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A Brief History of Atmel

A Brief History of Atmel
by Paul McLellan on 02-11-2014 at 4:12 pm

 Atmel was founded in 1984. The name stands for “advanced technology for memory and logic” although initially the focus was on memory. George Perlegos the founder had worked in the memory group of Intel back when Intel was a memory company and not a microprocessor company although that didn’t stop Intel suing them after a couple of years for patent infringement.

Initially Atmel was fabless but they purchased Honeywell’s old fab in Colorado Springs raising some venture capital to do so. They expanded the fab after purchasing FPGA manufacturer Concurrent Logic in 1991, the year in which they went public.

They then developed their first microcontroller based on the Intel 8051 although with much higher performance. They still have the 8051 on their product list today, both as a standalone microcontroller and as a core for they can embed is more customized devices. In the mid-1990s they licensed the ARM architecture and today they have a broad portfolio of ARM-based devices.

They also developed the AVR line of microcontrollers that were the first to use flash memory. The name comes from the initials of the Norwegian developers of the original core. Today the open-source Arduino project is built around AVR, targeted not to computer professionals but hobbyists, designers and makers.

Over the years Atmel made acquisitions that ended up giving them additional fabs: Matra Harris Semiconductor (MHS) with a fab in Nantes, a fab in Germany and one in UK they acquired from Siemens (this was before Infineon was spun out separately). Like other semiconductor companies, having a number of small fabs went from being an advantage as process development advanced and the size of an economical fab increased. Steven Laub became CEO and transformed Atmel to an increasingly fab lite model, divesting most of the fabs that it had acquired although they still have the Colorado Springs fab.

However they also made some acquisitions, moving into the touchscreen market and making both touchscreen controllers and flexible touchscreens called Xsense that look pretty much like those old overhead projector transparencies, a market with great promise moving forward.

Revenue for the fourth quarter of 2013 was $353.2 million, a 1% decrease compared to $356.3 million for the third quarter of 2013, and 2% higher compared to $345.1 million for the fourth quarter of 2012. For the full year 2013, revenue of $1.39 billion decreased 3% compared to $1.43 billion for 2012.

More than half of Atmel’s revenue comes from microcontrollers with the rest spread around various lower volume products for in markets such as automotive, memory (their original product area), LED drivers, wireless for low-cost consumer products and security/encryption. They have very strong positions in certain fast growing end markets. For example, over 90% of the controllers for 3D printing markets are Atmel’s. The breadth of their product line, especially their range of lower end microcontrollers, low-cost wireless and security, positions them well for the Internet of Things (IoT)

More articles by Paul McLellan…

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