National Semiconductor Corp. today is launching an online enhanced suite of product selection and design tools for its analog chips, betting that easing procurement and time-to-market for its customers will improve sales.
The Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker is rolling out Solutions.National.Com, an interactive selection guide for designers of products in eight markets. The company is integrating the product selection guide with several existing online services including its Webench, design tools that have been enhanced to include switching regulators for high-voltage power systems.
Solutions.National.Com offers 30 color-coded block diagrams organized for specific applications in the automotive, broadband, display, industrial, medical, consumer electronics, power, and wireless communications markets.
After accessing the appropriate diagram, the designer gets a list of recommended ICs, performs online thermal or electrical simulations using Webench, and can order product samples for global delivery within 24 hours.
"The selection guides are dynamic," said Phil Gibson, vice president of National's Web Business and Sales Force Automation. "They allow the customer to pretune a query for the application and narrow down to a final set of parts."
The service enables users to select or screen out parts by package type or parameter as well as retrieve datasheets.
National believes its online product selection and design service tools are the most integrated and comprehensive available and will attract analog IC buyers as the company unloads its digital product businesses and shifts more to analog parts, which now represent 75% of National's revenue. The company hopes to reverse a net loss of $36.4 million on revenue of $404.3 million in its third 2003 fiscal quarter ended Feb. 23.
But rivals like Texas Instruments Inc. say they offer online product selection and design services similar to National's, but organized in a different manner.
"Our online selection and design capabilities lie more at the device level," said Steve Goacher, worldwide marketing manager of system power management at TI, Dallas. "There's no single panacea. The trick is getting the customer to the device level and making it easy to evaluate how the device would perform in a design."
But National believes historical precedent is on its side. The company's Webench service has 44,000 registered users worldwide and continues to gain popularity, Gibson said.
Arrow Electronics Inc., Melville, N.Y., is National's only Webench fulfillment partner, but the company is mulling plans to add more distributors, Gibson said.
Gary Grandbois, an analyst at iSuppli Corp., El Segundo, Calif., said that while the enhanced online services will help National, the company needs to broaden its product line to include discrete products to improve analog sales, particularly in power management where it ranks below the top 10 suppliers in revenue.
National produced discretes when it owned Fairchild Semiconductor, but Fairchild was spun off in 1996. National is unlikely to re-enter that sector because those products lie outside its core competency, according to Edward Lam, vice president and director of power management.
"If you look at where the technology is going, devices like FETs require a major investment. That's not where we want to be," he said.
Lam expects National's power management business, which he estimates brings in annual revenue of $500 million, will grow as the company bolsters its line of high-voltage power supply semiconductors for the broadband communications market.
The company in recent months has launched high-voltage switching regulators that operate from 10V to greater than 100V, and integrate logic circuits, regulation functions, analog circuits, drivers, and power switches on a single die.