Flextronics Semiconductor is contemplating a move into structured ASICs to give its customers another avenue to reduce system development costs.
The fabless ASIC company has partnered with start-up eASIC Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif.-based developer of a one-mask metal programmable array that can either be embedded in a cell-based design or used as the base fabric for fast-turnaround ASICs.
Flextronics Semiconductor is evaluating the eASIC fabric as the basis for a planned 0.13-micron structured-array offering, said general manager Elli Yaniv, Sunnyvale, Calif.
The first test chip is being run at one of Flextronics' strategic manufacturing partners--which include STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, and a third undisclosed chipmaker.
Odds favor ST, which divulged in a presentation at the Design Automation Conference last June that it is working with eASIC. What the three-way alliance will bring to bear is not yet clear. Yaniv declined to discuss details, but said Flextronics Semiconductor expects to reach the first "milestone" with the e-ASIC co-development by next spring.
Today, Flextronics Semiconductor provides FPGA-to-ASIC conversion services for a large segment of Tier 1 customers of its parent company, EMS provider Flextronics International Pte. Ltd., Singapore. The company is trying to engage those same customers in SoC designs at 0.18 and 0.13 micron, and sees a structured-ASIC offering as filling in the spectrum of custom-chip solutions it can offer.
"One way that Flextronics can give customers cost reduction at the system level is through the semiconductor business, and we do that with integration, conversions, and low-cost designs," Yaniv said.
Flextronics International entered the ASIC arena in 1995 with the purchase of analog gate array supplier KMOS. The company's 2000 purchase of DII brought the Orbit Conversions business into the fold. That year, Flextronics also kicked off its SoC efforts by acquiring ASIC International.
More recently, Flextronics quietly bought Israeli Bluetooth chip developer BrightCom, giving the company an outlet for standard products. Flextronics' EMS unit is developing Bluetooth modules based on the BrightCom chipset. That offering complements an exclusive deal to manufacture Bluetooth modules based on chipsets from ST, which Flextronics will sell through ST's distribution channel.
To date, however, FPGA-to-ASIC and end-of-life ASIC conversions still comprise the bulk of Flextronics' revenue. As such, it's where the company is focusing much of its resources, according to director of sales Jim Kaya.
"In the coming year, we will be putting a lot of resources into the conversion area, because of our overall focus on cost reduction," Kaya said.