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CMOS, specialty analogue design give fab-lite company a boost

Posted: 28 Sep 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ams? CMOS? analogue? design? sensor?

The CEO of ams, Kirk Laney, was bullish about the company's future during its annual press day held in Graz, Austria. The fab-lite company logged nearly $190 million in revenues in 2Q15, a 60 per cent increase over the same quarter last year, with gross margins in the 54 per cent region (including acquisition-related costs).

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

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

But it has maxed out its capacity and ams is having a fab custom-built by New York state governmental agencies that it will rent as a fully operational wafer fab for the next 20 years. The 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," said 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 per cent 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 optimisation. 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," noted Laney.

The company also reserves about 10 per cent of its in-house capacity for external customers, so the 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 commoditisation.

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

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