Electronicdesign 6291 Qa Interview
Electronicdesign 6291 Qa Interview
Electronicdesign 6291 Qa Interview
Electronicdesign 6291 Qa Interview
Electronicdesign 6291 Qa Interview

Interview: Maxim Integrated CTO Pirooz Parvarandeh Discusses Analog/Digital Integration

Aug. 12, 2013
  Maxim Integrated celebrated its 30th anniversary this past May. Chief Technology Officer Pirooz Parvarandeh reflects on some of the highs and lows of the company over the past 30 years and explains how and why its product offerings have changed over that time to bring it to the high integration path it is following today. 

Maxim Integrated celebrated its 30th anniversary this past May. Chief Technology Officer Pirooz Parvarandeh reflects on some of the highs and lows of the company over the past 30 years and explains how and why its product offerings have changed over that time to bring it to the high integration path it is following today.

ED: First of all I want to congratulate you, Pirooz, and the rest of the folks at Maxim Integrated on your 30th anniversary.

Parvarandeh: Thank you.

ED: Can you give our readers some historical context? Like who started the company back in 1983? What companies did they hail from? And what market needs they were trying to fill?

Parvarandeh: The company was started in April of 1983. Jack Gifford, Fred Beck, and Dave Fullagar had been working at GE Intersil. The three of them hailed from GE Intersil, and they decided to start Maxim Integrated Products. The first person to come out of the company was Jack, followed by Fred and Dave and a few other people. Their concept was to start a business around what they were doing at Intersil—analog semiconductors. So their first priority was really to secure some venture capital. To do this, they created a business plan. The business plan, a three-page business plan, is actually framed and posted at our headquarters.

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The story goes that Jack, Fred, and Dave worked on this plan on a napkin. There was a debate as to whether a three-page business plan was long enough. Or should it be 20 pages or 50 pages? They were debating whether they needed to be much more sophisticated about the business plan. As it turns out, Jack convinced his colleagues that three pages was enough. It is a very high-level view of what they wanted to do.

Obviously, it didn’t have a lot of detail. It had some calculations of what the market size would be and what the opportunity would be. It needs to be said that Jack was a very dynamic and energetic individual. They were able to raise $10 million from a number of venture capital firms: Brentwood Associates, Bessemer Securities, Merrill Pickard, Data Science Ventures, and others. That was their first priority. Just based on the fact that Jack had run GE Intersil as CEO, there were a few other people from Intersil who joined the startup company back in 1983.

When they started the company, there were some well-known names in the industry. Analog Devices, for one, has a much longer history than us. They were in the market well ahead of us, as well as Texas Instruments and other players. One of the first priorities of the new company was to make sure that they generated some revenue. Also, there was a spirit of inventiveness in the company. You know, you try to come up with innovations that are really world class. It was clearly part of the DNA of the company to try to distinguish itself.

But in order to generate revenue, their first thought was, “Well, there are already a number of established sockets out there. What if we were able to just leverage the existing sockets and improve on the products that were out there already? This would make it easier for customers to switch to our products because we kind of fit into the same sockets. Also, in some cases, we could offer advantages that from a design perspective would be fairly transparent to the end customer, but would deliver some benefits that they could eventually use.”

ED: So, they weren’t strictly a second source for the original product?

Parvarandeh: To the extent that we could come up with enhancements that we could make, we would make them. In fact, I remember—I joined the company in 1987—that one of the things I was striving for was, “Okay, if I’m doing a second source of a product, is there something else that I could do that would benefit our customers?”

So, the first order of business was, “Let’s try to make sure that we capture some existing sockets, but also let’s see if we can provide additional benefits.”

That was the strategy and, of course, for a startup company to try to create or to leverage existing business was the right strategy. But as I said, the company had in its DNA this notion that we don’t want to be just a second source company. We want to be a company that creates valuable product differentiation. That’s always been part of the DNA of the company. Out of pragmatism, we started out second-sourcing, but wherever the opportunity arose, we invented, in order to be better than our competitors.

ED: Are there any particular parts that come to mind that were really successful in the early days, proprietary parts?

Parvarandeh: Yes. We had a small group of engineers, and one of them noticed that in order to create a RS-232 interface, our customers would buy a driver, which was a product from Motorola. In order for these drivers to meet the RS-232 standard, they had to be powered off of ±12-V rails because that’s what the interface standard required. They had to have these two power rails, ±12 in some cases, and ±15 in others. Then they had to have a driver chip just to meet the standard. Our innovation was, “Why can’t we develop an integrated RS-232 chip, which takes 5 V, uses one charge pump to increase the 5 V to 10 V, and then uses an inverter to create a –10-V rail and has an integrated driver on the same chip?” With one package, you now can take a 5-V rail and not have to generate those ±12-V rails outside of our chip.

This was the MAX232, which was the first of its kind. When you think about that concept, there were a number of technical difficulties that we needed to overcome. As you probably know, charge pumps can inject a lot of minority carriers into the substrate, making it a very tricky business to get proper functionality, especially in the earlier technologies. There were all kinds of issues such as latch-up that we had to invent our way around, and we had to learn how to deal with the effects of these injected carriers.

And of course, the robustness of that interface was also important. Plus, we were trying to do this in a CMOS technology. It turned out to be a metal gate CMOS technology, so it only had a metal interconnect. It didn’t have any polysilicon. It was a real bear. It was actually a very significant engineering accomplishment to overcome issues like latch-up, the effects of minority carrier injection, and ensuring a high level of robustness.That was the first product that really put us on the map.

ED: That’s great. Now let’s move away from products for a second and talk about acquisitions. Over the course of 30 years, most successful companies acquire other companies along the way. Which acquisitions stand out in your mind and why?

Parvarandeh: Sure. We’ve had a number of acquisitions that come to mind. One of the very early acquisitions was the wafer fabrication operations of Tektronix. This acquisition happened about 20 years ago. Here was the situation: Tektronix had very advanced bipolar technologies that were essentially dedicated for use in their high-speed oscilloscopes and other instrumentation products. In other words, their high-speed process was primarily used for internal purposes and the wafer consumption was not sufficient to efficiently utilize their fab.

They had tremendous technology development and capability, but a somewhat underutilized fab. So, we acquired that wafer fabrication facility from Tektronix, and it provided us with a number of advantages. First, it gave us access to state of the art high-speed bipolar technologies. Second, we hired the technologists who had developed those technologies. And third, we now had our own wafer fabrication facility.

This was also beneficial to Tektronix because they still had access to the world class technology they had developed, but did not have to worry about filling that fab. From a strategic perspective, it gave us our very first fab and gave us the tools to essentially create new process technologies, using the intellectual property that we had acquired. That was a very significant acquisition.

Then, we went through a dry spell with regard to acquisitions. We were really trying to grow organically, but over the last seven years or so we became much more serious about inorganic growth.

Of the more recent acquisitions, there are two companies that stand out. We acquired Teridian in 2010. It is a company that was a pioneer in the smart meter business. They had a chip that had a metrology capability. It had an analog front end for accurately measuring voltage and current. It also had integrated microcontrollers and other capabilities, so that you could do power consumption calculations. This gave us a foothold into the smart meter market, since Teridian was a dominant player in that market. That technology was really valuable to us. As you know, the smart meter market is a growth market and there is a lot of value to be gained from gathering power consumption information automatically.

ED: Yes, I remember talking with one of their engineers at Electronica in 2010. I guess it was shortly after the purchase. Now that I think back on it, they were showing an end-to-end Smart Grid solution similar to what you guys are doing now in other vertical markets.

Parvarandeh: Exactly. This acquisition not only gives us the energy measurement capability, but also some of the communications capabilities necessary to complete a system. We had complementary technologies that could marry really nicely with the metrology part.

This acquisition gives you a flavor of the theme of integration. It’s clearly along the lines of integration for us. The other acquisition that comes to mind happened in 2011 when we acquired SensorDynamics. Essentially, the rationale for this acquisition was that sensors are going to become pervasive in our lives. MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) has been around for many years, 20 years plus, but it had found homes mostly in non-consumer applications prior to this, in automotive applications, for example. There was a turning point where the sensor elements started becoming more important in very high-volume applications like smart phones and tablets and found their way into new markets.

SensorDynamics had worked for many years to perfect their MEMS technology. Their primary focus was on the automotive market, but Maxim saw an opportunity to take that technology from the automotive space and fit it into the portable space. And of course, the requirements in the portable space are very different than they are in the automotive space. But it gave us a great platform with a quick learning curve since SensorDynamics had already acquired many years of learning in MEMS.

ED: Getting back to some of your early products, you mentioned that the first one was the MAX232. Are there other kinds of milestone achievements, either products or technologies, that stand out for you over the years?

Parvarandeh: Yes, quite a few of them. Right after the MAX232, we made another observation. The microprocessor was becoming very prevalent in many applications, and designers were having a hard time getting a microprocessor to start up correctly after power-up. They were missing a reset circuit, so they were kludging all kinds of things together with external Rs and Cs. We thought, “Hey, wait a minute. This is a pretty kludgy way to do it. What does a microprocessor need? It needs a power-on reset, and it needs a watchdog timer, so why can’t we integrate all of these features into one chip?” That became another first for Maxim, the advent of the MAX690. It’s the first integrated microprocessor supervisor chip. We leveraged the fact that the microprocessor was becoming so prevalent, and it needed this support function. There are many other firsts that we can talk about.

ED: Thanks, that’s a very good indication of your thought process when developing a new chip. Let’s switch directions now. Every company experiences some bumps in the road over such a long period of time. Are there any failures or setbacks that you want to talk about? And what did the company learn from those?

Parvarandeh: If you look at the revenue chart for Maxim, it’s remarkable. It’s a monotonic increase except for two years, one of which was 2001 and you know what happened then. The other one was 2008 when we had a global recession. From a financial perspective, the company has done extremely well. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t go through growing pains. We’ve learned a lot of things over the years. I would say that the theme of higher integration is something that we’ve been working on for quite a long time. I would say probably well over a decade, maybe over 15 years. We didn’t make a lot of noise about it, but it has been something that we recognized early on that, “Hey, this could provide a lot of value for our customers.”

When you look at the roots of the company, we were building small building-block types of products and for the longest time that strategy served us really well. We would develop amplifiers, comparators, references, data converters, and power management chips that served very diverse applications. We were trying to push the envelope, trying to perfect these parts, making sure that they stood out from a performance perspective or had some kind of value-added differentiation. Then we realized that there’s a market for higher-integration circuits, especially in notebook applications. So, transitioning from a building-block company to a company that works on higher-integration power management ICs, for example, and trying to integrate many diverse blocks together, is a difficult transition.

This is especially true when you think about the design tools and methodologies that were available 15 years ago. That was one of the challenges: “How do we become better at high integration?” We’ve done a lot of work towards the goal of becoming more proficient at increasing the level of integration for mixed-signal circuits. That’s been one of our challenges, and I could expand on that. There are a lot of things that need to get done. It’s not just designing the circuits. It’s the verification and all that kind of work. Then, when you go into high-volume markets, the next challenge is, “Okay well, these volumes ramp up very quickly. So how do we create the manufacturing infrastructure to respond to those challenges?”

One aspect is the high integration. The other challenge that we ran into was this: We as a company had probably not invested enough into our manufacturing capabilities. Even though our products were very differentiated and provided high value. When we talked to our customers, they would rave about how good a product we had. But for many years, we were being very skimpy on the manufacturing infrastructure of the company. The consequence of this was that we would have periods of feast or famine for product availability. When the industry was hot, we would run into capacity issues and would have dissatisfied customers. It’s fair to say that over the last six to seven years, we have spent a very substantial amount of money and effort to revamp our supply chain to better serve our customers.

That was one of the weaknesses that was well recognized by our management. The Maxim management team has put a lot of focus to retool our manufacturing operations into a flexible and nimble supply chain. I think that’s a very important transition, and it was a very hard lesson for us because our customers have long memories about having been put into a difficult situation. I’m glad that we have addressed this problem. We can say with great confidence today that we have overcome those challenges and we are world class in our delivery performance and our customer feedback is consistent with this dramatic improvement. Today, many of our customers consider Maxim’s supply chain as a benchmark for delivery and flexibility. So that was another bump that we recovered from.

By definition, building blocks serve the needs of a very broad array of customers. In the early days of the company, I remember being in meetings with our CEO and he would say, “Well, where do these products get used?” And we would have a very long list of different applications where they could get used, so it was a very broad-based customer base. In the early days of the company, we had a catalog-based business. Now, when you try to transition from a broad-based catalog business into an application-specific or market-oriented business, many changes have to occur.

You need to have the right technologies and you need to figure out which markets you want to focus on. You also need to make sure that from an organizational perspective and from a leadership perspective, you have organized yourself to not only serve the broad-based businesses, but also the key selected application-specific markets. In addition, we have transitioned from a product focus to a solutions focus. We’ve had to go through a number of organizational changes to properly align ourselves to the end markets that we want to serve

Today, we have three major business groups that address our key market segments. All of these business groups are composed of multiple business units, each of which focuses on specific aspects of a solution. One of them is our Mobility business group, which addresses consumer-oriented, portable devices such as smart phones, tablets, and e-books.

We have another business group that is named the Communications and Automotive Solutions Group. The communications side of our business focuses on basestations, wireless infrastructure, and wired infrastructure. The Automotive business is within this business group because of organizational efficiencies, so we are not implying that our communications and automotive businesses have commonality in their underlying technologies. Whether it’s power management solutions, USB chargers, RF solutions, or SERDES (serializers-deserializers) for a vehicle, we have put all of these automotive-related technologies under one umbrella.

Our third business group is the Industrial and Medical Solutions Group, which has a higher proportion of broad-based customers. Many of these customers are served by our distribution partners. In addition to the broad-based customers that can be served by our building-block products, we have identified specific end equipment for which we will develop higher-integration solutions. Since we are organized by end market, not by technology, we are uniquely positioned in integration. This enables better collaboration, deeper systems understanding, and leadership accountability.  

So, circling back to your original question about bumps in the road, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the shifting of our focus to a bump in the road. It is certainly a transformation that we have gone through, to go from simpler building blocks to higher-integration solutions and to expand beyond broad-based, fragmented markets to equipment-specific markets.

ED: We’ve talked a lot about integration, and Maxim Integrated has to be at least congratulated for changing its name to reflect that change in their operation. We’ve already talked around some of this, but maybe we could revisit the key factors that went into the decision to make this change from building blocks to integrated parts. I think we’ve touched upon it already, but if you could just crystallize it for us.

Parvarandeh:  Yes, sure. First of all, I’d like to clarify one thing. We have started talking about integration and have executed on higher integration, but it does not mean that this is at the expense of the building-block products. We still believe that building blocks, especially those that are best-in-class, are really important to our future. It is by developing these leading-edge building blocks that we can migrate that IP into our highly integrated products. So let’s not lose sight of the fact that the building-block part of our business is extremely important to us and it’s also a necessary ingredient for our integration strategy. The two pieces are highly linked in that regard.

Now, why did we go towards integration and why did we create a higher emphasis towards integration? Several factors. First, there is a market pull for higher integration. Why is there a market pull for higher integration? The value propositions for higher integration are several-fold. One is you can basically reduce the footprint on a board. Especially in portable applications, it becomes important. Second, you have fewer parts to deal with. Many companies have to deal with the complexities of inventory management. If they have to carry around thousands of part numbers, and one of those parts becomes obsolete, it’s a major headache.

So there’s a pull to have higher integration because of inventory management and just all the effort that goes into managing all of their vendors. That’s a big headache for our customers. We see it constantly. Actually, many of our customers are trying to reduce or manage their supplier base because it becomes too much work otherwise. The third is that when you have fewer components on a board, the intrinsic reliability of that solution goes up. Because there are fewer interconnects, there are fewer solder joints that can go bad, and there are fewer things that can go wrong in the manufacturing process.

The manufacturing efficiencies go up. The other hidden part about this integration strategy is that, really, it’s not just integration but it’s providing a solution. Basically, we recognize that engineering resources are very valuable and to the extent that we can provide a ready-made solution for our customers and essentially reduce their time to market, reduce their development costs, and reduce their learning cycles, we will have offered better value to our customers. There’s hidden value in that, right?

So it’s a combination of a lot of different things. Here’s another element: in order to have highly integrated solutions, you need to have building blocks from a lot of different disciplines. For example, you need power management, signal conditioning, data conversion, communications, battery charging, and a variety of digital technologies to add control and intelligence.

We recognized that Maxim Integrated is one of the few companies that have all of these tools in their toolbox. This provides us with differentiation. There aren’t many companies that have all of the above capabilities. Some companies are really good at power management, but they don’t have a lot of good signal conditioning or signal processing and vice versa. Or there are a lot of companies that have a building-block strategy around interface, for example, but they don’t have the other pieces.

Maxim has such a rich history of creating these very diverse building blocks to serve the general purpose market. We have leveraged that knowhow within the company and said, “Well, if we integrate all of these, we are not only going to provide all the benefits that I articulated about what our customers receive, but actually it also puts us in a very unique position because there are not many companies that can provide all of these capabilities.”

They don’t have the necessary or underlying IP to bring it all together. That was part of the strategy. Those are the kind of the things that went into the thought process about higher integration.

ED: Okay, great. I don’t know if you have a sense of this yet, but do you know what the current mix of the standard versus the integrated parts is right now? And how would you see that changing over the next several years?

Parvarandeh: Actually, this is something that we measure. Since integration is part of our strategy, we articulate this to our investors. It’s a metric that we use to see how we’re progressing. And, clearly, it’s rising steadily. Right now, our high-integration products constitute roughly half of our business. So they are a substantial portion of our revenue, and it’s been increasing steadily over the last few years. It was not too long ago when it was 5% or 10%.

Of course, the definition of high integration differs from company to company. We have our own definition of what constitutes high integration. With our definition, high-integration products are at roughly half of our business. I think that it will continue to increase over time. Will it ever get to 100%? Probably not since, again, we’re committed to developing best-in-class building-block products. We have a long legacy of selling these building blocks, so those are not going away anytime soon. We have products that were designed 20-something years ago that are still selling today. It’s not going to go to 100%, but it’s definitely increasing and we’re committed to that strategy.

ED: Okay, thanks. Let’s talk a bit about the design engineers themselves and some of the challenges they’re facing. We’re wondering if the same engineers that create the IP for the standalone parts also do the integration, or is there a different skill set needed? And beyond that, is there another skill set needed to hone the part for a specific market?

Parvarandeh: Great question. I’ll try to answer your question in two parts. The first part has to do with the design engineering and skill that’s required. When I look at the composition of our engineering workforce, in the early days it was mostly analog designers. When I had to design an A-to-D converter, I went to a textbook to figure out how to design a logic state machine, since I was not a very good digital designer. Digital design was an afterthought for us in the early days of the company. Now as integration increases, several things happen. First, you have all these different analog blocks or IP blocks that are created by what you would call the traditional analog designer. They basically work at the transistor level, and they build up to create an IP block.

That design methodology of “how do I create a block with a particular specification” hasn’t really changed very much. But then the challenge comes when you start piecing these blocks together. You need to make sure that the whole system works correctly because the system is more than the sum of its parts. There’s interaction between these different blocks. Are there cross-talk issues? Are there any other interaction issues between these different blocks? They’re all tied together in some fashion, so you need to make sure that these connections are done correctly. There’s logic in there, from state machines to microcontrollers. When you have higher levels of digital integration, these products can have an almost infinite number of modes that they can be operated in. So verification of this system becomes a major challenge. How do you verify that this thing that you put together actually meets your original objectives?

This means that there’s a new discipline that’s required, which is: how do you do proper verification of these chips? That is a new discipline that we are embracing. Some of our traditional analog designers or mixed-signal designers can learn this new discipline. But what we really need to do is bring new capabilities into the company to enable us to overcome that verification challenge. The other thing that happens is this: we have the analog designer, but we also have the digital content going up, so we need digital designers. Then, we are adding more smarts to our circuits. Often, we have microcontrollers, which means that we need firmware designers.

And then there’s a person at the very top of this multi-pronged animal, if you will, that needs to look at this solution holistically and verify that it actually does what our customers want it to do. So now there is this additional discipline of making sure that our solution is behaving correctly. And of course, as complexity increases you need to rely more and more on automation. How do you build better capabilities for automation in the company so that you can bring this integration together in a more intelligent and efficient fashion? Finally, you also need to have a change in mindset for the designers because the designers of high-integration products need to think about the solution from a top-down perspective, while the designers of building blocks usually build their solutions from a transistor-level perspective.

You need to start creating a model for your circuit of how all these different blocks can interact with one another and how to tie them all together so that you can work efficiently. These high-integration circuits also, by definition, have a lot of people working on them. The other challenge is how do you synchronize the efforts of all these different disciplines and people, who may be in different locations, so that this solution comes together nicely? I can tell you from my experience that it is a radical change in terms of the capabilities we put in place, the talent that we have acquired, the mindset that we have, the focus on collaboration, the tools that we utilize, the kinds of things that we need to do to make sure that this high-integration strategy works.

Huge, huge, it’s a huge thing.

ED: Let me just touch on one other point. As you target a market, say automotive, and the integrated part needs to meet automotive qualifications, is that all taken into account starting with the individual IP that you have or are modifications needed? Do things have to be changed along the way?

Parvarandeh: Absolutely. There’s no question about that. In fact, we clearly went through a fair amount of learning in that area, and I’m glad to say that we have overcome many of those obstacles. It is not true that you can take an existing IP that was intended for a portable application or consumer application and just say, “Okay, I’m going to use it on an automotive application.” First of all, the voltage requirements on the power rails are different. The product has to withstand certain transients that are specified for automotive conditions. That’s number one.

Number two is that automotive products need to have a certain level of robustness with regard to EMI (electromagnetic interference) emission and EMI susceptibility, so we have developed methodologies for how we measure our susceptibility, and our emissions. The emissions part is rather straightforward because you can simulate it and you can create models for how much emission you have, but susceptibility to EMI fields is a very tough problem because you don’t know which node in the circuit is going to go bananas when you expose it to these extremely high fields that the automotive industry requires. We have built a substantial amount of know-how in order to deal with these issues.

The third thing to overcome is this: there are many different modes that these products are exposed to, and so by definition there are going to be cases where you have minority carrier injection into the substrate and all the attendant problems that come with that, which is latch-up or disruption of the circuit. You need to develop knowhow on how to overcome those kinds of issues. And then, of course, there are all the standards that the automotive industry requires, which means a more rigorous design methodology where you perform different kinds of tests to make sure that you are conforming to the industry’s requirements. It is a different set of skills and we obviously try to utilize people who have an understanding and experience in that field to build up this business.

Of course, the quality requirements are very stringent. As a company, we have instituted these enhanced quality requirements, and we think that’s a great thing because what we do for our automotive business will actually carry over to all the other businesses that we have. As a general result of getting into the automotive business, not only did we have to overcome all the design challenges of how to design for it, but we have become a stronger company from a quality perspective, since we need to achieve the stringent requirements and the extremely low PPM levels for automotive.

It’s like no pain, no gain. We have gone through the pain and we see the gain.

ED: Okay, thanks. I just want to talk a little bit about performance because I’ve talked with other companies on this topic and just want to get your take on it. In terms of the level of performance of an integrated chip, even one that’s tuned, say, to your designer’s real skills and experience, how does that compare to a handcrafted solution that uses your standard parts to perform the same function?

Parvarandeh: I think it’s a valid question. When people think about integration, they sometimes put it in this context: “You’ve got a cell library and you’re going to slap these things together and you’re going to get an integrated solution, right?” That’s probably the most simplistic way of looking at it. The fact of the matter is that, in the markets that we compete in, performance matters a lot. The efficiency of a dc-to-dc converter in portable applications matters. The amount of dropout you get on an LDO (low-dropout) regulator matters. The quiescent current of that LDO matters because in sleep mode that is a very significant parameter. In order for us to be competitive in the high-integration market, we need to have best-in-class building blocks. Otherwise, our competitors are going to beat us. We cannot say, “Well, integration is the panacea and you don’t need best-in-class building blocks.” That’s just not true. If anything, for some of these markets, best-in-class building blocks are a necessity.

IP development is very central to making sure that you retain a competitive position in high integration. Now, it’s true that some types of integration do not require best-in-class IP. The value proposition is more in providing a system solution and solving the time-to-market issue as opposed to gaining that last 1% of performance from the supply current. Whether it’s 1 mA or 0.99 mA doesn’t make a whole lot of difference as long as you provide the functionality the customer needs. There are markets where performance is still important, but it’s the overall system definition and the solution that you bring to the market that is the more important ascendant characteristic. We recognize that it’s very important for us to continue to develop our IP to be best in class. Not only for our building block business, but also for our high-integration strategy. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question or not.

ED: Yes, I think so. You put it in perspective what performance means and indicated when it might not be needed due to other factors playing a more important role, which is good.

Parvarandeh: One other thing to add is the following: if you look at the design engineering skill set that goes into a high-integration circuit, as I said, you have analog designers who really are working at the transistor level to get optimal performance for that IP block. You have digital designers who are also trying to tweak performance by minimizing power dissipation from the digital section. There is a need for a system architecture, and there is a need for someone to integrate all of these pieces together. The integration engineer does not necessarily need to spend time on fine tuning. Actually, it’s not their job to fine-tune the analog performance of the IP blocks. Their job is to verify the functionality.

So what we’ve done is create a division of labor. Where there’s a need to fine-tune something, we have specialized engineers working on that. Where there’s a need to verify functionality, we have specialized engineers that do that. The landscape has changed in terms of the composition of the engineering skills we need to apply. The people that are really good at handcrafting and designing those best-in-class IP are still doing that. But there are other team members who are pulling all the pieces together and verifying the overall functionality.

ED: Okay, I get that. Just one last thing. I just want to clarify something you said earlier about the fabs. I was surprised to hear that when you acquired Tektronix in 1994, you acquired your first fab. What were you doing prior to that?

Parvarandeh: We were using foundries that were running our process technology. In fact, from the very early days of the company, one of our founders was a process technology expert.

We were creating our own process recipes, and we had external fabs building the chips for us. But we quickly realized that we needed our own fab for a couple of reasons. One, it allowed us to improve the quality of our products. We had better control. Two, we had better ability to invent process technologies. Since then, we have acquired other fabrication facilities.

One of our earliest fabrication facilities was in Beaverton, Oregon. We have another fab in San Jose. We have another one in San Antonio. All of these fabs are running our process technologies. We run over 100 customized process flows in our internal fabs to deliver differentiated product performance for our customers and security of long-term supply from Maxim owned wafer fabs.

We’ve also partnered with foundry partners, where we transfer our process technologies for exclusive use by Maxim. These fabs used to be digital fabs and their toolsets are very appropriate for running our leading-edge mixed-signal analog technologies. This allows for a better utilization of existing invested capital at our foundry partners. These are very unique, strategic, and winning partnerships. This strategy is a critical vector of Maxim’s flexible and nimble supply chain.

ED: Okay, that makes sense. That’s it for my questions, Pirooz. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.

Parvarandeh:  Thank you. I enjoyed the conversation.

Pirooz Parvarandeh is the chief technology officer, Technology Development and Innovation Group, at Maxim Integrated. He became CTO in 2009 and has been a group president of several of the company’s analog business units since 2005. He joined Maxim in 1987 with several years of design experience. As the CTO, he manages the company’s Technology Development and Innovation Group, which comprises Process Technology R&D, Electronic Design Automation (EDA), Modeling, and ESD. He also oversees Maxim Labs, an organization chartered to deliver fundamental innovative, breakthrough technology for the company. Under his leadership, selected engineers have the opportunity to focus for long periods of time on difficult problems without interruptions. In recent years Maxim has seen a significant rise in the number of its patent applications. In 2012, he joined the CTO Forum Advisory Board, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing industry’s most important technical issues. He holds two patents in the U.S. and has nine other patents pending. And, he holds BSEE and MSEE degrees from the California Institute of Technology. 


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