Watching out for new sensing technologies: ams AG

Watching out for new sensing technologies: ams AG

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By eeNews Europe

"Because we do the tough stuff, specialty analog designs, we can drive high margins even in the competitive consumer market", commented Laney.

The sensors and analog circuits company’s current capacity in its 200mm in-house fab is 180 to 190k wafer equivalent per annum, designing CMOS and specialty analog down to 180nm.

But it has maxed out its capacity and ams is having a new fab custom-built by agencies of the State of NewYork that it will rent as a fully operational wafer fab for the next 20 years. The new fab is expected to add up in excess of 150k 200mm-wafer equivalent per year, while being 130nm capable. Production ramp is expected early 2018.

"This is very critical for our company, because we use a fab-lite business model, so we can garner premium margins" explained Laney. "Adding that capacity will allow us to bring the costs down, we looked at certain places in Asia but we needed a dollar-based operation for the sake of currency stability, and this opportunity was just too good to pass up".

Although the company outsources some of its production to TSMC, UMC, or GloFo for its non-critical consumer and communication products (making up 71% of its revenues), it wants to keep the industrial, medical and automotive products under close control on its own fabs.

"That’s because when we operate with our in-house processes, we can tweak the transistors, and we have much better simulation models too, so we can achieve better design optimization. For the small volumes we outsource to them, the large foundries won’t bother tuning their process for us, hence some of our key IP would not be transferable to them", told us Laney.

The company also reserves about 10% of its in-house capacity for external customers, so the new fab will allow an extension of this capacity too. Laney expects the extension to be modular, as a gradual increase to balance its outsourcing demand. As for staffing the new facility, there are plenty of high tech businesses from whom to poach engineers, and ams is confident it will also be able to groom new graduates into successful ams engineers.

Would this fab be MEMS-capable?

"We won’t be touching gyros or accelerometers unless we can add our own capabilities to them" answered Laney who doesn’t want to see his margins shrink through commoditization.

Laney briefly commented on the next CEO transition, with Alexander Everke to become the new CEO of ams in March 2016. As the former General Manager of Multimarket Semiconductors Business Unit and Executive Vice President of NXP, Everke came on board when ams acquired the environmental CMOS sensor business from NXP last summer.

"We are doing some road shows and working together over the 3rd and 4th quarters of this year, then he will take over during the first quarter of 2016 to lead ams to become a 1 billion Euros company within the next 3 to 4 years".

ams wants to be seen as the largest focused sensor semiconductor company, and it hopes to leverage the smartphone-based IoT sensors frenzy to grow significantly.

Executive Vice President of Marketing and Strategy, Thomas Riener gave us his view on IoT, essentially, connecting sensors with big data via the internet to yield new forms of knowledge and insights.

He described IoT as the 3rd growth wave in semiconductors, reaching across all vertical markets. "Strategy is about finding where you are good and finding the market fit", he said, comparing ams to a good surfer ready to take on the new sensor-driven market wave.

ams’ Thomas Riener surfing the IoT wave.

"If you consider health-monitoring applications and their related sensors moving to smart phones, you could be monitoring 10 million people every hour" Riener emphasized. Data analysis on such a large scale could enable predictive medicine. Say you figure out that statistically, when two data lines cross, you know there is a risk of a heart attack and your doctor gives you a call to alter the trend with medication or a change of habits.

ams already provides many basic sensor elements for integration, but also fully integrated modules, ranging from temperature, humidity or pressure, to light detection or gas sensors, with its own sensor fusion recipes to yield context awareness information.

But the company is keen to expand its offering by acquiring innovative startups with other promising sensing solutions. Multi-spectral sensing and photonics are areas to watch, admitted Riener, confessing that the company was developing dual spectral sensors for the coming years.

Related articles:

AMS to spend $2 billion on New York wafer fab

AMS buys environmental sensor business from NXP

CEO interview: AMS’ Laney on driving a sensor-driven business

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