Transformation powers semiconductor pioneer

Steve Fu, Vice President of Strategy, Fairchild

“The future,” Fu said, “is about making machines disappear.” The mainframes of the 1960s have given way to the PC, the laptop, the tablet, and the smartphone. And with the adoption of wearable devices, essentially “the machine” becomes invisible. “It’s not about us being slaves to the machine but the machine serving us,” he said. The challenge, he said, is energy efficiency. Being free of the machine is not helpful if you periodically need to be tethered to an electrical outlet to recharge. That’s one area the new Fairchild wants to address, he said—the “wall-to-battery” energy problem, which involves battery-protection and safety issues as well as energy-efficiency considerations.

Of course, although the machines may seem to disappear from our daily lives, they are moving into data centers, where energy usage can exact huge costs. Fairchild’s Cloud Solutions Business Unit, said Fu, can look at the data-center energy problem in a holistic way, from the point of taking high-voltage energy off the grid down to delivering the 1.2 V used to power the microprocessors. “That story is really resonating with customers to date, and we are doubling our efforts around delivering a full solution to the data center.” 

Data center energy use isn’t restricted to processors, storage, and I/O—cooling represents a considerable energy cost as well. Fairchild, Fu said, works with data centers on how to make their air-conditioning motors and fans more efficient.

Fairchild’s efforts with respect to motors extend beyond data-center cooling to embrace a variety of industrial and consumer-appliance applications. Motors, he said, “consume 40% to 50% of the world’s electricity, and it turns out that most of the motors aren’t that efficient.” That’s changing, he said, as governments begin imposing efficiency standards and users begin demanding more efficient products.

“We have focused effort around motor control, from high-efficiency small motors that may be battery-powered to industrial motors that are used to drive huge machinery.” He foresees 10 to 20 years growth with respect to higher efficiency and more integrated motor and drive devices.

Fairchild, he said, has been making smart power modules for more than six years. “We actually have a very nice market position in that, and we partner with the most advanced motor companies and OEMs. We have learned a lot about the system-level challenges—including reliability—and we have applied that knowledge back to the devices and packages we make.”

Fairchild meets power challenges in other applications areas as well. Fairchild products are powering over 3 billion mobile phones worldwide, he said. In addition, the company is meeting challenges related to smart solar panels and the increasing semiconductor content of internal-combustion-engine and hybrid/electric automobiles. Fairchild also looks to reduce time to market through investment in online tools and educational initiatives for customers as well as distribution channels. In the end, Fu said, the question Fairchild continually addresses is, “How do we make people’s lives better by solving energy-efficiency challenges?”

Fairchild Semiconductor launched a new branding initiative in March that symbolizes a major transformation for the company founded in 1957. Over the past two years, said Steve Fu, Fairchild’s vice president of strategy, “the company has been going through a holistic transformation” that, although initially visible only internally, “now is being exposed to the world as Fairchild 2.0.”

Fairchild’s founders, Fu said, invented the thin-film-deposition planar process that enables the monolithic integrated circuit as we know it today. Since its founding, Fairchild has been acquired by Schlumberger, sold to National Semiconductor, and in 1998, spun off into a company offering commodity power discrete devices as well as other standard products such as logic. The company initiated a number of acquisitions. A key one, said Fu, was the acquisition of the power-semiconductor division of Samsung, which enabled Fairchild to offer high-voltage products from 1,500 V down to 100 V in addition to its wide range of other products.

Fu said that upon close inspection of the company’s diversified product range, Fairchild executives decided to focus on power and the challenge of energy efficiency—from wearable devices to data centers. “The really neat part,” he said, “is that we as a company have all the building blocks.” The rebranded company’s new slogan, “The Power to Amaze,” he said, “emphasizes that we want to deliver solutions that are visible to the end customer in terms of energy-efficiency breakthroughs.”

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