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Infineon charts new power path in Asia

Posted: 16 Nov 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Infineon? Tan Soo Hee? Reinhard Ploss? Wolfgang Ziebart? Power Fab?

Ziebart: In Asia, speed of execution is critical.

Two months ago, Infineon Technologies AG formally opened its first Asia-based front-end power fab in Kulim Hi-Tech Park, Kedah Darul Aman, Malaysia. The $1 billion facility marks the German semiconductor giant's bid to fortify its position in the rapidly growing global power IC market. Following the opening ceremonies, Infineon president and CEO Wolfgang Ziebart, senior VP and general manager for automotive, industrial and multimarket Reinhard Ploss, and Infineon Technologies (Kulim) Sdn Bhd managing director Tan Soo Hee discussed with EE Times-Asia the company's plans in the region, and its focus on the power IC segment within Infineon's automotive, industrial and multimarket (AIM) business group.

EE Times-Asia: Infineon has a significant presence in Singapore and Malaysia. Should we also expect migration of some Infineon design content to other locations in Asia?
Wolfgang Ziebart: Over the years, we've built up design facilities in other Asian locations. Currently, there are about 700 engineers working already in Asian-based design centers. For instance, in China, we have Xi'an and Shanghai. We have also set up considerable software-related development in Bangalore, India. Across the Asia-Pacific region, Infineon has offices in Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. We are eager to be close to our customers to focus on their needs.

Will Infineon continue to migrate to lower process nodes than 65nm in the future?
Ziebart: Currently, leading-edge technology is 90nm, and 65nm is not yet commercially exploited, but it's going to come. And 45nm is in a very early stage. Our partner companies in the IBM, Chartered, Infineon and Samsung [ICIS] Alliance have to be present at the early stage with those design kits to attract the interest of potential customers. It's clear that full commercialization will still take some time. Our recently reported design readiness for a 45nm ultralow-power process technologywith the first functional circuits and an alpha-phase design kitis another milestone in our strategy to develop optimized product solutions using the most advanced technology platforms as early as possible.

What we recognize is that the number of devices using the latest technology is going down. Many technologies follow a route different from Moore's Law. However, Moore's Law still applies for the advanced logic area, in PCs, processors and DRAM. More segments of the market are following different routes for several reasons. One is technology. For instance, analog devices cannot be shrunk as easily as digital devices. Also, mask costs for 65nm are skyrocketing compared to mask costs at 130nm. This development limits applying the latest technology to low-volume products.

Reinhard Ploss: Lowest power consumption continues to be one of the main driving factors, especially for mobile applications which, at the same time, demand more and more computing power. Today, Infineon expects first products manufactured in 45nm process technology to be used in mobile communication applications. These applications are moving from 130-, 90- to 65- and later to 45nm. It is very important to have early knowledge of how to do the designs. Infineon's next integration step for chips in mobile applications will be the 65nm node. Products at 65nm are expected to be market-ready toward the end of 2006. 45nm products are expected to ramp beginning 2009.

Ziebart: We don't own a 45nm plant. For manufacturing, we cooperate with Chartered in Singapore. We are happy with the partnership of the four companies in the Alliance, bringing manufacturing technology and design readiness to the market much sooner and effectively for customers than working individually.

After Infineon shed off its memory business, how will the company's renewed focus on logic impact its business in Asia?
Ziebart: The memory business has always been very specific, with main customers from the United States, although logistics and product flow are concentrated in Asia. Whatever type of computer you take, the purchasing decision is usually made in the U.S., but the actual product flow happens in Asia. This will continue. I think the business of Infineon alwaysto a certain degreehad a different character in Asia. So I don't think there is much of an impact.

Ploss: Our success in Asia depends on a very clear focus on applications. We are focusing on power management, drives, industrial and other applications we have in the logic segment. In Asia, we have a completely different set of customers and a completely different approach than you would take for the DRAM business. So even if you sell to the same company, you talk to different people, and you have to approach them differently. With DRAM, you are selling a commodity product, while with logic ICs, you sit down with the customer and find the right product for his application. Success in the IC market is not dependent on total size, but on application-specific strengths. Speaking for the AIM segment of Infineon, our deep application know-how has made us strong in automotive, power management ICs and industrial applications. This has been happening before the carve-out of Qimonda, so there will be no major change for us.

What is the key value proposition of Power Fab to Infineon's bottomline?
Ploss: We don't differentiate between products coming out of our fabs in Europe and those from our Kulim fab; it is just the manufacturing equipment that may be a bit different. The market for our products is global. Most of the power management applications we serve are located in China and Taiwan. Most of our automotive ICs are supplied to system manufacturers based in Europe, the U.S. and increasingly to China and Korea because of high demand. So we don't entertain region-specific production here in Kulim. At the end of the production cycle, there is one product. We entertain homogenous production over all our sites.

Are you confident that the Power Fab will preserve Infineon's market leadership in power electronics and strengthen its operations in Asia?
Tan Soo Hee: Yes, that's the reason we built this fab. And that's also the reason I joined this company. I am completely confident that we will succeed, and we have achieved excellent results so far.

Ploss: Infineon has been outgrowing the automotive market in the last 15 years and the power IC market in the last five to six years in terms of leading-edge technology and extra customer benefit. I think we can maintain this feat in the coming years because we have good engineers implementing the ideas very quickly to serve the market.

What do you think are the key factors for Infineon's success in Asia?
Ploss: Providing application-development support is a key enabling factor for business in Asia. We are building up this support, especially in China and other Asian countries. We work very closely with major automotive customers in Asia. So it's not only about IC products, but it's also about applications. To succeed in Asia, we have to be customer-focusedto be there to provide the knowledge on how to design the right products for the region.

Ziebart: In Asia, speed of execution is critical. Enabling our customers to have the shortest time-to-market is important. Hence, we go for a compelling reference design, providing the whole solution for the Asian market. For instance, for a motorcycle, we came up with the whole solution for a motorcycle engine controller. You can call it a design kit. The design for an engine controller comprises a microcontroller, the power devices and everything needed. Infineon offers the full set of ICs needed for such an application. So that's a different way of thinking that you must have when going for the globalized market.

The semiconductor business is very much a globalized business. You have to view the whole world as one market. In addition, you could also view the world as one opportunity for resources, such as engineering power.

- Regina Gepte
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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