Insights from industry

Sustainibility and Semiconductors

Frantz Saintellemy, Exec VP - ZMDI Global Sales, Marketing & Corporate Strategy & President of  ZMD America Inc., talks to AZoM about the need for sustainability in the electronics and automotive industries, and how best to achieve this.

Could provide a brief overview of ZMDI and the sector that it works within?

Absolutely, at ZMDI we are an industry leader in semi-conductor technology with over 50 years of experience. We carefully identify the needs of our customers so as to design and supply solutions that enable energy efficient products particularly in power management, lighting or sensor products. ZMDI is a global supplier of analog and mixed signal solutions designed for automotive, industrial, medical, information technology and consumer applications.

How does the company view and aim for sustainability? What are its key objectives in that area?

We are concerned with the ever increasing problem of CO2 emissions and energy consumption and we believe that energy efficiency truly does begin at the chip level. Because of this ZMDI is committed to enabling energy efficiency across a wide variety of industries through the development of semiconductor products.

As you know electronic products are now pervasive. Thirty, Forty, Fifty years ago we lived in a mechanical world, today we live in an electronic world and the consumption of energy comes from a variety of electronic products.

Therefore we develop semiconductor technologies, which we are at the foundation of these electronic products that enable you, as an example, to have a more efficient phone that consumes less battery power, which saves energy and also ensures a reduction in toxic products produced by the batteries.

In terms of your car, we create semiconductor products that enable you to consume less fuel by becoming more efficient with battery monitoring technologies enabling stop and start functions found in an ever growing number of cars today.

This is important as it not only reduces gas consumption but also naturally reduces CO2 emissions.

Could give brief explanation of active and passive energy savings and how ZMDI enables both of these?

Yes absolutely! Take for instance your smart phone today. It has a variety of sensor functions built in, one of which is a high definition display. This display consumes a lot of energy, and is probably one of the most energy intensive components in the smart phone today.

The ability to detect proximity or to measure the general ambient light in order to dynamically adapt the display lighting based on actual need will actually extend the usage life of the battery.

In your car for example, if you are at a stop light or just idling does your car engine really need to be running creating emissions? We don’t think so, in this case the use of a very efficient battery monitoring solution will enable the engine to stop and then re-start only when you need to start and continue your trip.

So this is how we view passive and active energy saving and this is our contribution.

We can do that in lighting, we can do that in general power management or we can use variety of power and analog products as well as sensing to be able to measure the dynamic environment and then respond according to the actual need and not consuming energy even if you’re inactive.

Yes certainly. So in your opinion what are the key advancements in the manufacture of semiconductors that have allowed them to become more energy efficient?

The trend in the semiconductor industry is to create what we call intelligent products.

In other words, we make sensors, not just to sense, but to be intelligent sensing devices. Meaning that they are actively looking at what's happening in the environment they are designed to perform in and capture, filter and process that information dynamically to really respond to the needs of the system proactively.

Advancements in semiconductors now allow for greater integration of analog and mixed signal technologies to create subsystems with fewer components.

These advancements now enable us to develop multi-sensing products for barometric pressure, humidity and temperature sensing thus enabling our customers to reduce component counts while creating better end products.

I also wanted to ask you about the raw materials that you use for semiconductors and how you best adapt these to sustainability?

The main raw material we use is silicon from sand which allows us to build our semiconductors as sustainably as possible, given that it is sourced from a natural ingredient that is generally available everywhere.

Did you read the recent news about turning cement minerals into semiconductors? What are your thoughts about new materials that could be used in the semiconductor industry that are maybe more energy efficient or cost efficient?

Well there are a variety of other technologies that are used to make semiconductors. The vast majority of the ecosystem is built around silicon.

Silicon based semiconductor manufacturing is relatively cost efficient and can be produced sustainably for the foreseeable future. As an industry we have to be more responsible for waste and excess materials. For example, what do we do with the billion phones that are now obsolete?

Well, that's a very good point. ‘Urban mining’ of landfills is on the rise because the concentration of precious metals in a landfill can be richer than it is in certain geological formations just because of the amount of electronics that are thrown away. What do you do with all the waste? Do you have some sort of recycling program in ZMDI?

We strive to reuse as much material as possible as well as encourage our customers to buy products they will actually use.

We have the luxury of being a private company, so we work very closely with our customers to ensure we only ship to their actual market demands. Collaborative forecasting is an important part of our strategy as we don’t want to over build while our customers don’t want to be sitting on unwanted inventory that they will have to scrap because they have no market demand for it.

The industry is after revenue generation, so if a customer says “I'm going to buy a million units of a particular device” and that is then built into the revenue forecast, being private, we can adjust according to the actual market needs, but publicly traded companies have to respond to the shareholder's increasing desire for revenue growth. So therefore, regardless of the impact on the environment, they ship parts to that customer based on that forecast.

Our mind set is about building and delivering what our customers actually need.

One of the real issues in our industry is to keep fabs running and to effectively leverage infrastructures and in many cases this happens by running these fabs to effectively achieve cost efficiencies. The industry is making efforts to address its excesses but at the end of it all fabs cannot be maintained idled even when demand is soft.

It is a difficult one for companies to balance their profits and sustainability…

It definitely is a difficult one, but I think there are some basic things as an industry we can do. Fundamentally, the main thing is collaborative forecasting with our customers and really working upstream with the customers to understand their end market needs.

I think it's a discipline that requires a lot of work but it can be done. I also think an issue is the life cycle of electronics products today. Fifteen to twenty years ago, consumers bought home appliances for and kept them for twenty years. Today, most people keep their home appliances for seven or eight years at the most.

And even less for mobile phones and tablet devices…

That's right, and this is why it's not just a question of energy efficiency, but it's also what happens once the products have been shipped and used.

So there's a responsibility on the customers part as well.

Indeed. Being in business for over fifty years, ZMDI has been part of this environment for a long time. We're one of the oldest semiconductor companies in the industry. We've always had a very strong role to play in our society and in our environment.

It would have been easy for the investors to say let’s go public and move the company somewhere else where the market is bigger. If anything we have created an ecosystem in Dresden, Germany.

We were at the foundation of Silicon Saxony, which is the largest cluster of semiconductor companies in Europe and we play our role, not just in the sustainability, but also giving back to help others. As an example, we contribute to the chess foundation and last year we had contributed to thousands of kids getting their first chess board. ZMDI has supported this Chess initiative for several years as it helps young people improve their socialization skills as well as strategic thought development.

Oh brilliant! I'm a bit of a chess fan myself actually so that's quite interesting.

In Dresden we are all big chess fans!

Moving on to the new ZMDI fly-back drive, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about this product and where you see it being implemented?

Yes absolutely. This is what we call a primary peak current mode LED drive. The whole value of the product is that it works in a constant frequency mode to provide constant power to the output.

Generally speaking these types of fly-back drivers have discontinuous, non-constant frequency. Consequently when dimming is needed in the application or if a high power output is required the power generation becomes inconsistent. This inconsistency results in having to generate power longer to achieve the actual brightness required.

Also, because it operates across a very wide range of voltages, you don't need multiple products. This device reduces the number of components that you have on the board. So as a result we think it's a very efficient product and fits exactly in our strategy to reduce energy consumption.

In terms of applications of the fly-back driver, what are the main industries that you’ll be targeting?

It's in the solid state lighting world, so things like LED bulbs and lamps, LED tubes, and more general illumination applications.

Could we talk briefly about the involvement of ZMDI in the automotive industry and how it aims to help meet new emission standards?

ZMDI is an automotive sensing company first and foremost – we have a long and successful track record in that market.

We try to understand the core principals of emission standards, and then we try to not just develop our products in a way that could meet those standards, but we also help develop the products to help the customer do other things with our products to reduce overall emission for the entire car.

For example, let’s take electrical power steering. Generally speaking, hydraulic steering columns generate the same power regardless of the need. If you’re doing a 15 degree or a 30 degree turn, it generates the same power meaning that you’re using same amount of energy regardless of the degree of the turn.

We do more than just create a very efficient sensing device, we actually create a specialty solution that helps respond and transfer the right amount energy needed for the turn.

Lastly, how do you see the next decade progressing for ZMDI as well as the semiconductor industry as a whole?

ZMDI is probably in the best position that it’s ever been in for various reasons.

We used to be known as a niche specialty supplier. Now that sensing has become pervasive and pressure sensing , optical sensing, temperature and humidity sensing are becoming mainstream and they’re used in all sorts of consumer, medical, automotive and industrial applications we are viewed by our customers as a strategic partner in enabling them to be successful in their markets. So that's one pillar.

The second pillar is smart power management, which includes our true digital power controllers, analog power controllers and smart lighting solutions.

The next generation of efficient smart power management devices have to do more than just generating power – they have to be able to communicate and to offer fast transient responses while offering efficiency across the entire load. So with our smart power management product line-up and roadmap we have now established a pillar that will enable more customers to design better power management solutions and thus drive more revenue growth for ZMDI for many more years to come.

About Frantz Saintellemy

Frantz Saintellemy

Frantz Saintellemy joined ZMD AG in August 2011 as Executive Vice President Corporate Strategy and Business Development and Sales North America.

He was most recently Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and Corporate Vice President of Technical Marketing at Future Electronics, a global distributor of semiconductors and passive, interconnect and electro-mechanical components. Prior to joining Future Electronics, he held various product line management positions at Analog Devices (ADI).

Frantz Saintellemy holds a BSEE from Northeastern University, an MSEE from MIT and a BS in Commerce and Marketing from HEC (University of Montreal) and has completed various engineering leadership development programs from MIT Sloan.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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