LONDON Austria Mikro Systeme International (AMS), a small mixed-signal industrial, telecommunications and automotive chip maker, has signed a license with ARC Cores Ltd. (Elstree, England) and intends to work with customers to deploy systems controlled by ARC's configurable Tangent 32-bit RISC processor core.
At the same time, AMS is concentrating its own chip manufacturing on mixed-signal, RF, high-voltage and more exotic technologies such as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Executives said the company would continue to design digital and analog chip sets but would contract out the manufacturing of digital-only wafers.
Wolfgang Pribyl, chief operating officer, said that AMS' expertise in analog and RF design and its silicon-germanium process technology would give it an advantage in the marketplace going forward.
Even though the company is only expected to make about a $5 million profit on sa les of about $100 million in 2000, the company is spending about $280 million to construct an 8-inch wafer fab at its Unterpremstatten base. AMS currently has a 4-inch wafer fab.
Equipment is to be brought into the new building and characterized through this year, with first commercial production expected to start in the first quarter of 2002.
Pribyl said that AMS would start with its 0.8-micron silicon-germanium process but quickly move down to 0.35-micron. Initial volumes would be 600 wafer starts per week, rising to 1,200 wafer starts per week within six to nine months.
The final capacity of the wafer fab could be as high as 2,500 wafer starts per week, Pribyl said.
Hans-Jorg Kaltenbrunner, president and chief executive officer, said the decision to invest in a new AMS manufacturing facility was not about preserving jobs but rather a way in which the company could create value.
"We buy more wafers on the market than we make ourselves. We work with TSMC and other foundries, but they te nd to only work with a particular process for a limited time. For some of our customers, in telecommunications and industry, we have to guarantee the availability of components and processes for years," he said.
"It is important to transform AMS from a mixed-signal services company into a product company."
Pribyl said that AMS also wanted to differentiate itself in areas like design and test. "In areas like RF you need more intensive co-operation and things like package modeling make the difference."
He added, "The more exotic devices; we are definitely into those areas."
The company is introducing a micromachined accelerometer constructed using a flip-chip wafer-bonding approach. The accelerometer is manufacturable in versions for 1-g to 300-g force. Pribyl said AMS has an American customer intending to use the accelerometer with air bags.
Pribyl said that AMS had gone with ARC because ARM was too expensive, saying, "ARM is not at a price that is compatible with customers' expectations. " He pointed out that for many applications it is the DSP capability that is crucial. "For applications that we program, we have our own Gepard 16-bit DSP, and within the configurable ARC, there are options to add extra multipliers," he said.
However, Kaltenbrunner also said AMS expected to have to sell its manufacturing capabilities to the larger semiconductor companies as well as to OEMs.
"We do mixed-signal foundry, and we want to maintain that," he said.