After the golden age of analog design innovations in 20th century, an era of consolidation began with the turn of the 21st century.
Analog semiconductor acquisitions are all the rage. After the golden age of analog design innovations spanning across the last three decades of the 20th century, an era of consolidation began with the turn of the 21st century. While every deal had its specific dynamics, the bigger picture reveals either digital players wanting to bolster their analog expertise or analog houses striving to broaden their product portfolios.
Here is a synopsis of the 10 large analog acquisitions made in the first two decades of the 21th century. Here, it’s worth mentioning that the two recent acquisition announcements—Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) buying Maxim Integrated and Renesas snapping Dialog Semiconductor—aren’t part of this chronicle amid the deals being pending due to regulatory approval.
At the top of its DSP game, Texas Instruments made a statement that it’s serious about high-performance analog when it acquired the Tucson, Arizona-based Burr-Brown for $7.6 billion. “We are as serious about analog as we are about DSP,” said Tom Engibous, then TI’s chairman, president, and CEO.
A year before, TI had acquired Unitrode and Power Trends to get hold of power management ICs. The Burr-Brown acquisition complemented TI’s data converter and amplifier portfolios and brought TI behind ADI at number two position in the analog business ranking.
Dallas Semiconductor’s board of directors contacted Maxim Integrated to explore a potential acquisition shortly after the company CEO Vin Prothro unexpectedly died of a heart attack. A couple of years ago, Dallas Semiconductor had announced the development of an oscillator chip that offered a high degree of accuracy without an external reference.
Founded in 1984, Dallas Semiconductor specialized in digital and mixed-signal ICs for communications, battery management, control, and monitoring applications. Maxim acquired Dallas Semiconductor for $2.5 billion.
The next major analog asset purchase came nearly a decade later when TI announced to acquire National Semiconductor for $6.5 billion. Pundits called it a total surprise. That was partly because of overlap between the two companies’ analog offerings. However, in retrospect, this acquisition was driven by TI’s desire to grow faster.
National Semiconductor, founded in 1959, had pioneered several semiconductor technologies, including modern op-amps and low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS). The coming together of two venerable semiconductor players would eventually turn TI into an analog chip giant. National Semiconductor’s headroom in manufacturing brought additional value to this deal, prompting TI to call this merger the world’s first 300-mm analog factory.
Infineon bought power management specialist International Rectifier (IR) for approximately $3 billion to expand into the U.S. and Asian power markets and partly to gain system know-how for gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors. The El Segundo, California-based company boasted a strong portfolio in IGBTs, MOSFETs, and power management ICs.
The deal surprised many at that time because Infineon itself had a strong portfolio of power semiconductors. In hindsight, it just hinted at the crucial importance of power electronics in the wake of electric vehicles’ commercial realization. Infineon, a leading supplier of automotive chips, was repositioning itself for EVs and GaN semiconductors.
Founded in 1978 and run by cofounder Ray Zinn since then, Micrel folded into Microchip operations for a deal that amounted to a little less than a billion dollars. Micrel’s offerings included MEMS, clocks, Ethernet switches, and physical layer transceivers. The San Jose, California-based chipmaker could help integrate analog peripherals into Microchip’s broad portfolio of microcontrollers.
Micrel first went on with a buying spree and acquired crystal oscillator chipmaker PhaseLink in 2012 and then snaped silicon timing solution provider Discera in 2013. Eventually, amid the growing debt, Micrel was forced to find a buyer by an activist investor.
ON Semiconductor—divested from Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector in 1995 to focus on discrete, standard analog, and standard logic devices—acquired power semiconductors market leader Fairchild Semiconductor for $2.4 billion. It’s worth noting that while ON Semiconductor specialized in low-voltage ICs, Fairchild mostly focused on medium-to high-voltage device designs.
Fairchild, a Silicon Valley pioneer founded in 1957, had gone through many ups and downs before settling into a power semiconductors specialist. That includes its purchase by National Semiconductor in 1987 and spin-off as an independent company a decade later. Fairchild, the place where the first IC was produced back in 1961, boasted a long list of semiconductor innovations. It was also home to many renowned industry leaders, including Intel co-founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore.
In 1988, Harris purchased the semiconductor business of General Electric (GE), and in 1999, Harris spun it off as Intersil. However, Intersil was originally founded in 1967 with Jean Hoerni one of its co-founders, and later in 1981, GE bought Intersil. Hoerni was also a co-founder of Fairchild and inventor of the planar process.
Renesas, itself an amalgam of semiconductor units of Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, and NEC created in 2003, snapped Intersil for $3.2 billion in a bid to complement its MCU and processor offerings with Intersil’s power management and precision analog chips and create more complete embedded systems for automotive, industrial and Internet of Things (IoT) designs.
ADI’s purchase of Linear Technology was a stunner, a merger of almost equals. The $14.8 billion deal also shocked the industry because of Linear Technology’s reputation as an engineering-driven company and a breeding ground for high-performance analog circuit innovations.
Ironically, it came down to operational savings that the combined operations of two analog design houses could accomplish, though ADI’s market-leading position in data converters and Linear focusing on power management also created a powerful synergy. Linear Technology’s focus on high-performance analog circuitry was another plus for this megadeal. In hindsight, it was also the start of the making of an analog design giant.
When Microchip acquired the Aliso Viejo, California-based Microsemi, soon after buying Micrel and Atmel, its shopping spree made it look like Microchip 2.0. Among other analog and mixed-signal assets bought for nearly $10 billion were the prize technologies—silicon carbide (SiC) and GaN semiconductors—now ready for commercial realization after almost a decade of experimentation.
Microsemi also boasted a strong presence in defense and aerospace as well as data center markets. It’s worth mentioning that Microsemi, founded in 1960 in southern California, had recently gone through many acquisitions. In just a decade, the purchases it made included Actel in 2010, Zarlink Semiconductor in 2011, Vitesse Semiconductor in 2015, and PMC-Sierra in 2016.
Renesas wasn’t done after gobbling up Intersil. The Japanese chipmaker further bolstered its analog/mixed-signal offerings with a $6.7 billion acquisition of Integrated Devices Technology (IDT), which specialized in analog chips for wireless and sensor designs catering to automotive, 5G, and IoT markets. IDT’s optical interconnect, millimeter-wave, and wireless charging chips were also considered highly complementary for Renesas.
IDT, founded in 1980 in San Jose, California, had been struggling for some years before this deal finally put a stop on Silicon Valley rumor mill. It’s interesting to note that IDT had already been working closely with Renesas on joint design undertaking in automotive, industrial IoT, and infrastructure segments before the deal was announced in fall 2018.
This article was originally published on Planet Analog.
Majeed Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of EDN, has covered the electronics design industry for more than two decades.
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