Linear Technology is increasing its Singapore semiconductor test capacity by 45%. The shift from consumer products to industrial ICs is driving the expansion.
Linear Technology Corp. announced Tuesday (February 23) the expansion of its test facilities in Singapore. The expansion enables the company to double its throughput for advanced technology products, according to Lothar Maier, the company’s chief executive.
The new 87,000-sq-ft test facility is located beside a 191,000-sq-ft facility at the Yishun Industrial Park A—a facility Linear Technology first opened in 1989, and added to in 1997 and again in 2005. The current expansion supports a nearly 1,000-person staff (including a Singapore, Malaysia, India and Australia/New Zealand-oriented sales team), a regional design center, and includes enough equipment to support a variety of test flows.
This will strengthen Linear Technology’s ability to meet the growing demand for high performance analog ICs—not just locally, but worldwide, according to CEO Lothar Maier. In fact, the facility provides test capability for over 90 percent of the company’s global demand. Final test is the process of evaluating each device after it has been packaged, and among the segment of a SATS (semiconductor assembly and testing service) processing chain that analog IC suppliers prefer to keep in house. The increasing complexity of analog IC functions, the proliferation of package types, the need to minimize time on a production tester (now more than 100ms), and customers’ demand for zero defects has made the final test process more complicated and demanding.
Underlying the need for specialized test is a shift in Linear Technology’s analog product mix, Maier explained. “Ten years ago, the semiconductor industry was dominated computers and mobile handsets,” he said. Cost pressures would prompt “a race to find the cheapest place on the planet.” But with the shift toward industrial semiconductors and automotive electronics, design cycles lengthened along with product life. In addition to higher voltages, higher currents, and specialized packaging, industrial products demand a stronger emphasis on process integrity, reliability, and ruggedness, Maier said.
Linear Technology, Singapore
Not surprisingly, 44% of Linear’s $1.48 billion in fiscal 2015 revenues were for industrial products. Roughly 20% of Linear's business is for “transportation” products. Once dominant product line drivers like computers and consumer products now account for smaller portions of Linear’s revenues, 9% and 3% respectively.
Process tweaking for performance
The use of its own fabrication facilities allows Linear’s product designers to tweak a fabrication process to obtain a performance edge for its products — a high-performance spec that fabless semiconductor suppliers could not get with the vanilla CMOS available from foundries. The Company’s basic process technologies include bipolar processes (for high-speed, high gain, or low noise), and RF bipolar (silicon germanium), as well as workhorse CMOS, BiCMOS, and BCD fabrication processes. (BCD allows the deposition of DMOS power transistors on CMOS substrates) The Company also has two proprietary complementary bipolar processes. The Company’s bipolar processes are typically used for high voltage, high power, high frequency, or low noise applications. The Company’s CMOS processes implement linear circuit functions on a digital IC substrate (such as control logic for power management ICs). Combining processes, there are more than 100 separate design flows available. (See Table 1 below.)
Click here for larger image Table 1: Linear Technology’s Fabrication Processes Yields High-Performance Products.” Source: Linear Technology Corp. [From LLTC’s June 2013 SEC Filing]
High-performance products needing specialized assembly and test include the company’s µModule (micro-module) power devices. Switching power supply design remains a highly nuanced skill set. The micro modules are complete DC-to-DC converters (including a controller, power transistors, and miniature inductors all in one package). It offers one of the smallest footprints for point-of-load (POL) supplies on server and communication system cards. A 15 mm x 15mm device will out put as much as 10 amperes under load. The micro-module is among the specialized analog products tested in Singapore.
Other leading edge products cited by Maier include an automotive battery stack controller (for multi-cell lithium-ion batteries), LED lighting drivers, energy harvesting modules, and complete wireless sensor nodes for IoT (Internet of Things) applications.