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ADI silently snatches piezoelectric MEMS start-up

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Analog Devices? MEMS? piezoelectric? Sand 9?

Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) has acquired piezoelectric MEMS resonator startup Sand 9 Inc. in June 2015, according to a technology consultant who works for companies on timing circuits. Other sources also emailed EE Times Europe to say that Analog Devices had bought Sand 9.

It was revealed last month that Sand 9's website and phone numbers were no longer operating and that its former CEO and other executives had left the company in May.

Mark Sherwood, principal associate with Consulting Services and Associates LLC (Cupertino, Calif.), stated that although the piezoelectric technology showed promise Sand 9 had hit technical issues amidst changing markets and effectively outlasted investors' patience.

Sherwood told EE Times Europe in email "I can confirm the sale of Sand 9 to ADI. We are now about three months post acquisition, and the Sand 9 executive team is gone but the meat of the company was indeed the MEMS technology that had been in development for many years." He added that he understood that ADI had paid between $30 million and $40 million to acquire the company.

Since its founding in 2007, Sand 9 had raised about $66 million in venture capital from several high profile backers to develop piezoelectric MEMS resonator timing circuits as an alternative to quartz crystal devices. These reportedly include Intel Capital, Flybridge Capital Partners, General Catalyst Partners, Commonwealth Capital Partners, Khosla Ventures, Vulcan Capital and Ericsson.

Sherwood said at the time of the deal the Sand 9 was the only remaining piezoelectric MEMS player with an aluminium-nitride process attempting to make high-frequency fundamental resonators implemented in a bulk acoustic wave design that could easily be divided down.

The issues the company faced are common to most MEMS timing players: initial frequency offset, close-in phase noise, aging and the impact of packaging stress on performance, he added. "More time and more money was needed to attack these designs to get calibration and compensation right. Latest parts were more than 1000ppm at wafer level, and even more wafer to wafer, and lot to lot," he added.

ADI building timing capability

Meanwhile, ADI has been building up its capabilities in timing circuits with the acquisition of MultiGig in 2012 and Hittite Microwave Corp. in 2014. However, it is Sherwood's expectation that ADI will be applying the technology to its conventional, industrial and infrastructure markets rather than trying to chase consumer applications.

Providing timing signals at a large variety of frequencies but also with low jitter is a key to a multitude of digital, communications and mixed-signal circuits. Conventionally done by multiple quartz crystal oscillators there is a desire to reduce board real-estate, cost and improve performance.

"It's a $5.8 billion, [annual] market for semiconductor timing circuits, including crystals," said Sherwood and ADI is well-placed to compete in that."

ADI was approached for a comment on the acquisition. A spokesperson for the company said there is no public announcement on the topic and that the company would not be commenting on the news.

- Peter Clarke
??EE Times Europe

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