SUNNYVALE, Calif. – Nearly one year after its emergence from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, Spansion Inc. remains on an aggressive-and unlikely-comeback.
As part of that effort, Spansion on Thursday (Feb. 17) expanded its line of GL-S family of NOR flash devices for use in automotive, consumer electronics and gaming. The new 65-nm devices expand the company’s efforts in the booming embedded market, said John Kispert, chief executive of the NOR flash supplier.
At one time, Spansion tried to compete in a plethora of flash markets, including against rival NAND, which nearly drove the company out of business. More recently, the company has narrowed its product focus, shed its fabs in Japan, bolstered its balance sheet, and rolled out new and competitive products within its two key markets: embedded and wireless.
As of late, the company has become a more disciplined supplier in the NOR business, Kispert said. ''Going forward, it’s all about focus, focus and focus,’’ he told EE Times at the company’s headquarters here.
''Spansion is back and is in fine form to compete aggressively in this market,’’ said Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective-Analysis. ''The company has been through the worst, and now it's (regaining) its prominence as a supplier.’’
Spansion was founded in 1993 as a joint NOR venture between Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Japan's Fujitsu Ltd. It was officially spun off as an independent maker of flash memory chips in 2005.
But for the most part, Spansion lost money and made numerous mistakes. For example, the company opened a new 300-mm fab in Japan in 2007-just when a downturn reared its ugly head.
The big troubles began on Feb. 10, 2009, when Spansion Japan Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Spansion Inc., filed a proceeding under the Corporate Reorganization Law of Japan. Then, on March 1, 2009, Spansion Inc. filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.
Spansion was flat on its back and appeared to be dead in the water.''The company was essentially insolvent,’’ Kispert recalled. ''You had a business that could not generate cash.’’
On May 10, 2010, Spansion emerged from bankruptcy. Just prior to that event, Micron Technology Inc. acquired NOR rival Numonyx Holdings B.V. in a stock transaction valued at $1.27 billion.
The deal propelled Micron into the NOR and phase-change memory (PCM) sectors. Micron also expanded its thrust into NAND flash. Macronix, Samsung, Winbond and others compete in the NOR space.
Recently, Spansion has been on the comeback trail. For its part, Spansion is not trying to be all things to all people. Instead, it decided to focus on the embedded and mobility markets. ''Overall, (Spansion is) rebuilding their NOR story all over again, which is really an affirmation of the NOR market,’’ said Alan Niebel, president of Web-Feet Research.
Spansion has ''done a good job re-focusing primarily on the embedded applications, but other NOR flash vendors such as Micron, Macronix and Winbond are pushing more aggressively in that space,’’ said Greg Wong, an analyst with Forward Insights. ''Spansion traditionally has been strong in NOR flash, but they’ll have to beef up their SPI flash offerings to address this market.’’
SPI or serial flash memory communicates with processors in a different way than traditional parallel flash memory. ''Traditional flash memory inputs or outputs 8, 16, or 32 bits of data simultaneously, but serial Flash memory inputs and outputs only one data bit (a 1 or a 0) at a time. As a result, single-bit input and output simplifies system design and can even lower the cost and complexity of other components,’’ according to Spansion.
At one time, Numonyx and Spansion were both attempting to compete against NAND in the high-end cell-phone business. ''Both Spansion and Numonyx were ill-guided in their efforts to prevent NAND from entering the camera phone market,’’ said Objective-Analysis’ Handy.
''Both suffered as a result, and now both have abandoned that effort,’’ Handy. ''One of the odd benefits of Spansion's having tried to compete against NAND is that the company now has finer process geometries than its non-Numonyx competition, allowing it to profit at higher densities when others may lose money. At lower densities the benefit of a more advanced process is less important since package and test usually dominates the product's cost structure.’’