Interview: Littelfuse Discusses Acquisition of IXYS, Future of SiC and Non-SiC Components


EE Power Editorial

Littelfuse provides circuit protection in consumer electronics, automobiles, and industrial equipment. With their switches, fuses, and more in tow, the company’s reach is growing.

In August of 2017, Littelfuse announced that they would be acquiring IXYS Corporation, a semiconductor company based out of Milpitas, California. Just five months later on January 17, 2018, Littelfuse completed this acquisition, which comes with a projected $30 million in annual cost savings, thanks to their combined customer base and symbiotic product offerings, according to a January press release from the company.

IXYS is known for their forward-thinking, particularly when it comes to silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors. In an effort to further broaden their portfolio and make the best use of the minds at IXYS, Littelfuse is ready to push high-power, high-efficiency products forward.

EE Power recently had the chance to talk with Littelfuse SME Levi Gant about the company’s recent acquisition of IXYS and their plans for growth in the coming years with both SiC and non-SiC semiconductors at the forefront of their innovation.

 

EE Power: Many companies are positioning themselves to have expertise in power semiconductor devices. This includes Littelfuse. What is driving this trend?

Levi Gant: With global energy consumption trending upwards [1] and only a finite and diminishing amount of natural resources available, being energy efficient is a priority for multiple reasons ranging from cost savings to being environmentally friendly. Power semiconductors are a focal point of the energy efficiency effort.

 

EE Power: What steps is Littelfuse taking to establish its foothold in the power semi market space?

LG: Littelfuse is taking a multi-angled approach to establish itself as a leading supplier in the power semi world. Littelfuse leverages its talented employee base to organically grow the business through innovative technology developments within already existing Littelfuse product lines. Littelfuse also recognizes the benefit of an opportunity to quickly expand the company through acquisitions of other companies that diversify and grow the Littelfuse power semi product portfolio. One example of this is the IXYS acquisition.

 

EE Power: What made IXYS a good fit? Are there any complementary strengths?

LG: They are a well-known supplier of high-quality power semi components and there's virtually no overlap between the Littelfuse and IXYS product lines. The combined product technology portfolio puts Littelfuse in the top tier of suppliers.

 

This scatter plot graph of thyristor devices shows almost no overlap between Littelfuse and IXYS product offerings.

Figure 1. This scatter plot graph of thyristor devices shows almost no overlap between Littelfuse and IXYS product offerings.

 

This combination means customers will receive unbiased advice and have the possibility of vendor consolidation because Littelfuse + IXYS is now able to offer multiple technology solutions to satisfy a particular need (SiC MOSFET vs. Si IGBT vs. Si MOSFET). Our customers can trust that we are truly recommending the best product solution for their application and not just trying to steer them in a particular way because we don’t supply the actual best solution for their needs.

Vendor consolidation also means that the customer can decrease the number of suppliers on its bill of materials list. Littelfuse brings a global footprint and great customer service. Littelfuse complements the IXYS organization with an infrastructure that is known for exceptional customer service. IXYS brings exceptional quality products and resources that enable Littelfuse to immediately boast an expanded product portfolio and look forward to future innovative product development.

 

EE Power: What IXYS factors were the most promising and appealing to Littelfuse’s decision to pursue an acquisition?

LG: IXYS has a long history of innovation and a pioneering spirit that dates back to 1927. In fact, the company created the first commercial semiconductor device. [See Key Milestones chart] In short, they have long-provided:

  • High-power product lines (IGBT, Diode, thyristor)
  • Bipolar discrete products
  • Drivers (Si and SiC), discrete and modules
  • Solid state relays
  • Modules (IGBT & Bipolar)
  • Packaging expertise to aide with SiC portfolio expansion

 

IXYS key milestones

Figure 2. IXYS key milestones

 

EE Power: How do you plan to blend the expertise of IXYS and Littelfuse to continue encouraging innovation?

LG: Immediately, we plan to leverage the portfolio expansion to generate new business opportunities via previously mentioned aspects that appeal to customers. In the long term, we plan to leverage IXYS resources to continue to organically grow and expand Littelfuse power semi offerings. Littelfuse customers will benefit from the spirit of innovation that IXYS brings, especially in packaging.

 

EE Power: As you continue to develop more semiconductor products, will you focus primarily on SiC semiconductors?

LG: Littelfuse will look to provide customers with the optimal solution regardless of what product technology that solution involves. As such, Littelfuse will continue to develop all products lines to be on the leading edge of all market trends. SiC is, however, a very appealing technology that we believe can usher in a new age in the power electronics world. We are very excited about the opportunities that SiC enables and the resources we now have at our disposal to further develop this revolutionary technology.

 

EE Power: What functionalities and applications (i.e., automotive, industrial, etc.) of SiC are the most appealing and hold the most promise?

LG: SiC has the potential to deliver large amounts of power with high efficiency and a minimal footprint. Those qualities are almost universally favorable and applicable to a huge number of markets. Specific favorable functionalities include the following:

  • High breakdown voltage
  • Low specific on resistance
  • Low switching losses
  • High junction temperature operation

Some markets that are currently very interesting in the potential of SiC include:

  • Automotive (i.e., on-board/off-board charging, drive train, power supplies)
  • Datacenters (cloud storage – companies like Google, IBM, etc.)
  • Renewable energy (needed for power conversion subsystems and energy storage)
  • Other applications where power density and/or efficiency are priorities 
     

EE Power: Where do you see the future of SiC semiconductors heading? Do you anticipate they’ll continue to be major players?

LG: SiC diodes have been commercially available and have had a firm grip on a considerable market share for power diodes for some time now due to their exceptional reliability, robustness, and performance in field applications. 
SiC MOSFETs have already gained noticeable 
traction in industry applications due to the performance benefits and lower system-level cost opportunities they present. 

Over the next few years, as production aspects continue to improve and the supplier pool continues to grow, we expect SiC adoption into mainstream applications to really take off.

 

References

[1] Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2018 

Source: Bodo's Power Systems, July 2018