In the dynamic world of technology, Analog Devices Inc (ADI) is solidifying its position as a global leader, with its Limerick, Ireland facility serving as a hub of innovation and a driver of intelligent edge technologies.
Semiconductors, often referred to as the building blocks of modern technology, are ubiquitous. As Martin Cotter, ADI’s senior vice president of the Industrial and Multi Markets Business Unit and president of Analog Devices (ADI) EMEA, said: “You can’t ship your car, you can’t have industrial output unless you have the latest and greatest of semiconductor solutions.” Indeed, semiconductors power everything from smartphones to industrial machinery, serving as the unseen enablers of our technological world.
In June, 2023 the company invited journalists to its European regional headquarters on the Raheen Industrial Estate in Limerick for a tour of the company’s 100,000 sq-ft Catalyst, a €100m facility opened in 2022 that enables ADI’s customers to work with its R&D experts on developing solutions in areas ranging from – but not limited to - Industry 4.0, sustainable energy, automotive electrification, and next generation connectivity. ADI knows all too well that these sectors are digitising, and Catalyst provides them with insights that help quantify the scale of the change and where their solutions fit in.
ADI’s Limerick campus is home also to a wafer FAB, which Cotter said is ‘driving the highly additive function that you need for real world interfaces’. The FAB is set to be joined by a new 45,000 sq-ft Research & Development and manufacturing facility. First announced in May 2023, the new facility represents an investment of €630m and is part of Ireland’s first Important Projects of Common European Interest on Microelectronics and Communication Technologies (IPCEI ME/CT) application to the European Commission. When operational, the new facility is expected to triple the company’s European wafer production capacity, aligning with its aim to double its internal manufacturing capacity and make its global supply chain more resilient.
Before looking at the significance of this investment, it may be worth expanding on what ADI does in a little more detail. The corporate line is that the company ‘empowers the intelligent edge with… analogue, digital, and software solutions, to accelerate breakthroughs that benefit society and the planet.’
Put simply, intelligent edge refers to a process where data is analysed and aggregated close to where it is captured in a network and ADI’s noble claims are backed up with an offering of around 75,000 analogue and mixed signal semiconductor products - spanning from low-power kilobit to high-capacity gigabit devices - serving over 130,000 global customers across numerous industries.
They aren’t a household name but, as Cotter explained, if you look at any call in the world, it will at some point go through a piece of ADI silicon.
“The future is all about smarter edge, so it’s about us taking those technologies and that source of data,” he said. “We are pretty much where the data is born. The impact of the data is about the decision that needs to be made.”
Cotter continued: “We’re seeing a world where the closing loop on the decision is the world of the intelligent edge. Our goal is to make sure we connect with the application in a way that drives a better outcome, a better purpose for that particular application. The world is changing, it’s becoming much more digital friendly. Our products have got to be encapsulated with intelligence at the edge…for our customers to adopt them. Ease of use and adoption is a big factor.”
He added that increasing applications at the edge requires more value-added nodes.
Cotter explained that value-added ‘more than Moore’s’ nodes (such as 200V power processors with lots of added features) complement rather than compete with 2nm, but ADI – and its customers - saw investment in higher featured nodes as being too low and that was the case put to the EU.
“We got in a little early,” said Cotter. “This was part of IPCIE, which is a precursor to Chips Act. To be fair, all of the decision makers, including our customers, very much supported it. They wanted access to this. So, what that gives us is a 3XL put roughly of present higher featured FAB nodes, which is good because our customers then can feel more resilient. They can feel they have a better picture.”
As well as Limerick, ADI is investing over $1bn into the expansion of its semiconductor wafer fab in Beaverton, Oregon. The largest of the company’s sites by volume, it supplies customers across industries including industrial, automotive, communications, consumer, and healthcare.
The new facilities in Ireland and the US are designed to maintain the company’s practice of hybrid manufacturing that protects ADI from external factors, while providing the means to increase output and scale rapidly to meet customer needs.
“This hybrid manufacturing vision that we have…means that there are nodes that just aren’t suitable for a highly featured FAB and they really need mass production, so we will always get them from a foundry,” said Cotter. “Then there are nodes that are completely proprietary that we can manufacture in multiple ADI sites, so both here and in Oregon, two very big sites. That increases our resilience of those hard-to-get nodes.”
Cotter added: “And then there are some that are in the middle…the ones that are in the middle like 0.18 we would have agreed with our foundry partner that we could replicate that node here. So, what does it do? It really drives resilience, and it drives each of the players, us and our foundry partners, to optimise our investments.”
With resilience locked in, ADI is ready to address the challenges faced by its customers, some of whom are having their capital spending determined by power efficiency which is being driven by the requirements of ESG.
“If you look at energy, the planet is not going to wait to be fixed, we’re on a path that, unless we really get the carbon footprint down, you can see 1.9 degrees…looks much more likely now than 1.5,” said Cotter.
According to the International Energy Agency, operational energy use in buildings represents about 30 per cent of global final energy consumption. In a power-hungry world driving energy efficiency in buildings is seen as ‘low hanging fruit’.
Back at the Catalyst, Cotter’s colleague Olive Murphy PhD, director systems applications & advanced technology, highlighted that there are around 260 million buildings in the EU with 85 per cent built over 20 years ago and 90 per cent of them likely to be standing in 2050. Murphy said that from an EU perspective, there has been a very large focus not only on creating better green credentials for new buildings, but also on retrofitting existing buildings.
To this end, ADI is looking at its own buildings to demonstrate energy saving solutions to its customers. 10BASE-T1L, an ethernet technology, is a product that facilitates the retrofit all existing cabling and allows digitisation all the way to the edge nodes. This allows access to vast amounts of data to fully optimise the building.
Murphy is one of around 25,000 ADI employees globally, almost half of whom are engineers at PhD or graduate diploma level. Cotter himself joined ADI as a graduate engineer in 1988 and is acutely aware of recruitment challenges.
“It’s a world of scarcity in terms of expertise, so the fact that we’ve got a very large share of the expert engineers in the world is a really important factor for the future. We would say, in many cases, we continue to train experts and we continue to bring experts into the company.
“It tends to be that [by] augmenting analogue expertise, we now have a significant proportion of digital expertise because our customers typically want us to give our solutions in the form of a digital team.”