ST Microelectronics - No More Than Moore?
Don Scansen posted on October 15, 2012 |

Moore's Law is so well known in the semiconductor industry that it is often it has become a legend in and of itself. Gordon Moore's basic premise was that the cost of producing a transistor (he postulated what became his "law" back in the sixties when transistors were most often bought one at a time in metal cans) would come down by half every two years or so. If it sound vague, it was much more at the time, but it has become such an important driver for everything from factory planning and development to integrated circuit design software that the timing and definitions have become formalized over the decades since Moore first discussed the concept.

But this post is more to something that was popularized by companies other than giants like Intel, Samsung and TSMC who produced the product volumes and generated sufficient cash to stay at the forefront of the highest density and lowest cost per transistor (now measured in nano cents) devices. These other companies looked to a growing trend in other areas electronics less dependent on putting billions of transistors on a single chip.

What technologies are less dependent on continuous technology shrinks and piling up transistor counts? Primarily, these are analog and sensor and actuator technology. Devices like MEMS are most often thought of here, but there are others. CMOS image sensors straddle these worlds as they are an analog transducer but have fallen very much into the scaling race.

These technology evanglelists adopted the meme, "More than Moore" to remind people that there was more to creating useful products than just high-performance microprocessors and gigabit memories. At the forefront of this movement was ST Microelectronics. Patrick Cogez is one of the primary spokesmen both for ST Microelectronics and the wider movement. Dr. Cogez is a lead technologist for the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors and presented these aspects of roadmapping at Semicon West this past summer.

ST Microelectronics is an important developer of "More than Moore" products. ST continues to win Apple sockets for its accelerometers and gyroscopes including the latest iPhone 5. ST is also still a top five CMOS image sensor provider.

You may be asking yourself, "Why does this matter now." Because ST appears to be in more (ahem) than a little financial trouble. I first saw the Bloomberg report of trouble reposted on David Manner's blog. ST's More business units is being dragged down by its Moore units with digital products declining 24% year-over-year. Manners (likely not alone either inside our outside the company) suggest and estimates that a spinout of the ST Microelectronics analog, MEMS and microcontroller units would create a company with $4B in sales and 10% profit.
 
Let's wait and see if ST will make the painful decision to be a survivor or continue in vain to hold onto its high (technology not financial) performance digital businesses.

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