In an interview with Electronics, Steve Sanghi, President and Chief Executive Officer of Microchip discusses how the MCU has evolved over the past 30 years and the driving influences taking the industry and company forward.

The first Microcontrollers (MCUs) were originally developed in the 1970s. The technology took the industry by storm and was rapidly adopted, growing in popularity as fast as it evolved through each generation.

Over the decades many solutions providers have taken the MCU and integrated it into a vast array of end applications, and Microchip, has been instrumental in the advance of this technology as is so for the future.

In the interview, Steve Sanghi, President and CEO of Microchip gave the following responses:

How has the industry and market place evolved over the past 30 years?

Microcontrollers have come a long way over the past 30 years, in terms of their applications, processing capabilities, architectures and fusion with other semiconductor products, such as ASICs and SOCs. 

The continuously shrinking cost of MCUs has caused the number of applications to explode with new ways to make products more intelligent. 

This, in turn, has made technology more pervasive in all aspects of our lives, including computing, industrial/ manufacturing, mobility (e.g., phones and tablets), medical advances, and renewable energy (e.g., electric cars).

Yet, as ubiquitous as they already are, all of these industries seem to be on the brink of significant expansion.

Semiconductors such as microcontrollers continue to be the driving force behind the innovation in all of these expanding sectors. In fact, many of these industries were largely made possible by the advancements that have been made by semiconductor companies over the past 30 years. 

Take the case of medical advancements. We are on the cusp of a significant expansion in the use of semiconductors for surgical and analysis equipment; in portable, wearable and implantable medical devices; and in the cost-cutting use of remote medicine, where patients will be monitored by medical professionals in lower-cost regions.

What have been the major developments for Microchip over the past 30 years?

Microchip is the semiconductor Industry’s greatest Cinderella Story, having come a long way since our humble beginnings as a failing spinoff of General Instrument in 1989. Over that time, we’ve garnered such accomplishments as the most successful IPO of 1993, achieving the No.1 ranking in 8-bit microcontrollers in 2002, and recording our 85th consecutive quarter of profitability in December 2011.

The company is highly diversified, with more than 70,000 customers and countless applications – our top ten customers make up less than 10 percent of our business, and no one customer is more than 3 percent of our business. 

Our business is almost evenly split among worldwide geographies (Americas/Asia/Europe), and industries (Automotive/Industrial/Consumer/ Communications/Office Automation). 

On the technology side, we manufacture the vast majority of our products at our own facilities, which enables us to control our yields and costs, and results in some of the best gross margins and operating profits in the business. 

We also don’t subscribe to Moore’s Law. Rather than the never-ending investments in bleeding-edge manufacturing, we have improved upon existing semiconductor types. This allows us to buy equipment on the cheap and gives us access to a vast labour force that already knows how to operate the equipment.

In fact, this was one of the hallmarks of the company’s early success in the MCU market, as we were the first to make field-programmable MCUs affordable in production quantities, and we made them accessible to everyone rather than focusing solely on the larger customers.

Interestingly, an evolving elbow-out strategy has enabled us to take advantage of the opportunities that surround our MCUs on every PCB. 

What do you anticipate in the MCU industry for the next 30 years?

With the pace of innovation moving faster than ever before, I believe that within the next 30 years we’ll see at least one major technology revolution, which could be as big as the computer, the mobile phone or the Internet. 

As with the past 30 years, semiconductor advancements will again be a major driving force behind these coming technology revolutions. Additionally, we will see the continuing convergence of computing, communications and consumer electronics, along with further advancements in renewable energy.

As larger portions of the world are exposed to increasingly advanced technologies at work, people will become more technology savvy across all regions and demographic groups. 

This, in turn, will lead to an even larger adoption rate of the latest technologies and gadgets by all types of people. The large chip content in most of these technologies means that the semiconductor industry stands to benefit greatly from these trends over the next 30 years.

I can’t say that a single technology will have a dominant impact over the next 30 years. However, if I had to pick one it would either be the renewable-energy complex of technologies or the range of technologies that are contributing to medical advancements. 

Renewable advancements will continue on many fronts, such as hydrogen- and electric-powered vehicles and solar cells. 

In big-picture terms, the primary renewable-energy opportunities can be broken into three categories: measurement, conservation and harvesting. 

The world’s oil supply will eventually run out. Over the next 30 years, we must continue working to tap into renewable energy sources.

At the same time, we must focus on developing the technologies that will enable individuals and companies to both measure and conserve their energy usage. For example, the technologies that will be employed at the home, industrial and utility levels to make the burgeoning ‘smart grid’ work and to move towards a more sustainable future world.