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Commentary: Are USA Government Contracts in Jeopardy?
 
... There appears to be a great deal of uplifting news lately from all over the world about new R&D contracts being let to compound semi industry researchers. Many of the contracts are for our industry's wonderful energy-saving technologies, and many come from confident, forward-looking governments. In contrast, in the...
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Quantum Computing Closer to Reality After Recent Advances
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 12, 2008...A group of researchers from Stanford and from the University of California Santa Barbara have made a critical breakthrough on the road to quantum computing. The main advance that the group achieved was an interaction among light particles called photons. The researchers were able to do this by placing and indium arsenide quantum dot within the cavity of a photonic crystal. The photonic crystal was a chip of gallium arsenide with precisely drilled holes. The holes give it the ability to trap photons so they can interact with the quantum dot. With the device, the researchers were able to demonstrate controlled phase and amplitude modulation between two modes of light at the single photon level. The device produced phase shifts. The larger control powers produced greater phase shifts. They were able to produce a 45 degree phase shift at larger control powers.

Two photon beams were focused on a quantum dot. One of the photon beams is called a control beam. If the control beam gets to the quantom dot first, the difference in the amount of time in the cavity of the two photon beams corresponds to its phase shift. Phase shifts of 180 degrees are required for a quantum logic gate, the building block of a theorized quantum computer. The researchers believe this could be accomplished with a series of such devices. The results of the research have been published in the May 9, 2008, issue of the journal, Science. Related Article Abstract

US DOE Awards SBIR Grant to Applied Nanotech Inc.
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 12, 2008...The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a new $100,000 phase I Small Business Innovative Research grant to Applied Nanotech Inc., of Austin, Texas, a subsidiary of Nano-Proprietary, Inc. The grant is to develop nanoparticle inks and processes for printing photovoltaic cells. The goal of the program is to reduce the cost of production while maintaining or improving performance of the solar cells.

"We are pleased to be selected for this award," said Dr. Zvi Yaniv, President and Chief Executive Officer of ANI. "This grant allows us to expand our field of application to green energy, while capitalizing on our achievements in the development work related to metallic nanoparticles ink." Nano-Proprietary Inc. News Release

HelioVolt Achieves 12.2% Solar Thin Film Efficiency with Rapid Printing Process
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 12, 2008...Heliovolt, a copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) photovoltaic company of Austin, Texas USA, reports that the company has produced thin film solar cells with 12.2 percent conversion efficiency in a mere 6-minutes. Heliovolt says it utilized its FASST reactive transfer printing process to produce the efficient CIGS solar cells in the short period. The company reports that it is currently optimizing FASST to make further improvements in efficiency and to scale up to commercial manufacture of thin film solar modules and building integrated solar products. “In the lab, CIGS is already achieving the highest efficiencies of any thin film solar material. The challenge of course is transferring that efficiency to a high throughput, high yield, low cost process capable of delivering gigawatts worth of quality commercial product,” said Dr. BJ Stanbery, CEO and founder of HelioVolt.

The company boasts that its FASST reduces costs by manufacturing CIGS thin film products ten to one hundred times more rapidly than competitive processes such as co-evaporation and two-stage selenization. Heliovolt noted independent testing at Colorado State University confirmed the throughput, uniformity, and efficiency of the CIGS solar cells produced using its method. The 12.2 percent efficiency devices reportedly consisted of CIGS photovoltaic thin film layer applied to a glass substrate. The FASST process can also be used to print high efficiency, low-cost thin film material directly on glass substrates for solar modules or onto building products including architectural glass and even roofing tiles. Company News Release

New Report Suggests Future Handset Transceiver Market Limited to Big Established Companies
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 12, 2008...Research and Markets of Dublin, Ireland, has published its latest report about the Mobile Handset RF IC market. Transceivers and power amplifiers are the most critical components of handsets. The company notes that the transceiver manufacturers are divided into two categories. In the first category, the companies rely on the baseband platform and regard the transceiver as part of the platform. The second group of transceiver manufacturers do not rely on the baseband platform to extend its market. Infineon, Skyworks, RFMD, and ST are among the second group of handset transceiver makers.

The report indicates that it would be extremely difficult for any new small RF transceiver companies to enter the business and be successful in the long term. According to the report, the second group of manufacturers such as TI, NXP, Freescale, Qualcom, is at a distinct disadvantage in the future as integration and multi-mode RF handset components become the best long-term method of reducing costs. Companies such as RFMD and Skyworks will have a difficult time keeping their transceiver businesses without the support of mobile phone platform. According to the report the companys said in a recent news release, "We believe that manufacturers that are making attempts to make a foray into the handset transceiver field cannot succeed, because it is not a field, where emerging producers and small manufacturers can survive. Although they have the chance to be taken over by big manufacturers, they will have used up funds of venture capitalists before being merged." Research and Markets News Release

Aixtron Sells MOCVD System to Braun Institute for GaN R&D
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 7, 2008...Aixtron AG announced that the Ferdinand-Braun-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik (FBH) ordered an AIX 2600G3HT Planetary Reactor system with 8x4 inch capacity. FBH of Berlin, Germany, says it will use the system to strengthen its research and development activities in GaN based UV- LEDs, laser diodes and GaN HFETs.

Dr. Markus Weyers, Head of the Materials Technology Department, commented, “The FBH has accumulated considerable experience with a wide range of Aixtron MOCVD systems. We already have an AIX 2600G3HT Planetary Reactor system with 8x3 inch and 11x2 inch capacity in operation. I am therefore very confident that we can build on this to quickly and efficiently grow UV-LEDs. The new tool will especially allow us to prepare high temperature AlN thin films with high crystalline quality uniformly and reproducibly. We know that the AIX 2600G3 system is especially suited for the uniform and reliable growth of such challenging semiconductor materials and will make a great contribution to this exciting R&D project.” Aixtron News Release

RFMD Announces Restructuring and Focus Shift
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 7, 2008...RF Micro Devices (RFMD) of Greensboro, North Carolina USA has announced that it is reducing its investment in wireless systems such as transceivers and GPS solutions. RFMD reports that it is shifting its focus to its core semiconductor component opportunities including cellular front-ends, the components in its Cellular Products Group (CPG), and the components in its Multi-Market Products Group (MPG).

The company expects to eliminate product development expenses related to its wireless systems business by about $75 million this fiscal year beginning in the June 2008 quarter. RFMD plans to realize the full benefit of the expense elimination in the December 2008 quarter. In the short-term the company estimates about $40 million - $50 million in one-time restructuring costs over the next two quarters. The company said that two-thirds of the restructuring expense is expected to be non-cash with the global staff reduction of 350 employees.

Bob Bruggeworth, president and CEO of RFMD, said, "These strategic actions will enable RFMD to deliver more predictable financial results and substantially higher profitability.” He continued, “We are investing in growing markets where we have a demonstrated track record of success, and we will measure our progress using operating income and return on invested capital (ROIC) as key performance metrics.” He concluded, “We are confident the steps we have taken will increase shareholder value and provide significant long-term benefits to our global customers and stakeholders." Company News Release

WJ Communications Introduces 5V Gain Block Amplifiers not Requiring External Matching Components
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 7, 2008...WJ Communications, a designer of RF products and solutions for the wireless infrastructure market based in San Jose, California USA, has introduced a +5V active bias InGaP HBT gain block amplifier, the WJA1021. The company contends that the device is among the first 5V gain block amplifiers in the industry that do not require any external matching components.

It offers +37 dBm OIP3 at 2 GHz in a SOT-89 package and is reportedly ideal for general-purpose high linearity applications within the 50 to 4000 MHz frequency range. The new WJ amplifier offers what the company describes as exceptional blend of power, gain, linearity, and supply current performance. At 1.9 GHz, the WJA1021 typically provides 17.5 dB gain, +37.5 dBm OIP3, and +19 dBm P1dB, drawing only 90 mA current from a 5V supply. The amplifier reportedly also works well at the 900 MHz cellular band with 18.5 dB gain, +40 dBm OIP3, and +20 dBm P1dB. The WJA1021 consists of Darlington-pair amplifiers using a high reliability InGaP/GaAs HBT process technology, and is internally matched to 50 ohm. WJ Communications says that the new addition to the WJA family helped to complete selection of cascadable gain blocks that complement different gain, OIP3, and Icc levels. Company News Release

TriQuint to Supply MMICs for New Army Radar
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 5, 2008...TriQuint Semiconductor, an RF front-end manufacturer based in Hillsboro, Oregon USA, reports that it has begun shipping gallium arsenide (GaAs) monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs) to Lockheed Martin Radar Systems for the manufacture of EQ-36 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radars. The EQ-36 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar systems are reportedly being developed for the U.S. Army to identify, track, and help neutralize threats posed by mortars, artillery, and missiles. TriQuint’s MMIC’s are to be used as chipsets in the new phased array radar.

Unlike previous radar systems that date back to the Cold War, the EQ-36 system allows a 360 degree view. Lockheed Martin explains that this capability enables operators to more easily and rapidly identify hostile mortar, artillery, and missile fire. Lockheed Martin reportedly demonstrated a fully-operational prototype of the EQ-36 Counterfire Target Acquisition Radar at the Association for the United States Army (AUSA)’s 2007 exposition in October. Lockheed Martin said it expects to deliver the first of the completed radars to the U.S. Army by mid-2009. Dr. Brehm of TriQuint noted, “While fulfilling its contract for MMIC products, additional TriQuint components are being reviewed for use in other phases of the on-going program” TriQuint News Release

Emcore to Supply CPV Receivers for ES Solar
CompoundSemi News Staff

May 5, 2008...Emcore of Albuquerque, New Mexico USA, has agreed to supply ES System of Gwang-Ju, South Korea, concentrating solar cell receivers. The $28 million contract is for Emcore to supply the concentrating photovoltaic receivers for a fully licensed and funded 70 MW solar farm in South Korea. According to Emcore, the agreement includes an advanced deposit to ensure production priority. Emcore says that production of the CPV receivers has begun, and shipments are scheduled over the next 24 months. The agreement has provisions for accelerated deliveries in addition to future purchase options under the same terms.

David Danzilio, Vice President and General Manager of Emcore's Photovoltaics Division stated, “We continue to see increased demand for this enabling product from customers around the world and this purchase order further diversifies our growing terrestrial component backlog, which now exceeds $110M. Our second automated receiver assembly line has entered into volume production and we expect to commence shipments from the third receiver line in June. When combined with the recently completed CPV solar cell capacity expansion, this assembly capability positions Emcore as the only vertically integrated CPV receiver manufacturer to the global concentrating photovoltaics industry. "

James Park, Chief Operating Officer of ES System commented, “We are convinced that the Emcore cell receiver technology provides the best solution for high concentration CPV systems both now and in the future." Emcore News Release

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Commentary & Perspective...

Are USA Government Contracts in Jeopardy?
Jo Ann McDonald, founding editor

May 6, 2008...There appears to be a great deal of uplifting news lately from all over the world about new R&D contracts being let to compound semi industry researchers. Many of the contracts are for our industry's wonderful energy-saving technologies, and many come from confident, forward-looking governments. In contrast, in the USA, we're seeing the first disturbing signs of the USA government pulling back on what were presumed to be established, secure R&D contracts.

When a relatively young, small, R&D-based compound semi industry company quietly files for bankruptcy and someone sends me an email with the local article stating the situation, a little alarm goes off in this industry historian's head. What's at the heart of the problem? Did some scoundrel from a foreign land renege on financing again? Was the startup poorly managed? In this case the blame is being put on the USA government citing the fact that "the military has scaled back research programs in order to spend more on the war effort." After reading that, the little alarm in my head instantly grew. As an industry commentator and veteran advanced technology journalist, I feel a heads up to our readers is in order.

The company that filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the USA state of Pennsylvania is three year old Caracal Inc., headquarted in Ford City. The company is in the silicon carbide (SiC) business and made its claim to fame via a lucrative Navy contract worth over $1 million to supply SiC-based semiconductors for use in what was to be an all-electric powered warship. News of the bankruptcy filing was in the Tribune Review, Wednesday edition, April 23, 2008. (Link to article) It noted that the Navy was 90% of Caracal's customer base, which doesn't surprise me at all. Unfortunately, most startups chasing after government funding put all their eggs in one basket, and most hatch rather well, providing the USA is in a pro-R&D funding mode.

Looking back, whenever the USA goes into anti-funding mode due to some perceived priority or another, I visualize major government CS industry R&D advocates at the various funding agencies standing before their beleaguered program managers and asking: "Which puppies shall we drown today?" Government program managers hate losing funding for their programs, especially when they've already been allocated the funds and assured the contractors that the funding is secure and the program will surely go ahead. The only thing they hate worse is having to tell their contractors that they won't be renewing.

Caracal is evidently now a casualty of war, according to defense policy analyst John E. Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org in Alexandria, Virginia who was quoted in the Tribune Review article that "the all-electric ship project 'comes and goes,'shifting in priority on the Navy budget," noting also that... "Anything related to shipbuilding is going to be in a really tight space these days and that research and development spending in general is flat."

According to a follow-up Trib article, Caracal plans to liquidate its assets. That article notes that "the borough" that encompasses Ford City and the Caracal plant is extremely concerned about the impact the bankruptcy will have on the community since Caracal pays the town about $228,000 in rent each year under its lease, which the borough uses to pay off debt service on the industrial development project. The local hope is that some entity will step in that is able to utilize the infrastructure as well as the skilled labor.

After over 30 years advising semiconductor startups how best to succeed, I have to confess that I can't guarantee success. I can, however, identify signs of possible failure. One blatant sign of potential trouble is when the startup instantly goes out and buys fancy furniture to impress would-be customers (and themselves). The next is to get themselves willfully into patent litigation, which eventually transfers their precious venture funding into the pockets of patent attorneys. The next obvious mistake is to put total faith in an ever fickle USA government.

I remember when diamond technology was the brief rage. The naïve went hell-bent for diamond-based ICs. Dream on. We couldn't even make a good GaAs IC back then! The sensible dabblers in diamond balanced their offerings with diamond heat sinks, and by the time diamonds were declared dead... mostly by the government... the sensible dabblers were already into other products, many of which were destined for commercial applications.

I feel genuinely bad for Caracal, but they definitely have assets worth note. Plus, Caracal has good contacts within the tight-knit wide bandgap circle. They have good IP, as proven by cross-licenses already with Cree and cooperation deals with Kyma, so one alternative could be to meld their assets with someone stronger. Heck, we've been predicting consolidation among WBG players anyway. But the main message I'd like to get across is to not fall into the trap of putting such a large percentage of your business in just one place, especially if it's a proven fickle place. Think commercial apps from the outset. Avoid known traps. Stay smart and focused, but also spread your bets. That way you're more likely to be a cat that lands on your feet when a lucrative funding source suddenly dries up.

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