The boss of Texas Instruments' analogue business tells Graham Pitcher about the opportunities offered by the industrial market.
For many years, analogue has been the support act in the electronics world, despite the fact that every $1 of digital components sold is accompanied by more than $1 of analogue parts. Over the years, this fact has evaded many semiconductor manufacturers, who abandoned their analogue portfolios in favour of what they perceived to be better business in the digital world. An example is National Semiconductor, which realised its mistake and reshaped itself as the 'analogue company' not long before being acquired by Texas Instruments. While TI can't be accused of abandoning analogue, it could be accused of not paying it the attention it deserved in the past. But things are changing, certainly in the opinion of Steve Anderson, general manager of its analogue business. And he sees the industrial market as offering huge potential for increased sales. "We're in the fourth industrial revolution," he said. "There's the opportunity to change everything and, more than ever, we're on the cusp of something large." In his view, Industry 4.0 and industrial Ethernet are bringing together such strands as computing and IT for the industrial market. "TI is creating hardware and software to support factory equipment manufacturers and users in such areas as energy efficiency, high reliability, communications and intelligent automation. It's a central element to building the enxt generation." It's a market which research company IHS has valued at $31billion in 2013 and to be growing at 8% a year. Coincidentally, TI has an 8% share of this market and Anderson has his eyes of growing its share. "It's a great opportunity," he claimed. "There's a lot of room to grow and a lot of attractive sectors." But how does he anticipate doing this? "It's a very fragmented market and we have the relevant products, but we need to get them to the customer. What's been interesting is TI Designs and its impact." TI Designs is an approach designed to help customers get to market more quickly by providing them with reference designs which target the company's product portfolio at a wide range of applications. "If you look at the number of customers who come to the website, it's huge. People are using the web to do their homework and to make product decisions. TI Designs is helping them because they aren't just looking for, say, a 12bit low power SAR data converter, they're looking for a wireless sensor network. Companies want to grow their business and are looking at new markets, but these may be markets in which they don't have the necessary expertise. Because they aren't sure, they're looking for solutions." The web is central to this approach, said Anderson. "We've got a lot of salespeople, but they can't call on everyone who visits our website. So elements such as TI Designs are making it easier to do business, but we have to have the technology, have to have a portfolio. Giving customers the whole package is the way to go, but this has to be done in a way that understands their end markets." However, Anderson is fully aware that TI is a catalogue business with more than 100,000 analogue and embedded processing products. "We have something like 100,000 customers, so we can't do custom products for all of them. But we can put a couple of parts together into a solution." The company's analogue capability has been strengthened by what appears to have been a timely decision to manufacture analogue parts on 300mm wafers. Late in 2009, it announced RFAB Phase 1, boosting this with the acquisition of tools from ill fated memory company Qimonda to double capacity at the Dallas fab. "We took advantage of a unique opportunity," Anderson admitted, "at a time when competitors were closing fabs. We did it at low cost and it made sense." He gave a further reason. "When you think about high speed data conversion, you instinctively think about a basestation, for example. But there's a lot of industrial applications that need high speed data conversion." While customers might be doing new things, said Anderson, TI is also providing new solutions to old problems. "We're evolving things like temperature sensors to another level, allowing people to use them where they couldn't before. There have always been thermal issues, but we haven't always been able to address them." One such device is the TMP007, a contactless IR sensor which has been reduced in size from a large can to a package measuring 1.9 x 1.9mm that can, potentially, be included anywhere on a PCB. "We've also got teams focused on factory automation," he continued. "These include expert engineers who have built things that go on the shop floor. They are looking inside our business and working out what we have to do to address the markets they know." Programmable logic control is one area with potential, Anderson believes. "When we visit PLC customers, we can speak their language; we can show them we can do what they need." Motor control is another target market. "I recently visited a motor control company, whose technology director said we didn't know much about the topic. 'Oh yes we do', I said. Come to our lab and see. "So he did and was spinning motors for an hour. You need to know what you're doing and who you're selling to." There is another challenge: the wide range of analogue designers out there. "You see a different analogue engineer in the US than you do in China. In China, they're 24 years old, bright and curious. In the US, they're 60 and have been doing analogue for 40 years and say 'this is what the product should look like'. Both are important and if you can drive system design, can be used in different places." Steve Anderson Steve Anderson is senior vice president and general manager of Texas Instruments' analogue business. Previously, he was worldwide manager of the company's high performance analogue business and senior vice president of the power management business unit. Anderson joined TI in 1999 with the acquisition of Power Trends, which he joined in 1989 as one of its first employees.