Semiconductor Companies Could Bring Fab Ideas to Medical Device Industry

December 21, 2010

2 Min Read
Semiconductor Companies Could Bring Fab Ideas to Medical Device Industry

Semiconductor company TI offers analog front ends suitable for portable ECG and EEG systems, among other products.

In recent weeks, I found myself speaking with several semiconductor companies for various upcoming projects. And there was an unmistakable common theme: Diversification is key and the medical device industry is one of the markets in which semiconductor companies want to be.

The story of when and why many semiconductor companies set their sights on the medical device industry tends to sound the same. Catalog components were available to the industry for many years; however, medical really wasn't a focus. That is, it wasn't a focus until the semiconductor industry began to slide several years ago.

Looking for new growth opportunities in more stable markets, these companies began to seriously eye the medical device market roughly four years ago. And a major push began.

"I think there's a lot of follow the leader being played," muses David Niewolny, medical segment marketing manager, microcontroller solutions group, at Freescale Semiconductor (Austin, TX). "One company jumps in and everyone else gets concerned; they don't want someone else to capitalize on that market and they miss out."

This me-too mentality on the part of semiconductor companies has led to an influx of related new products to the market in the past several years, especially in terms of application-specific components. But it's to the benefit of medical device manufacturers. After all, these semiconductors are, in many cases, helping to move the industry forward.

"We have previous knowledge from other markets," says Veronica Marques, business development manager, medical business unit, at Texas Instruments (TI; Dallas, TX) . "We know the process technology. We know what it takes to make products affordable and portable. And we're taking that same knowledge that we used in other markets and applying it to the medical market."

TI concentrates on four areas of the medical market: consumer medical, patient monitoring and diagnostics, imaging, and instruments, while Freescale is focusing much of its attention on diabetes care. Microsemi SoC Products Group (formerly Actel; Mountain View, CA) specializes in FPGAs, including radiation-tolerant versions suited for such applications as oncology equipment. Having spoken to these companies recently, however, there was one area that each company was clamoring to be involved in: telehealth and remote patient monitoring.

The impact of semiconductor companies' dedicated involvement in the medical device industry will be interesting to observe. Already, I've seen a slew of new analog front-ends (AFEs) for ultrasound and ECGs touting low power and consolidation of functionality into fewer components. It will be interesting to see what happens next. --Shana Leonard

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