CEO interview: S3 Semi ready for custom opportunity: Page 2 of 3

October 12, 2017 //By Peter Clarke
CEO interview: S3 Semi ready for custom opportunity
John O'Brien, CEO of S3 Group Ltd. (Dublin, Ireland) has been making steady progress in shifting his company's business model from one of service to one that is a mix of products and services and that is particularly true in the semiconductor business division.

O'Brien told eeNews Europe that there are no specific plans for a sale and the focus is to exploit an evolving opportunity to work with OEMs and bring economic benefit by mixed-signal and RF semiconductor integration, in areas such as communications and industrial automation.

And part of that advantage is by doing custom chips – often sweeping up lots of components on existing PCBs. O'Brien said that despite the lower volumes that such custom chips command S3 has no problem gaining access to foundry chip suppliers. It also has the logistics knowledge that means it can manage IC packaging, test and delivery of chips to where they are needed in the supply chain, O'Brien said.

S3's argument is that an opportunity is arising from the advance of leading-edge in semiconductor manufacturing for high-volume consumer circuits down to 14nm, 10nm and beyond. The movement of high-volume markets to more advanced process has left spare capacity at older process nodes and foundries have lowered masks costs to reflect this, S3 has observed. As a result mixed-signal designs at mature nodes are becoming more affordable and these circuits can then significantly reduce the bill of materials, the size and power consumption of functions at the system level for OEMS. As a result, such custom ASICs can pay for themselves in 12 to 18 months, S3 has said.

And separately there are many OEMs that want to add connectivity to their products or equipment, but don't have the expertise to go into IC design and would, in any case, prefer to deploy engineering resources elsewhere, such as in software. O'Brien pointed out that developments such as the Internet of Things mean the market is coming towards the ground held by S3 Semi. Many products are not driven by purely by processor performance or high-resolution graphics but by mixed-signal and RF expertise that fits well with sensing, local processing and communications.

"S3's background in silicon and software means our starting point is a bit higher than some others," O'Brien said. "S3 Group has 200 software engineers. We can bring embedded software into the discussion if the customer requires."

Next: Machine learning and RISC-V

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