Bucking the Trend – Outsourcing to Canada, Eh

Mixed-signal ASICs are in high demand these days. Finding a way to create such devices quickly, at lower cost and with reduced risk, is a never-ending search for many designers and their managers.
Triad Semiconductor is a fabless supplier of via-configurable mixed-signal ASICs (VCA), founded and headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Our company was created to help customers get their mixed-signal ideas into profitable production silicon quickly, with low development costs, and with significantly reduced risk compared to traditional ASIC design. In order to do this, we pre-configure platforms with silicon-proven analog, digital, and memory resources. These resources are then overlaid with a global routing fabric.

Wafers containing these VCA die are partially processed and then staged at the foundry. A customer's design is then configured onto the ASIC using a single via mask layer. Starting with silicon-proven resources and platforms results in greatly reduced development risk and reduced development charges. Because only one via layer is processed at the foundry, fabrication charges are low and prototypes can be delivered in weeks instead of months. This flexibility allows development teams to quickly adapt products to changing market requirements and to refresh these products at a fraction of the cost and time needed by other ASIC solutions. Our turnkey ASIC solutions serve a wide range of customers in the consumer, industrial, medical, and power management markets.

Designers are familiar with changing ROM values with a few mask layers. Triad's VCA technology allows designers the same flexibility with any circuit change whether analog or digital. As system designers began eagerly adopting Triad's VCA approach, we realized we needed to grow to accommodate the increased demand. Our first priority was to assemble a world-class, mixed-signal semiconductor development team of design engineers focused on developing via-configurable analog, digital, and platform resources. So Triad looked at a number of different ways to grow beyond our team in Winston-Salem.

In the end, the only constraint we placed on ourselves was to find the best engineering talent available. Not the best in the local area, or the best on the East Coast, or even the best in the U.S. We made a key decision – find the best in the world. This decision was driven by our commitment to maintain the reputation we had earned during our brief history as an ASIC company. Triad engineers bring hundreds of man-years of ASIC design know-how and the experience of hundreds of ASIC designs to customers' toughest problems. Bringing together a group of engineers with rock-solid ASIC know-how and varied domain IP expertise allows VCA magic to happen for our customers.

With this rather strict set of designer requirements, we looked at all our options. Off-shore outsourcing and low-cost engineers were the buzz words a couple of years ago when we began the process of adding talent, and that approach seemed a plausible way to go. Design centers starting in Taiwan, China, and India filled the headlines. The funny thing was that as we spoke to other companies who followed this path, we sensed that something was wrong. There were issues with communication and time zones, experience and traditions. Something wasn't as it seemed. Our customer base was equally concerned about such issues that could get in the way of having the best engineering support.

For Triad, the best option was closer to home. Our search for world-class engineering talent led us north to Montreal – a center of commerce with a rich engineering community. We found the Montreal region populated with companies in all industries – medical, industrial, aerospace, telecommunications, and transportation.

We found engineers with diverse domain backgrounds and a customer-oriented, entrepreneurial approach to business. An excellent pool of engineering talent, combined with ready access to major U.S. markets and time zones, made the choice clear. We created the Triad Montreal Design Group (Triad MDG) as an organically-grown extension of our world-class design team. The Canadian team expanded our domain expertise and added additional ASIC-expertise capacity without adding the barriers of distance, culture, and increased communications overhead. Triad MDG allowed us to continue our growth with a seamless extension of our world-class engineering talent.

For other U.S.-based companies entertaining growth, I urge you to put your customers' needs first, and then thoroughly examine your goals and your options in light of those needs. Ask yourself if the best route to achieving your goals could be found right in your own backyard. Who knows? "On-shoring" just might become the new buzzword in 2008.
Lynn Hayden, president and chief executive officer at Triad Semiconductor since July 2005, leads the company and drives its business growth worldwide. He also serves as chairman of the board. Lynn brings extensive executive experience to Triad Semi, having founded Coiltronics, Inc. in 1979 after his student days at Central Michigan University. He served as the company's president and CEO for 20 years. Under his direction, Coiltronics grew from a startup to become the largest supplier in its market segment in the United States. Lynn also chairs the board of ViASIC, Inc.

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