that SoCs will overtake discrete within two years”.

“One third of Point of Sale terminals that are sold each year have as their microcontroller Maxim IC which is a Maxim secure microcontroller,” added Neil. “That is something that differentiates us from many of the other analog suppliers. In addition, if you look at ATM terminals then 50 percent of those have their keyboards protected by Maxim secure microcontroller. So we have proven high market share security expertise in a front end marketplace and we are bringing that to bear on the industrial market place”.

“Maxim has developed ways of addressing all types of security attacks relating to the smart grid,” suggested Neil. “More than anything else when you are dealing with security you have to think about it as a system. You have to think of it as a life cycle. This is something that you don’t just wake up and do. It is something that you have to have experience with like Maxim does with the financial terminals applications. You have to understand all the different attacks points and what you have to do to counter all those different attacks. Mostly what it comes down to is a few things:

Proper authentication – so when someone says they want to give you information are they really who they say they are?

Validation – when someone says here is some code that I would like you to run then is it really valid code? So we are talking digital signatures.

Encryption – if you do have something that is valuable in the code then you want to make sure that it is encrypted when you are transporting it from one place to another. And you do not want to store it unless it is encrypted. So if someone does open up your chip and look at the code even if they found it they wouldn’t know what to do with it because it would be encrypted.

Physical tampers – where someone tries to introduce very fine wires between the leads and they try to force the chip into certain states and try and understand what is going on based on that data. Or alternatively some people try to get between a magnetic stripe reader and a pick-up and the IC that it is communicating with to capture the PIN numbers off a credit card”.

“These are the kind of attacks which are very similar to the types of attacks you will find in other industrial applications,” suggested Neil.

“Yesterday a smart meter design would have featured five chips used to handle measurement and communications with one chip to manage the entire system,” pointed out Neil. “Today we are seeing that these two functions have been integrated into a single system on a chip. There is need for a new block that is a security code processor which is currently a separate IC and the communications is still handled by several chips. We provide a reference design that demonstrates the functioning of this type of product with these two chip”s.


Demos at electronica

“Next month we are going to be providing a chip that integrates all of these blocks into a single SoC IC,” declared Neil. “We see integration as a core enabler in multiple markets such as factory automation, portable ultrasound and wearable ECG. To illustrate this trend we will be running 14 different demos at electronica this November. They cover industrial, medical energy and automotive applications”.



Monitoring motor health

“There are about 100 million motors sold worldwide every year,” said Neil. “Twenty percent of those are sophisticated. The 0ther 80 million take direct AC in and are not that sophisticated and the reasons they are not too sophisticated is because the users do not know exactly how they are going to be used so they do not know how much sophistication to put on the device. They have a limited amount of size and space in which to put the control electronics. So that means that a lot of motors out there have no real control of them so when they fail and they do for these reasons you can get yourself into problems that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. For example if a saw mill breaks down it costs £10 000 an hour of lost productivity. The problem is that you can probably replace the broken motor, fan or pump relatively quickly but to get the whole process back up and running can take several days. So you are talking about hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of problems because of a single cheap motor. The good news is that there are ways of detecting then these systems are going to fail”.

“One of the demos we will be showing at electronica which features an electric motor with a disk brake on it to represent different loading on it,” advised Neil. “Inside the housing is this system that we developed. At the core of it is the MAX78638 which is an energy health measurement chip that takes into the speed of the rotation, different temperature inputs as well as the current and voltage measurements of the motor. The device can detect through these measurements whether the rotor is starting to fail, whether the stator is starting to fail, or whether the ball bearings are starting to fail. When a rotor or a stator starts to fail it gives off an electric signature and this system measures those and gives the outputs so it converts the analog signals it is measuring into real information in real time. The data is then communicated on a robust Profibus out of the system to let engineers know what the problem is”.

“When you monitor these systems as the rotor starts to break you look for harmonics and the active and reactive power and you begin to see a higher amount of harmonics when the rotor starts to break. Our system deliver proven measurements in a way that saves time-to-market, saves power, is compact and efficient”.

“Every time there is a fault it says that adds to the effective runtime of the product,” explained Neil. “So the nominal time is a thousand hours but when you keep getting these faults then it is going to start adding to the runtime making it longer and this will indicate that a fault could happen more easily. The power overtones graphs will show you when a rotor starts to break. Leakage current detection is also important when you are looking at the stators and the isolation of the stators is starting to wear off and indicates that you need some current protection. The integrated chip also does some power quality monitoring as well”.

“Also you want to look for vibration when the bearings start to wear out,” continued Neil. “When we attach an accelerometer to a motor then it will start to show the vibrations. We developed an entire signal chain that could be powered by a single supply. So there were beyond the rails inputs powered by a single 5 V supply. This is an example of how by thinking of the whole system and developing a product for each step in the system – the mux, the amp/power and the ADCs that does this measurement can help us to eliminate components because now you do not have to generate negative power supplies. It saves on costs. There is less noise and it improves reliability because there are fewer components”.

“There are also lots of things that can go wrong in a factory so to keep your factory running you always need to make sure that your sensors are working properly so we have made a product that can protect against +50 V and -50 V surges. It also detects whether the sensors are open or short. So this is looking at the sensors in a system. It can also monitor the status of a PLC by looking at the voltages and the temperatures throughout the system. Sequencing the voltages, monitoring the voltages as well as monitoring the currents to see if there are any faults in your system especially if there are any faults with the sequencing. If the sequencing is not right you may latch up and if power supplies are starting to fail you want to detect that. So we have built-in a ‘Black Box’ capability and a non-volatile memory that can be used to shows where the failures are occurring. It also has sensor cable fault detection. It offers very robust communications and a way for monitoring your systems to keep a factory up and running”.

“We also offer run-time monitoring,” continued Neil. “which is a way of setting up your system to look for elapsed time and you can ‘Black Box’ it to keep track of any failures and when they occur to enable you to see the frequency of the failures to help analyze the health of your system. Each of these systems is an integrated solution that combines analog with digital functionality. For example, the digital input serializer has eight inputs in it and it is the only product out there that takes one side the input from a thermocouple and delivers a digital output out the other side. And it has high ESD protection and provides a simplified design”.

Vital signs monitoring

“Perhaps the most exciting demo we are going to show at electronica is a reference design for Vital Signs Shirt,” enthused Neil. “The shirt offers 24/7 connected health monitoring capability and uses a 3-lead ECG to measure your heart rate. The shirt will also measure your core temperatures as well as the activity of your body. The shirt uses Bluetooth to offer connectivity to a smart phone and has a USB port for charging and displays the vital signs on the smartphone screen. The shirt is powered by a rechargeable Li+ battery”.

“We are not getting into the business of making and selling shirts but we are partnering with people who do. We want to provide the hardware for this type of system,” explained Neil. “The partners will provide the biomedical digital signal processing part of it. That is their expertise. We want to provide sufficient hardware that provides connectivity – that provides charging, that provides control, that provides battery fuel gauging as well as to provide the means of making measurements of different vital signs”.

“To really know how to do that at a system level means that you really have to go through the effort of working with someone to design it. We have learned a lot about different types of sensors. We’ve learned a lot about the algorithms and the types of measurements that are necessary. We learned a lot about the needs for keeping the solution compact and low powered”.

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