TOKYO - Despite a domestic recession and slump in IC sales, IBM Japan Ltd. reports double-digit growth in sales and design activity for customized devices as it seeks to ply its advanced chip technologies and couple semiconductor development with other technology divisions, officials told a recent press gathering.
Chip sales for IBM Japan, one of IBM's largest subsidiaries, will grow 30 percent this year thanks to growth in application-specific devices for non-PC embedded systems such as consumer electronics and office-automation equipment, said Noritsugu Yamaoka, IBM Japan's managing director and general manager in charge of technology-market development. The company declined to provide specific sales revenues from semiconductor sales.
"As far as semiconductors are concerned, everyone in Japan is suffering. But we're only selling a small amount of DRAM," he said. "We've experienced double-digit growth year to year by focusing on the ASIC market."
The most-active areas are network devices, information appliances, set-top boxes, personal digital assistants, digital cameras and printers. For example, the company has formed relationships with some of Japan's largest printer manufacturers, including Canon, Kyocera and others, Yamaoka said.
IBM Japan has added engineers to its semiconductor division, bringing it to 36 sales people and engineers who talk with customers and 100 design engineers.
While it's making headway on system-on-chip, Yamaoka said, IBM Japan is going slowly on integration and will continue to develop discrete devices before integrating them onto one chip. "System-on-chip is a good idea, but with 1 million or 2 million gates can you imagine what kind of tester you'll need? You need huge resources for testing," he said.
Yamaoka said IBM Japan is seeking applications to exploit technologies from its five major divisions: semiconductors, displays, storage systems, printers and networking. "My proposal has been multiple chips," he continued. "Then you won't have to change any of the logic from the beginning. Once you come out with the discrete devices, then you can complete the test and integrate."
Even so, the company has succeeded in developing highly integrated chips where testing has not been such a major concern, such as a hard-disk controller that integrates an MPU and DRAM macro, said Kiyoji Ishida, general manager of Asia-Pacific technical operations.
Looking ahead, IBM will seek new ways to bring more customers to sign on to its most-advanced "Blue Logic" semiconductor technology, which consists of copper interconnect, silicon-on-insulator and silicon germanium. Ishida said he expects IBM's San Diego-based RF device subsidiary, CommQuest Technologies, to play a significant role in leveraging SiGe for the integration of analog and RF in ASIC designs.
"I think our most strategic action is to use this base technology to capture business both inside IBM and outside customers who are in the IT business, such as consumer electronics, wireless systems and PDAs," Ishida said.Several months ago, for example, IBM Japan's Yamato laboratory developed a "wearable" Windows 98 PC consisting of a 299-gram PC unit that houses a 233-MHz CPU, a 1-inch Micro Drive hard drive, a display headset using a 1-cm2 TFT LCD set in front of the right eye, microphone and a trackball controller.