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Torex: a pioneer in Ultra-Small analog power ICs

Koji Shibamiya, President of TOREX SEMICONDUCTOR LTD.

Koji Shibamiya


Torex aims to continuously improve their intellectual ability and respond to market demands by creating highly valuable products. Always working to contribute to the maintenance of global environments, as well as the prosperity of our society, and enabling each and everyone involved in our business to prosper.

During the 70s to the 80s, Japan was the global leader of the semiconductor sector thanks to its dominance in consumer electronics and memories, such as NAND Flash Memory. The years that followed were marked by a switch in demand and the appearance of new competitors, which led to Japan’s loss of market share. Can you give us an overview of the rise and fall of the Japanese semiconductor industry?

The business model that Japan has might not be the most suitable option, especially if we compare it to neighboring countries such as Taiwan. Besides, every industry has its own ups and downs. When Japan’s manufacturing industry was hit, it was harder to recover due to its business model.

In addition, the semiconductor sector is capital intensive and relies mostly on consequent investments. Therefore, the surrounding environment is changing at a fast pace and companies must accelerate their R&D and technological development. Meanwhile, Japan has many huge companies, such as Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba, and somehow the wider you become, the harder it becomes to change.

Back in the 90’s, Morris Chang, the founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) introduced a new ‘horizontal-model’. Do you think Japan should follow that model?

If Japan adopted this model earlier, it might have changed the situation for the country. At Torex Semiconductor however, we have adopted a similar business model as we are a fabless manufacturer of semiconductors. Therefore, we find the most suitable factories around the world for our products, which provides flexibility and cost reduction.

Furthermore, we recently acquired shares in a Japanese foundry, namely, Phenitec. The reason behind this acquisition is is that the manufacturing of analog products requires a very specific type of process. So, unless we have a factory that could follow the exact specifications, it could not be done. But we only ask Phenitec to manufacture 10% our products. The other 90% of our capacity is produced by other manufacturers.

We realized it was essential to take advantage of our long-lasting relationships with our clients, locally and internationally mainly due to our history, and the Keiretsu model which enabled us to share common objectives with several companies that now hold a big share of the international market.

This dual model allows us to have a hybrid approach that combines the strengths of Taiwan’s horizontal model and of Japan’s vertical model.

Currently, Japan supplies 40% of global semiconductor materials and 35% of manufacturing equipment. How do you explain that Japan still dominates key segments of the supply chain despite having lost its hegemony in device production?

It is difficult to explain, however, giant companies such as Sony and Panasonic contribute consequently that market share. As digitalization increased, Japan was not able to maintain its position in device production, but it kept its manufacturing expertise and technological strengths.

One of the key trends in the current semiconductor industry is the production of devices that consume less energy. How does Torex respond to this demand?

We are specialized in manufacturing power ICs and our main strength is creating products with high energy efficiency. In addition to that, we are able to create a product with noise reduction, miniaturization, and high efficiency. We believe our added values are in line with the industry’s direction of demanding energy efficient and compact devices. The rise of IoT will further push the industry in this direction, and we are ready to serve this new demand.

To become a leading in the production of power management ICs, we have nurtured cutting-edge analog technology for decades. In order to become an expert in analog ICs, it definitely takes a lot of time, practice and effort. For example, to become a top engineer in this field, one needs around 5 to 10 years of experience. This engineer is similar to an artisan or a sushi chef. He must walk through a long road to master the skill.

One of our greatest prides has been our ability to systematically and continually foster and invest in top-level engineers in analog ICs. Our style is not something that can be easily replicated.

With new applications, semiconductor devices must operate despite tough environments. In automotive applications, for example, Power MOSFETs face certain technical challenges, such as maximum junction temperature and drain current. How do you ensure that your products can answer all of your client’s demands?

Phenitec is highly specialized in terms of discrete semiconductors and power ICs. They mass-produce IGBT, MOSFET, and Diodes. Phenitec handles a lot of clients’ products, and this is not only domestic but overseas as well.

In addition, they do not only supply to semiconductor makers but also directly to automotive maker. When it comes to the automotive sector, they need to make sure to respond and follow the requirements given by their clients. They are really geared to adapt to the changing environment of the automotive sector, not just in the production process, but also in quality assurance.

Furthermore, Phenitec only manufactures wafers that are 5 and 6 inches, so it is not necessarily in line with the business model that is geared to mass-scale production. It is more to the high-end market with a low volume high-mix style. With this style, it is easier for us to adapt with the changes that are happening in the semiconductor market.

We are currently working to have the manufacturing capabilities of highly advanced devices across various highly technological substrates and materials such as Gallium Oxide.

The Semiconductor industry has evolved through a series of new substrates and materials. Starting with Germanium in the 50’s, the industry evolved and adopted a series of new material, such as Silicon, SiC and GaN. Why is TOREX able to maintain its technological edge regardless of substrate volution?

Because we are an analog specialist. While choosing the right business model is important, cultivating and accumulating expertise is key to the success of semiconductor analog manufacturers.

Japanese analog manufactures have a very strong foundation, and it is extremely difficult to replicate our products.

In comparison, non-analog makers tend to manufacture the same devices and utilize the same foundries; but we are different.

Why did you decide to purchase Phenitec?

Phenitec supplies products and services to a series of international and local companies. Phenitec functions as an ODM and has an acute expertise in discrete semiconductor production. As Phenitec is not bound to Torex, Phonitec is working with other semiconductor companies to enhance their own technologies.

Looking at the future, we will continue to cultivate the ODM aspect of the foundry. In order to do that, we need to understand a wide range of technological processes and absorb the techniques required by new materials such as Gallium Oxide.

Over the next years, we plan to diversify our products and materials.

In terms of market, could you please give us an overview of your market, your products, and applications in which your products are mostly sold to?

10 years ago, 40% of our products were for Audio Visual Devices. Another 40% was for communication and mobile devices. So, 10 years ago we faced a completely different environment.

Currently, we are mainly focused on automotive, industrial, and medical sectors, and 40% of our products are dedicated to industrial purposes. For the automotive, it occupies 18% of our product application share. For medical, it occupies 2% of the share. So, these 3 sectors represent 60% of our share application. We have shifted our business portfolio within these 10 years.

In terms of regional, 40% is domestic and 60% is overseas. In terms of growth trends, our overseas market share is gradually increasing.

The appearance of 5G promises to further boost semiconductor demand and application. How will this mega-trend affect your company?

The utilization of 5G will lead to an increase in the usage of sensors and to a surge in the amount of data that must be analyzed and processed. In that sense, IoT is an extension of the application of 5G. With the appearance of all these new devices, our society will evolve in a new environment.

Having been dealing with power ICs for 25 years, we have to continue to keep adapting and find new opportunities with new devices and technology. Today, that includes IoT and 5G. We believe that we could adapt our technology to be fitted with new devices.

In an era of such transformative changes, what role would you like TOREX to play?

The role we seek to play is embodied by our corporate philosophy: "to endeavor continuously the improvement of our intellect and to be responsive to market demands by creating highly valuable products."

In addition to that, we will contribute to the maintenance of the global environment by producing energy efficient and sustainable devices. For example, we have recently developed the XCL series, our proprietary micro DC/DC. This ultra small DC/DC converter integrates a coil and a control IC to maximize DC/DC performance. Thanks to our unique technique, we have realized a product that simultaneously achieves space-saving, high efficiency, low noise, high heat dissipation, and low cost.

Looking at the future, we know that this product will be very useful in the 5G environment. We would like to continuously increase our capacity and add more added value to our products.

In 2019, your company signed an agreement with American Company, Matrix Industries in order to increase the product adaption in IoT in terms of wearable and energy harvesting business. Could you please tell me more about this matter?

Matrix Industries’ expertise is in harvesting and generating energy, and they are looking for someone that able to maximize energy efficiency and power management. Together, we ally to support each other and develop solutions

If we were to have this interview again in ten years, what objectives would you like to have achieved?

Unless there is a huge paradigm shift and we completely stop to use electricity, our analog IC products will be forever required. For that purpose, we believe it is our duty to foster and cultivate leading engineers and great talents.

My first objective is to steadily foster and cultivate talented engineer because it really takes a long time to become one. We want to encourage our engineers and nurture their talent, not only in Japan, but also in the USA and India, so we have the power to develop globally. For that reason, we have our design center in the USA and we just developed a partnership in India. Our aim is to have a global team of engineers.

Our next goal is to continue meeting the trends of our ever-changing industry. Each time there is a new trend, there are new opportunities. At Torex, our ultimate objective is to serve the needs of society.


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