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

YOKOHAMA,Japan — The US memory chip maker Spansion'sacquisition of Fujitsu Semiconductor'smicrocontroller and analog businesses lastsummer was “a bolt from the blue,” accordingto Takeshi Fuse, member of the board atSpansion Innovates, Ltd., Spansion'sbusiness unit based in Japan.

Since the deal was consummated on August 1,roughly one third of Spansion's employeestoday consist of those from FujitsuSemiconductor's MCU and analog operations.Some 40% to 50% of Spansion's business isnow MCU and analog, with the balancegenerated by the company's flash memorywork.

For older-generation engineers accustomedto the Japanese corporate tradition oflife-time employment, this sort of suddenemployer change is more than traumatic. ForJapanese customers for whom a Japanese chipvendor was considered a trusted partner,this abrupt introduction of an unfamiliarsupplier could be troubling. Hence, Fuse'sinvocation of “a-bolt-from-the-blue.”

Speaking last week at the Embedded Technology 2013conference here, Fuse (pronouncedFoo-say), vice president of theMicrocontroller and Analog Business Group atSpansion, laid out what the future holds forhis company. In doing so, he reassuredcurrent 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

TakeshiFuse, vice president of theMicrocontroller and Analog BusinessGroup at Spansion

Three welcome changes Fuse pointed out forthe MCU and analog businesses now underSpansion are a more global footprint, ahorizontal embedded approach (analog, flash,and MCU), and the adoption of Spansion'sproprietary embedded Charge Trap (eCT)technology in embedded MCUs.

While the MCU and analog businesses had “asolid foothold in the Japanese market,” and”even to some extent in China” under FujitsuSemiconductor, Fuse acknowledged, “We hadnot been able to crack either the NorthAmerican or European markets very well.”Under Spansion, “We will gain a much biggermarketing presence in the global market.”

Fuse also acknowledged, “In the past, wewere much more accustomed to verticallyselling MCUs and analog products.” Now, thenew mantra is to make the new Spansion “aone stop shop” for all three product lines,while promoting “modules” consisting ofthree and “driving the platform approach”for newly designed SoCs integrating them,Fuse explained.

Fuse, however, believes the biggest and themost tangible technology advances will comefrom the adoption of Spansion's proprietaryeCT technology in embedded MCUs. “Expect usto release the new product in 2015,” hesaid.

NOR flash is central to embeddedapplications, due to its speed compared toblock-mode NAND flash. Spansion's latest NORtechnology, embedded Charge Trap (eCT), isparticularly attractive to embedded MCUs,because it is modified and optimized forintegration with logic. “The technologyenables the memory cells to scale very wellwith the advancements in logic design,” heexplained.

Fuse acknowledged that FujitsuSemiconductor was looking at Spansion's eCTas a technology candidate for futureembedded MCUs even before the company's MCUdivision was acquired by Spansion.

Many logic-design companies thus far havenot been able to efficiently scale embeddedmemory, resulting in non-volatile memoryoccupying a large portion of the overall diein embedded MCUs. That has led to asub-optimal logic process and larger, morecostly die sizes. Fuse now believesSpansion's eCT technology will become asecret weapon for Spansion's embedded MCU,by restoring the balance between logic andFlash.

Business outlook
Spansion, which recently reported $275million net sales in the third quarter of2013, earned about $170 million to $175million from its NOR business, $10 millionfrom licensing, and the rest from theMCU/analog business, said Randy Furr,Spansion's chief financial officer, during the company's latestearning's call.

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

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