Maxim is responding to the changing needs of analogue electronics designers. Graham Pitcher finds out how from the company's ceo.
When it was launched in 1983, Maxim quickly turned into a new product machine, seemingly introducing a new device a day. Driven by founder Jack Gifford, the company built a substantial niche in the analogue market. But success came at a price; Gifford stepped down in 2007 amid something of a financial scandal for the company: a $173million settlement with unhappy shareholders followed. Tunç Doluca took over as Maxim's president and ceo, having worked for the company since 1984. Doluca quickly instigated what became known as Maxim 2.0 – turning the focus more towards solutions and improving customer service as it strived to build a stronghold in the mixed signal and analogue sector. "The analogue industry is at a point of inflexion," he believes. "While we are committed to the high performance building blocks that made our name, we need to work together to solve our customers' problems and this means integration of multiple analogue functions." How has the transition gone? "We have reorganised our business units by end market, invested in supply chain management, strengthened our distribution channels," said Doluca. "We have greatly accelerated our focus on analogue integration, requiring a shift to a more collaborative culture. We are now focused on delivering winning products and technologies that provide differentiated solutions for our customers. We continue to do this at break neck speed." Was there much culture change? "Our culture is fast paced, results oriented," he noted, "as well as creative and enjoyable. However, we still have a start up mentality, even though we're now 30 years old." How much of Gifford remains? "Gifford built a fine company," Doluca asserted. "We have built on that success by asking what we needed to do in order to make Maxim the leading analogue and mixed signal company." Part of the Maxim 2.0 philosophy called for new markets and more complex products. What are the new markets for Maxim? "We are well positioned for growth in the mobility, industrial, medical, automotive and communications segments," Doluca contended. "Mobility is the largest analogue market and the fastest growing. This market drives the innovation we can apply to other sectors. For example, there are three Maxim chips in the Galaxy S4 phone – power, gesture sensing and port protection." In terms of more complex products, Doluca points to SoCs and to innovative developments. "We have established leadership in energy measurement with the Zeus SoC, introduced in 2012, which integrates accurate metrology, computation and communications processing with full security. Meanwhile, we have demonstrated a vital signs monitoring shirt which showcases our ability to define and provide systems solutions. We will continue to focus on delivering winning products and technologies that provide highly differentiated solutions." Partly, Maxim is beating a new path, but it's also reacting to changing customer needs; in particular, it's forging strategic links. "Our customers' needs have changed," he said. "In the past, customers preferred to work with component vendors. Today, they are looking for solution partners because time to market has become critical and building equipment from components takes more R&D and more time. "Customers want us to put the pieces together, instead of offering them discrete components and, in some applications, we have begun to integrate diverse analogue functions into one package." Doluca outlined other improvements to customer service. "We've established a flexible supply chain and improved our performance in delivering to customer request dates. We also have closer relationships with distributors, allowing us to reach more customers. And our investment in manufacturing allows us to provide better continuity of supply for long lived products." But meeting those needs is not without its own challenges. "Developing high integration, high performance analogue products is challenging," Doluca pointed out. "But we've been watching this happen for a decade and have made the necessary IP, engineering, technology, manufacturing and organisational changes. Implementing the changes took many years, but we are now a recognised leader in high integration analogue." Most Maxim products are made on a 0.18µm process, which supports high voltage, optical sensing, data conversion and other analogue functions. "And we are developing our next generation technology that will further shrink dimensions." While Maxim has its own fabs, it is using foundries for about 50% of its production, but Doluca says this is not outsourcing. "Strategic relationships with foundries centre on our proprietary technology," he said. "Analogue technologies are very specialised and we keep those secrets close to our chest." Maxim is currently investing around 22% of sales revenues into R&D, including process technology, with 30 technology centres around the world. Doluca said it's hard to quantify the balance between 'R' and 'D'. "Clearly, we're results oriented, so development is more important than research. Our business units are organised into three market focused groups and we review the opportunities in each market and allocate investment according to where we see the best chance of success." With Maxim 2.0 well underway, what will the company look like in five years? "We will be a market focused company that provides great system solutions in the form of highly integrated products," he said. "This means not only more functionality and performance, but also more algorithms and software content." Beyond that, will a Maxim 3.0 initiative be required? "I am certain of it," he asserted. "Companies always need to adapt to changing environments and need to reinvent themselves to stay ahead. We might not know exactly what these changes will be, but they will come." Offered three wishes for Maxim, Doluca took only two. "Attract and retain the best employees and keep them motivated," he said, "and speedy adoption of change by our employees. I don't need the third wish; with the first two, the rest is easy." Tunç Doluca Tunç Doluca, president and ceo of Maxim Integrated, joined the company in 1984 as a member of its technical staff. Doluca was appointed vice president of R&D in 1993 and became leader of Maxim's first vertical business unit – portable power management products – in 1994. Promoted to group president in 2005, he was appointed president and ceo in 2007. Doluca has designed more than 40 products, ranging from high speed data converters to power management devices, and holds 11 patents. With an educational background in device physics, Doluca has taken several process technologies from concept to production, including proprietary, high performance bicmos platforms.