Spansion makes shift to embedded MCUs, analog (and memory)

Junko Yoshida

November 27, 2013

Junko YoshidaNovember 27, 2013

YOKOHAMA, Japan — The US memory chip maker Spansion's acquisition of Fujitsu Semiconductor's microcontroller and analog businesses last summer was "a bolt from the blue," according to Takeshi Fuse, member of the board at Spansion Innovates, Ltd., Spansion's business unit based in Japan.

Since the deal was consummated on August 1, roughly one third of Spansion's employees today consist of those from Fujitsu Semiconductor's MCU and analog operations. Some 40% to 50% of Spansion's business is now MCU and analog, with the balance generated by the company's flash memory work.

For older-generation engineers accustomed to the Japanese corporate tradition of life-time employment, this sort of sudden employer change is more than traumatic. For Japanese customers for whom a Japanese chip vendor was considered a trusted partner, this abrupt introduction of an unfamiliar supplier could be troubling. Hence, Fuse's invocation of "a-bolt-from-the-blue."

Speaking last week at the Embedded Technology 2013 conference here, Fuse (pronounced Foo-say), vice president of the Microcontroller and Analog Business Group at Spansion, laid out what the future holds for his company. In doing so, he reassured current and future customers of Spansion (and formerly of Fujitsu Semiconductor) about what to expect from the US company.

Takeshi Fuse, vice president of the Microcontroller and Analog Business Group at Spansion
Takeshi Fuse, vice president of the Microcontroller and Analog Business Group at Spansion

Three welcome changes Fuse pointed out for the MCU and analog businesses now under Spansion are a more global footprint, a horizontal embedded approach (analog, flash, and MCU), and the adoption of Spansion's proprietary embedded Charge Trap (eCT) technology in embedded MCUs.

While the MCU and analog businesses had "a solid foothold in the Japanese market," and "even to some extent in China" under Fujitsu Semiconductor, Fuse acknowledged, "We had not been able to crack either the North American or European markets very well." Under Spansion, "We will gain a much bigger marketing presence in the global market."

Fuse also acknowledged, "In the past, we were much more accustomed to vertically selling MCUs and analog products." Now, the new mantra is to make the new Spansion "a one stop shop" for all three product lines, while promoting "modules" consisting of three and "driving the platform approach" for newly designed SoCs integrating them, Fuse explained.

Fuse, however, believes the biggest and the most tangible technology advances will come from the adoption of Spansion's proprietary eCT technology in embedded MCUs. "Expect us to release the new product in 2015," he said.

NOR flash is central to embedded applications, due to its speed compared to block-mode NAND flash. Spansion's latest NOR technology, embedded Charge Trap (eCT), is particularly attractive to embedded MCUs, because it is modified and optimized for integration with logic. "The technology enables the memory cells to scale very well with the advancements in logic design," he explained.

Fuse acknowledged that Fujitsu Semiconductor was looking at Spansion's eCT as a technology candidate for future embedded MCUs even before the company's MCU division was acquired by Spansion.

Many logic-design companies thus far have not been able to efficiently scale embedded memory, resulting in non-volatile memory occupying a large portion of the overall die in embedded MCUs. That has led to a sub-optimal logic process and larger, more costly die sizes. Fuse now believes Spansion's eCT technology will become a secret weapon for Spansion's embedded MCU, by restoring the balance between logic and Flash.

Business outlook
Spansion, which recently reported $275 million net sales in the third quarter of 2013, earned about $170 million to $175 million from its NOR business, $10 million from licensing, and the rest from the MCU/analog business, said Randy Furr, Spansion's chief financial officer, during the company's latest earning's call.

To read more, go to “Fujitsu re-energized.

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