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21 April 2017

Who Wants Toshiba Memory?

With the Toshiba conglomerate struggling financially due to the losses incurred by its nuclear division in the United States, the Japanese firm’s management has made the decision to sell off its successful chip manufacturing arm (Toshiba Memory) in a bid to secure the company’s future.

The frontrunners in the race to purchase Toshiba Memory are Apple, the global electronics giant, SK Hynix, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of DRAM memory products, and Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn. However, various news outlets, including the New York Times, have reported that the Japanese government will attempt to block bids from companies based outside of Japan, due to fears that key intellectual properties, job and manufacturing facilities will be moved out of the country.

This stance, whilst understandable, is problematic for many of Toshiba Memory’s suitors – which is why they are exploring numerous avenues to secure a favourable position in the bidding war.

Earlier this week The Japan Times published an article saying that Apple is in the midst of exploring a variety of options that will, hopefully, secure them Toshiba’s memory-making business. The report states Apple has thought about launching a joint bid with Foxconn, but, interestingly, that the iPhone manufacturer has started to sound out Japanese investors. A source, who wished to remain anonymous, told the media outlet that SoftBank could be one of the potential investors.

It is believed that a partnership between Apple and SoftBank would be favourably received by both the Japanese and American governments. Though this is all completely hypothetical at this moment in time.

Another favourite to secure Toshiba Memory is Foxconn.

Early reports indicated that the Taiwanese-based electronic manufacturer was willing to overpay in order to force Toshiba to the negotiating table. Although Toshiba Memory has been valued in the region of $18 billion, Foxconn’s hierarchy was ready to pay $27 billion.

However, recent news stories indicate that Foxconn may be preparing a proxy bid through one of their Japanese subsidiaries, Sharp.

By proposing a deal with Sharp, Foxconn may be able to avoid any attempts by the Japanese government to block the deal, as, in theory, Toshiba Memory would remain under Japanese ownership.

“We’re not going to make profits by keeping our cash in banks,” a Sharp executive told the Asian press earlier this week, hinting at an impending move.

Whilst Foxconn, Apple and Sharp have been relatively coy about their formal intentions, SK Hynix has made some rather public overtones about a potential bid in recent days.

Earlier today (21st April), the Nikkei Asian Review published a news report stating that key representatives of the Korean memory manufacturer will be travelling to Tokyo to discuss a deal.

Chey Tae-won, the chairman of SK Hynix’s parent company, SK Holdings, is set to visit Japan early next week. In an effort to appease concerns about a foreign firm taking control of Toshiba Memory, it is believed that he will unveil plans that include further investment at Toshiba’s Yokkaichi fabrication factory and a commitment to keep jobs in Japan.

11 April 2017

Toshiba posts $4.8 billion loss, looking to sell its semiconductor business

When Westinghouse, Toshiba’s United States-based nuclear unit, filed for bankruptcy late last month, it set off a chain reaction of events that have plunged Toshiba’s very existence into doubt.

Now, less than a fortnight on, Toshiba Corporation has taken the unprecedented step of publishing its delayed financial results without prior approval from the firm’s external auditors.

Back in February, the company had forecast a $3.5 billion loss for the fiscal year. However, the recently released results indicate that Toshiba has in fact posted a loss of $4.8 billion for the period of April-December 2016.

Although the majority of Toshiba’s financial losses stem from issues relating to Westinghouse, the impact has been felt across the entire conglomerate.

In a bid to stay afloat, the company is attempting to sell off some of the most viable parts of its vast portfolio.

The Tokyo-based conglomerate has over 600 different businesses, with interests in everything from light bulbs to elevators, but its most viable – and financially attractive – asset is its semiconductor business, which makes flash-memory chips for use in mobile phones, tablets and other similar devices.

It is believed that Toshiba has valued its semiconductor business at $18 billion but Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, has indicated that it may be willing to shell out $27 billion in order to force the Japanese firm to the negotiating table.

Based in Taiwan, Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer and has a roster of high-profile customers that include Apple, Sony and Microsoft. Despite the potentially high-value bid, Foxconn’s move will face stiff resistance from the Japanese government due to fears that the company will move both manufacturing and crucial intellectual property out of the country.

Another leading name believed to be interesting in acquiring Toshiba’s semiconductor business is SK Hynix. An unnamed source, quoted by Bloomberg, has said that officials at the South Korean firm are looking into the feasibility of launching a joint bid with a Japanese-based investment group to secure preferential treatment. However, there are anti-trust fears over this bid, as well as the worry that Hynix may be able to buy its partners out to gain full control in the future.

Whilst the future of Toshiba’s semiconductor arm is in the air, the 142-year-old conglomerate has sought additional financial support from financial centres, even offering real estate as collateral.

28 March 2017

ARM's new chip architecture promises a big boost for Artificial Intelligence

From Siri to Netflix and Alexa to Spotify, we all use various forms of Artificial Intelligence on a daily basis. However, the current generation of chips and processors used to power AI are operating at near capacity. That’s why the big chip designers and manufacturers are releasing new architecture to accommodate tomorrow’s technology.

At the moment, a large proportion of AI processing takes place in the cloud, partly because the chips in mainstream production today are unable to handle the sheer amount of data and power required to process the algorithms and data streams. This information that gets handled remotely is then transferred via the internet.

In a perfect world, this isn’t a problem. However, in reality, we have to contend with dodgy WiFi networks and cellular connections that drop off a cliff whenever you pass through a bridge. This poses a problem for the technologies of the future as a strong, secure and continuous connection to the cloud cannot always be guaranteed.

Self-driving cars, for example, will need processing to be conducted at a local level as any interruption could bring about catastrophic consequences.

To meet the needs of these demands, chip designers have gone back to the drawing board.

ARM, the company that designs the chips used in most major smartphones, is looking to address this by launching a major update. Entitled DynamIQ, this upgrade will boost performance in the field of AI by 50 times when compared to its current chips.

Previously, ARM has opted to focus its attention on creating chips that are extremely power efficient. This approach has helped the company succeed in locking down the smartphone and mobile devices market, an area where its competitors failed to produce as effective components. But given the adoption of AI-features by smartphone manufacturers, and the way that technology is heading, ARM has opted to evolve.

Believed to be released next year, ARM’s new central processing units (CPU) will feature multiple processing cores clustered together, up to a maximum of eight. This is an increase from the maximum of four that can be used at the moment and, in some instances, there will also be the inclusion – in some instances – of a processor for handling AI-related algorithms.

Every new ARM chip design - dubbed the Cortex-A series - will be based on this new architecture.

ARM is not the only chipmaker to release a major update to its existing architecture.

Intel has committed to delivering gains of 15% or more with every new generation, and AMD has announced its Ryzen series of chips delivers a 40% performance gain in certain metrics.

Along with AI, the Internet of Things and self-driving vehicles, other areas such as virtual reality and super-charged gaming devices are also forcing firms to research and release high-performance chips.

10 March 2017

The Key to Flexible Electronics? A Soup Ingredient...

The problem with conventional electronic components is that they tend to separate and shatter when subjected to pressure or bent out of their rigid shape. That means that for smart clothing, skin-worn devices and gadgets that need to be flexible, creating the necessary circuits and boards can be a little problematic.

However, scientists from Stanford University’s Bao Lab have created an electrode with “uncompromised electrical performance and high stretchability.” In layman’s terms, they have manufactured an electrode that won’t snap in two easily and could, one day, be embedded in heart sensors, LEDs and other technologies.

And the key substance is, of all things, an industrial soup thickener.

The team, led by Zhenan Bao, the laboratory director, started off by creating a conductive plastic.  That worked, but only to a degree as it wasn’t flexible at all. In a bid to overcome their difficulties, Bao and her fellow researchers enlisted the help of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and its specialist X-ray equipment.

By having access to the state-of-the-art X-ray equipment, the team were able to pinpoint the right additive needed to create the perfect formula for stretchy electronics. And, as luck would have it, that turned out to be a molecule similar to those used to thicken soups in industrial-scale kitchens.

The substance completely stops the crystallisation process, resulting in a stretchy material that’s suitable for use in electronic circuits.

“We thought that if we add insulating material, we would get really poor conductivity,” said Bao.

However, thanks to their experience working with flexible polymers, the team managed to craft a thin, translucent and conductive material that works when stretched.

By using an inkjet printer, the research group has already managed to create a number of electrodes and stretchable transistor arrays.

It is hope that this work will help yield the ‘next generation’ of wearable technology, specifically in the field of wearable and epidermal electronics and bioelectronics.

However, it is possible you’ll view that serving of canteen soup in a different way from now on.

06 February 2017

Avoid the perils of obsolescence and excess inventories with Cyclops

Last year, a study conducted for the Germany Environment Agency founded that consumer behaviour was becoming increasingly responsible for the obsolescence of certain electronic products. Using televisions as an example, the paper pointed out that 60% of purchases were made because of a desire to upgrade, rather than a need to replace.

A similar report, undertaken earlier this year, found similar results and surmised that far too many appliances were being replaced despite being in good working order.

This buying behaviour is becoming increasingly prevalent in certain areas, with the smartphone and tablet sector perhaps the best example of how users are continuously on the lookout to purchase newer models.

A result of this behaviour is that production lines now have a small lifespan and a potentially volatile operating window, something that without pro-active management, can causes manufacturers all types of problems. What is in demand and relevant today might be superseded by a competitor tomorrow and suddenly, purchasing models become redundant overnight. The result is that devices and components, whilst still operational, can quickly become obsolete.

However, obsolescence is not just a by-product of consumer demand and OEM innovation: it is also a natural consequence of the rapid developments that we witness in the electronics industry. Thanks to advancements in science and technology, component manufacturers release new parts on a seemingly daily basis.

Although these breakthroughs must be applauded, this can be problematic for OEMs as the parts that they have incorporated into their products get phased out. The consequence of this life cycle is that demand outstrips supply.

Be on the front foot

It is important to tackle these problems head on. Many companies are working hard at protecting their supply chain against obsolescence, be it through the implementation of sophisticated algorithms or by adopting a just-in-time production strategy.

However, for all the strengths of these methodologies, they aren’t bulletproof.

Obsolescence is a problem that effects businesses of all shapes and sizes: Some of it is planned, some of it happens naturally, and some of it occurs when we least expect it. At times, it can be nothing more than a mild headache that causes a mild inconvenience; at others, it is a financially crippling issue that can affect the long-term financial viability of a company.

So, given that obsolescence can occur at both ends of the supply chain, how can you guard against this seemingly unavoidable issue?

Purchase with confidence

If you find that a component within your production schematics has become obsolete, then there are several avenues for you to explore.

The first is to redesign your product entirely. This would remove the reliance on a hard-to-find part but would bring about a substantial financial outlay.

Another option could see you source the part yourself. But given the fears surrounding counterfeit components, would this be a wise move?

A third solution (and by far the most sensible one) would be to work with an independent procurement specialist that can locate and secure stock of the obsolete part, whilst also being able to ensure its legitimacy.

Specialising in locating hard-to-find electronic components, Cyclops Electronics is one the leading independent stocking distributors in the industry. With 177,232 stocked line items, access to a further 14 million lines, and offices in eight different countries, Cyclops has an unparalleled supply network that can help shield your production lines from obsolescence and other related sourcing problems. And thanks to the company’s commitment to anti-counterfeiting and traceability, all parts sourced through the York-based firm come with a quality-assured 1 Year guarantee and are thoroughly inspected to confirm authenticity.

As well as being a leading distributor of components, Cyclops Electronics also offers manufacturers a variety of excess inventory services.

Recouping money from obsolete assets

When an entire production line becomes outdated, those leftover components often get stockpiled in a warehouse and become ever depreciating assets.

Due to the resources that excess stock consume, many companies begrudgingly opt to take a sharp financial hit to eradicate the problem. However, there is a better way to manage your obsolete inventories.

For the past twenty years, Cyclops’ excess specialists have been helping OEMs, CEMs and component manufacturers turn obsolete stock into cash. By being able to market active, passive and electromechanical parts to through the company’s internal supply network, Cyclops has built up relationships with a wide variety of businesses by protecting them against the financial dangers of obsolete stock.

Avoid Obsolescence with the help of Cyclops

At some point in time, the components that you require to manufacture your products will enter obsolescence and will become increasingly difficult to source. And at some point, when you alter your production strategies to incorporate new products or features, your stock will become heavier thanks to the presence of obsolete inventories. Although you cannot stop this from happening, you can minimise the impact that these events will have on your balance sheet.

With some careful planning and the aid of procurement and inventory experts, you should be able to save and, importantly, recoup money during the early stages of obsolescence.

20 January 2017

Electronic Genes Could Transform Medical Technology

Thanks to electronic genes, we could soon be plugging bacteria into devices

When it comes to technology, a bug is a rarely welcomed intruder that can cause untold problems to a device. But, thanks to the work of a group of United States-based researchers, that’s all about to change.

A team of synthetic biologists, eager to uncover new ways to connected organisms to electronics, have developed a method to control bacterial genes. One result of this experiment is that we are – hypothetically – one step closer to creating ‘living components’ for our electronic devices.

Why is this important? Well, William Bentley of the University of Maryland believes that they would be particularly valuable for devices that work inside the human body.

“If you want to discover what’s going on in the gastrointestinal tract or the oral cavity, if you can connect to electronics you have a way of interpreting what’s going on and you may be able to manipulate it,” he said.

One such example of how this might work in practice is that a device could use an organism inside the body to detect certain chemicals produced by harmful bacteria. When it recognises the chemical, it could secrete an antibiotic to protect the patient.

In order to manipulate specific genes to allow them to respond to electrical simulation, Bentley and his fellow researchers focused on redox molecules. These molecules are found in all cells and are naturally able to pass on electrons, oxidising in the process.

Alongside redox molecules, the bacteria E. coli was also a subject of the team’s investigation. Some components of E. coli respond to the oxidisation process and become reactive as a result.

To ensure an electrical input, electrodes were submerged into a specially created solution that contained bacteria. When the electrodes provided a positive charge, the redox molecules in the liquid became oxidised, setting off a chain reaction that triggered certain genetic mechanisms into action. When the electrode is negatively charged, the molecules reduce and the genes ‘turn off’.

The bacteria can also be engineered so that they can activate a specific gene that a researcher or doctor wants to target.

Unfortunately, like with many scientific breakthroughs, more research needs to be conducted to ensure its viability and safety.

22 December 2016

Forecasting the Electronics Industry in 2017

As we head towards the year’s end, many companies will be shifting their attention to forecasting their requirements for the next twelve months and beyond. However, this process is not a simple one.

The past year has been interesting, to say the least. In the electronics industry, we have seen how natural disasters and product recalls can severely impact the global supply chain, causing panic as the availability of key parts dwindled whilst costs soared. Elsewhere, shock elections and referendum results have caused the economic markets to wobble, driving costs up for some whilst reducing them for others.

In short, 2016 has been a nightmare for anybody that has attempted to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy.

That said, it’s important for procurement specialists and project managers to have an accurate idea of what will be needed for future production runs and – importantly – how both the manufacturing and consumer market is going to look.

In this piece, we will hopefully help provide some insight into how 2017 will play out for the electronics industry, specifically in relation to key market and economic trends.

Read more

19 December 2016

Seasons Greetings from Cyclops Electronics

With Christmas little more than a week away, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish all our customers and partners the very best this holiday season.

Over Christmas, the Cyclops Electronics office will be closed from 12:30 on 23rd December until the 3rd January, when we will reopen and business will resume as normal.

You still have time to submit your RFQs to us, however. So if you need to source a component to keep production running, or need secure stock for next year's project - get in touch!

Key Dates

  • 22nd December - Last day for standard shipping before Christmas
  • 23rd December (noon) - Cyclops Electronics closes for the Christmas and New Year period
  • 2nd January - Bank Holiday (UK)
  • 3rd January - Cyclops Electronics reopens

Christmas Reading

Over the past year, we've published a number of articles about the global electronics and semiconductor industry.

If you're at a loose end over the festive period, we've collated a number of entries that we think you'll find enjoyable and, importantly, informational. From forecasts to analysis and all the way through to updates, we've got all the festive reading you need:

Merry Christmas (1)

08 December 2016

Altera Issue Product Discontinuation Notice

Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group (Intel PSG, formerly Altera) has announced that certain legacy product families are going to be discontinued, citing a lack of demand and declining demand for their decision to cease production.

The product groups include:

  • FLEX 10K, FLEX 10KA, FLEK 10KE, FLEX 6000, FLEX 8000
  • MAX 7000, MAX 7000B, MAX 7000S, MAX9000

The manufacturer has stated that these end-of-line families will be available for a few months yet but all orders will be non-cancellable and non-returnable. Many of the parts that are listed on Altera’s website come with the caveat of a large minimum order value that in some cases is a five-figure sum.

For a full list of Altera components that are entering their end-of-life phase next year, click here.

If you need to fulfil your production lines but don’t want to pay an expensive minimum order value, then Cyclops Electronics will be able to supply or source the parts that you are looking for.

For over twenty-five years, Cyclops Electronics has specialised in the sourcing and procurement of hard-to-find, obsolete and end-of-life components. With 177,232 line items in stock and strategically located offices around the world, our procurement team is in the perfect position to locate the components that you need.

So, if you would like to see if Cyclops Electronics can help secure you stock of a component that is about to enter obsolescence, why not send an enquiry through to our team?


05 December 2016

An advisory group has been founded to help secure the United States' leading position in the semiconductor industry

The transition period between current administrations has started, but the current White House regime has recently established a new private-public advisory group in a bid to ensure that the United States remains the global leader in the highly competitive semiconductor sector.

Competition is fuelling an extraordinary amount of growth in the electronics industry but the wider implications of this titanic battle between gigantic corporations can be found national scientific, military and economic infrastructure projects. It’s a classic game of one-upmanship that results in the creation of new systems and technologies that end up being of critical importance to a nation’s security: What is designed today, could be used in missile guidance systems or complex financial algorithms tomorrow.

And it’s similarly cutthroat in the private sphere, with advanced semiconductors, processors and ICs expected to drive the development of next generation technology, such as autonomous vehicles and satellites.

Although semiconductor manufacturers and state-backed enterprise may be after the recognition that comes with designing world-leading components, the real prize is the lucrative contracts and patents that are associated with the parts. As always, money and profit is the real carrot.

So, in response to recent gains made by firms with explicit links to the Chinese government and the threat that American high tech companies might start buying chips manufactured in the Far East, the White House has sanctioned the creation of the Semiconductor Working Group.

The group will help shape government policy and create guidelines for development the semiconductor industry in the United States.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the conglomeration of some of the world’s major chip companies, welcomed the formation of the group.

“This chip industry spawns new industries, makes exiting industries more productive and drives advances once never imagined,” commented John Nueffer, the SIA’s president and CEO.

It is hoped that the collective can help with the creation of new chips and computers that can mimic the functionality and sheer processing power of the human brain. However, it is unlikely to be plain sailing as due to the advancements made in recent years, it has become increasingly more difficult to fit additional features onto ever smaller components. But with the creation of a working group to help focus efforts, breakthroughs might be quicker to occur.

Not everybody, though, is optimistic.

At the time of writing, it is still unclear exactly how the working group will operate and how wide its remit will be. This could well be extremely problematic, especially as in countries such as Taiwan and China there are existing structures in place that have been consolidating and driving the electronics industry forward.

As a result, some individuals believe that it will be rather ineffective and will, unfortunately, have little impact in creating new technologies.

And then there is the uncertainty surrounding the new Washington administration. With the group being established in the last months of Barack Obama’s presidency, there is no guarantee that the new regime will want to help support the group through its infancy. In fact, semiconductors companies could be hit hard, if existing trade agreements are nulled when the new president takes office.

Obviously, time will tell if the new working group is a success. If it does, the potential is there for it to help American companies create and manufacture a new generation of chips that will, eventually, find their way into production lines across the world.

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