EM Microelectronic, a semiconductor subsidiary of the world's largest maker of watches, is seeking to break through in North America with an expanded portfolio and regional staff.
Although the company has designed and manufactured low-power ICs for about 30 years, only in the last 10 years has it become a merchant market supplier, specifically targeting the North American market for the past five years.
"We're fairly well known in Europe," said Rick Mintle, North American sales and marketing manager at EM Microelectronic-US in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"Last year we shipped more than 500 million ICs, and we sell into some very common, very-high-volume applications," Mintle said. "But a lot of people don't know who we are. We're starting to spread the word. We are focusing on product development and aligning ourselves with major customers in the United States."
EM is based in Marin, Switzerland, and was established in the '70s as an in-house maker of ICs for The Swatch Group Ltd., Biel, Switzerland.
Originally, EM produced microcontrollers, LCDs, and related modules used in watches, but has slowly expanded its portfolio to address markets such as automotive, industrial control, and consumer. Today, about 80% of EM's revenue is derived from sales outside of Swatch, Mintle said.
"Coming from the watch industry, we developed technologies for very low power with optimized CMOS processes," he said. "If you're operating off a watch battery, every microamp makes a big difference, and that is an expertise we're now leveraging into many other applications with low-power requirements."
EM established a design center in Colorado Springs in 1997, and North American sales and marketing headquarters there in 2000. In the past two years, EM-US has expanded its roster of North American manufacturers' representatives from five to 15, Mintle said.
Although Swatch does not break out EM's revenue, Mintle said sales exceed $100 million. The majority of those are in Europe, but EM now has sales of about 10% in the United States and a similar amount in the Far East, he said.
With an emphasis on low power and small size, EM's product portfolio includes RFID circuits, ASICs, and standard products such as microcontrollers, power management ICs, sensors, and analog devices.
Recently, the company introduced the EM6680, an 8-pin microcontroller with a 4-bit ADC, and power consumption of 4 microamps in active mode. Last week, EM announced what it said is the first IC manufactured on a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) process that operates under a half-volt.
Mougahed Darwish, president of EM, said the company will begin producing ICs using the low-power SOI process to target applications requiring ultra-low voltage operation or high performance at extremely high temperatures.
"This will be of ideal use with the coming generation of sub-1V microcontrollers, and is perfect for portable applications," Darwish said in announcing the process.