By Becky Hurley | Oct 19, 2014
Colorado Springs (fabrication facility); San Jose, Calif. (headquarters)
Publicly traded (NASDAQ:ATML)
Employees: 5,100 worldwide / 1,000-plus in Colorado
A global leader in the design and manufacture of microcontrollers and semiconductors, Atmel is the wizard behind today's wireless technology curtain.
Founded in 1984 as the manufacturer of NVM (nonvolatile memory) semiconductor chips, the then-$100 million San Jose-based company bought a former Southern Colorado Honeywell chip manufacturing plant in 1995. Today the operation generates 50 percent of Atmel's total output.
Vice President, Global Wafer Operations and Colorado Springs site manager Dan Malinaric estimates that by the end of 2014 his operation will have produced its 19 billionth chip. And billions more are on the way.
The last decade's exploding demand for wireless connectivity -- especially touch controls for smartphones and tablets helped propel the corporation into profitable new markets. Target growth sectors include Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, automotive, smart energy, touch and sensor management. Atmel's stockholder report for the 12 months ending June 2014 showed $1.4 billion in annual revenue.
Consumers' growing appetite for wireless capability has also led to creation of thousands of new IoT technologies. Atmel's product developers currently see highest demand for eight-bit and 16-bit low power MCUs. But by 2020, 32-bit will be the norm to run an estimated 50 billion lighter, smarter devices connected to the Internet.
Last year the company's patented XSense metal mesh Touch Sensor product received the EDN China Innovation Award for Top 10 Most Influential Technologies for the Future. The XSense product is only manufactured at the Colorado site, in one of five Fab buildings. This revolutionary layered mesh film is a replacement for conventional touch sensors and can be used on curved surfaces.
The technology is one of the primary forces in driving smartphones and other consumer product prices. Malinaric says auto manufacturers, anxious to equip the next generation Jaguar, Land Rover, or Hyundai with advanced touch screen capability represent his company's leading growth sector.
"That's in addition to the expanding consumer products market," Malinaric explains, adding that 50 percent of all semiconductor industry sales come from consumer electronics and spending. Other key growth opportunities: home security systems, and smart metering for energy and utilities.
Marketing is accomplished in a number of different ways. A direct sales team focuses on key customers. Atmel distributors are also found throughout southeast Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Arrow Electronics in Denver, for example, plays a key marketing role with consumer/industrial and design clients.
But in the world of IoT, market strength is buoyed by collaboration. As Malinaric points out, the maker and inventor communities depend heavily on Atmel's developer-friendly AVR or Arduino boards to create their own branded products/applications. More than 1.4 million development board and forum members currently download its software. Of those, 200,000 loyal manufacturers, inventors, and high-tech dabblers, a.k.a. AVR Freaks, share input online.
"We've got Apple-like passionate design communities and user groups that consider Atmel a valuable partner. That helps drive much of our business," he says.
A major supplier and partner to thousands of companies in the $305 billion semiconductor industry, Atmel's star -- as its "Enabling Unlimited Possibilities" slogan suggests -- looks like it's on the rise.
Challenges: "To keep our eye on the ball -- to continue to be competitive in a global market," says Malinaric. "Atmel buys 50 percent of its wafers from southeast Asia. The Colorado Springs operation has done a great job reducing costs, improving productivity and achieving world class results."
Opportunities: "We see opportunity in continuing to leverage our strengths as a high volume, low cost manufacturing center focused on automotive and other legacy products," Malinaric contends. "And we're poised to redefine industrial design with our flexible touch sensors."
Needs: Workforce. "The Colorado Springs Fab is at full capacity," Malinaric says. "We will continue to need the skills and dedication of good people."