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Catalyst Semi beefs up analog roadmap

Posted: 01 Nov 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CAT3636? analog device? EEPROM? Catalyst Semiconductor? memory device?

Brown: We've been in the EEPROM business for 20 years, but we've also been an analog company for 20 years, because our analog capability has been embedded inside our EEPROM products.

For a company that has made major inroads in the non-volatile memory business in the last 20 years, the decision to invest heavily in analog devices is a natural transition to a related and equally profitable business. So despite the fact that 90 percent of its revenue comes from its memory business, Catalyst Semiconductor Inc. has opted to focus its R&D initiatives on new analog products. In a recent interview with EE Times-Asia, Catalyst VP of marketing Scott Brown said 90 percent of the company's R&D budget has been earmarked for investments in analog.

"When we conducted a product review several months ago, we had a total of 52 new products in development, and that's a lot of products for a relatively small company like Catalyst," Brown said. One of the new products from Catalyst is the CAT3636, the first LED driver that will adopt its patent-pending Quad-Mode charge pump architecture.

He attributes the company's aggressive product development efforts to its fabless business model. "When we spend 13 percent of our revenue on R&D, almost all of that goes into product development." Its competitors with fabs, on the other hand, spend as much as half of their R&D budgets on manufacturing processes. Another contributing factor is its efficient engineering facility in Romania, Brown said.

Even with its heavy investment on analog business, Catalyst will continue to reinforce its memory operations. The company ships 100 million units of memory products per quarter. "We are investing a lot to make sure we remain cost-competitive in EEPROM, which is a large portion of our memory business," Brown revealed.

Unusual synergy
Brown acknowledged, however, that while Catalyst remains committed to the stable, highly profitable EEPROM business for the long term, its growth strategy is based on analog products.

"There is a surprising level of synergy between the two businesses. Many of the customers that we are selling EEPROM to are potential customers of our analog products," he pointed out.

In developing analog products, the California-based memory maker hopes to use the same packages and processes used in its EEPROM devices so it can develop analog products without investing in new capital equipment. In some cases, it may add certain functions or enhance its product development techniques "to leverage its EEPROM capability in ways that its analog competitors cannot."

Finally, Catalyst intends to achieve the same level of operational efficiency for its analog products so it can be "very cost-effective even in commodity analog."

Catalyst's CAT3636 is the first LED driver that will adopt the company's patent-pending Quad-Mode charge pump architecture.

Brown stresses that EEPROM devices have a lot of analog functionality. "We tend to think of memory products as a digital function, but in reality, a lot of analog functions are embedded inside EEPROM," he said.

The company has for many years been integrating analog devices such as DC/DC converters into its EEPROM products. It has adopted a lot of these design techniques in developing EEPROM products and transferred them into its analog family.

"So we can say that we've been in the EEPROM business for 20 years, but we've also been an analog company for 20 years, because our analog capability has been embedded inside our EEPROM products," he said.

The first phase of its growth plan involves the introduction of commodity, general-purpose analog products, while the second will include ASSPs and high-performance analog devices. According to Brown, the company's tremendous cost structure and business model, which require comparatively lower growth margins, will be its competitive edge.

- Regina Gepte
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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