ArcticSand

Face-to-Face at APEC: Inside Murata’s Recent Acquisitions

As electrical and electronic components become smaller and thinner, manufacturers are still looking to increase power efficiency via evolutions in semiconductors, packaging, passives, and more.

Many EEs know the Murata name, but Arctic Sand probably doesn’t ring a bell. Even if it did, the two seem like an unlikely match—a global component, module, and materials company and an MIT spinout that claims it’s going to revolutionize power conversion. Murata is probably most known for its capacitors, as it sells 1 trillion per year. When Murata purchased Peregrine Semiconductor at the end of 2014, however, it recast itself as a company with a strong semiconductor offering. Taken that way, the decision to combine Arctic Sand’s architecture with Peregrine’s process technology is a more obvious one.

Because it uses capacitors to do most of the work that inductors used to do, Arctic Sand’s technology allows designs to have thinner and smaller inductors. In smartphones, as an example, the inductor is the thickest part of the board. This approach may therefore enable very thin designs with low power benefits—especially when applied to components like display drivers, as displays consume the most energy in smartphones.

By creating designs with shorter inductors, a new technology can enable thinner displays while providing power benefits. As a result, trailblazers like this HP Spectre 360 may just become the norm. (Courtesy of HP)

Last fall, Murata led Arctic Sand’s B round of funding. It made the decision to purchase the company shortly afterward. According to Jim Cable, CEO of Peregrine Semiconductor Corp., Arctic Sand faced the challenges of a non-proven supply chain and thin balance sheet. Arctic Sand also had to limit what it would do with its technology in terms of applications, given its small size and limited ability to invest. Being part of a larger, long-established company like Murata will obviously put it in a much stronger position.

The current Arctic Sand products in production, which do not use Murata/Peregrine technology, include five light-emitting-diode (LED) boosts for next-generation LEDs. These solutions vow to eliminate the need for two-stage LED boost architectures while improving efficiency across the load range. Because this is done at high switching frequency, the resulting design’s profile and footprint are reduced.

At the APEC show, Electronic Design's Nancy Friedrich and Maria Guerra met with Jim Cable, CEO of Peregrine Semiconductor Corp., to discuss Arctic Sand.

According to Murata, combining Arctic Sand’s low-power semiconductors with its modular technologies will make it possible to provide integrated solutions with superior conversion efficiency in a range of low-power fields. For some hints, look at some of its recent movements, like combining its power business and putting effort into vertically integrated solutions from passives and packaging to semiconductors. With the Arctic Sand architecture and Peregrine’s silicon-on-insulator (SOI) processing technology, this “capacitor” company might be able to combine its capabilities in a new way. Given its other recent moves—acquiring the French IPDIA (which developed a 3D capacitor) and Sony’s lithium-ion battery business—Murata is certainly on the move.

 

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