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With RFAB2, TI Bumping Up Analog Chip Production

Not that anyone needed more proof that the analog segment in the electronics industry is booming, but Texas Instruments (TI) is serving it up anyway: On Sept. 29, TI announced it began initial chip production at RFAB2, a new 300-mm analog wafer fab in Richardson, TX, that is connected to RFAB1, its 13-year-old 300-mm analog wafer fab. A few years from now, the pair will be able to produce more than 100 million analog chips every day, TI asserts. 

“It’s our investment strategy to drive these types of products into our latest and greatest manufacturing processes,” Roland Sperlich, VP and general manager for Interface Products in TI’s analog signal chain business, told EE Times. “That’s how we get to the smaller geometry, smaller package sizes, and lower costs. One of our core values is to drive down the cost of semiconductors and their implementation.” 

TI’s RFAB2 is an expansion of RFAB1, the world’s first 300-mm analog wafer fab. Combined, they have 630,000 square feet of cleanroom space and 15 miles of automated overhead track to seamlessly move wafers between them. (The internal manufacturing capacity expansion is no surprise; during TI’s Jan. 25 earnings call, TI executives acknowledged that customers were intently focused on new fab capacity, including the then-under-construction RFAB2.) 

Sperlich showed EE Times several electronic devices his team and members of the company’s analog signal chain group have brought to market, including the digital isolator ISOW774x, the Ethernet PHY DP83TG720-Q1, the Hall-effect position sensor TMAG5170, the brushless DC motor driver DRV8311, and the digital-to-analog converter DAC63204.  


“At least two or three of these devices will be leveraging that additional capacity” from the new 300-mm wafer fab, he said. “Initial production began late last month. Over the next year years, it will ramp up to full capacity.”  


Isolation at least close to center stage 

Regardless of what TI makes at the giant 300-mm analog wafer fab, the company generally has a very strong focus on isolation today. Sperlich pointed to the fact that TI has been “delivering isolation innovation” since 2006—when it came out with its first SiO2 capacitive isolator. 

The isolation devices that TI makes protect everyday products like robotic vacuum cleaners—they collect not only dirt but also electrostatic discharge as they roam around homes—from themselves, as well as protects consumers from the giant battery packs powering electric vehicles (EVs), for starters.  

“Whenever there are high voltages and there are humans, we need to find ways to make sure that nothing bad happens,” Sperlich said. “And so, we would have isolation products that often sit between the information barrier and the human barrier, and make sure that the humans never see kilovolts of power.” 

The proliferation of EVs—and the anticipated spread of concomitant EV charging stations—bodes well for TI’s specialization: “In general, anywhere you have electric vehicles and charging stations and things of this nature, you’ll find products from the isolation product line,” he added. 

Even internal combustion engine cars are cause for celebration inside TI’s walls these days. 

“Cars in general have increasing amounts of digital content: screens and buttons and movable chairs and speakers that cancel ambient noise to make your driving experience more interesting,” Sperlich said. “So, in the transceiver and isolation space, there’s a lot of work happening.” 

He declined to name customers but indicated the work is never-ending. 

“We work with just about every carmaker on the planet in trying to solve their isolation challenges—whether it’s speed or channel count, or they want to do higher voltages because their battery packs are higher voltage. And other customers may have lower battery pack decisions,” he said. “In the auto industry, you’ll see different car vendors supporting different battery voltages, no different than if you picked up a power tool today, you would see maybe a 14-volt power tool and a 60-volt power tool. Those have different isolation requirements.” 


Medical, space applications calling 

TI’s isolation devices are by no means limited to automotive applications.  

“We’re just about to release our isolated USB 2.0, the world’s first USB-compliant isolation solution,” Sperlich said. “You’ll see opportunities for that device to serve audio applications where audio signals are going over USB, over possibly medical applications where there’s a USB plug in a hospital setting and people are plugging in a memory stick to download data.” 

“We already started releasing the lower speed, 12-megabit products in our ISOUSB line this year, and the 480-megabit part is releasing any day now. That’ll be a pretty exciting offering, in part because any time there’s a USB socket and there’s potential for having a voltage disparity between the left side and the right side, you need kind of like a level shifter. ISOUSB211 can protect the sensitive circuitry and keep things working.” 

TI also sees ISOUSB211—a galvanically-isolated USB 2.0 compliant repeater supporting low speed (1.5. Mbps), full speed (12 Mbps), and high speed—going into space or low-orbit satellite environments.  

“Isolation, in many cases, is enabling opportunities there to save on size and cost and weight. So, imagine if the space shuttle is a little bit lighter, then it can cost a little bit less,” said Sperlich, whose business unit built the company’s first space-grade isolator product. “There are all sorts of applications that can come into play that we’re working to address with some of these efforts.” 

TI’s RFAB (1 and 2) is Qualified Manufacturers List (QML)-certified, so it is in a position to create space-grade products there, he noted.  

By EETimes