Boise-based American Semiconductor has built 25 percent of its new campus and plans to bring the manufacturing of its award-winning technology to the Treasure Valley from Arizona, California and Minnesota.
American Semiconductor was founded in 2001. Until 2011, it worked primarily on radiation-hardened process technology. Then it invented a flexible silicon semiconductor and, realizing what the technology could mean for the industry, made that its main focus.
Now the company works primarily with flexible electronic hybrids that it creates by combining its flexible semiconductors with printed electronics to create sensors that American Semiconductor General Manager Richard Chaney said will have a drastic effect on the world of electronics.
“Think of Apple. Apple didn’t invent capacitive touch. They just hit a home-run with a product,” Chaney said. “That is what will happen with flexible. I don’t know what the first product will be, I wish I did because I would make millions, but it will happen.”
Flexible electronics are a newer trend. Printed electronics have been around for decades, Chaney said, and some materials that the conductive ink could be printed onto were indeed flexible. The problem is the semiconductors, which control the flow of electrical current in a system, were rigid and fragile.
American Semiconductor’s flexible silicon semiconductor can be placed into a printed electronic system and can bend to the shape of whatever it is charged with monitoring.
“Imagine if your phone was made of this and it didn’t break,” Chaney said. “You could chuck it off the wall and it would just bounce off. Right now there are companies playing around with flexible screens, but the chips inside are still rigid. This can change that.”
In August, American Semiconductor moved to its new 9,000 sq. foot headquarters at 6987 W. Targee Street. The site has 3,000 feet of office space, 3,000 feet of unused future office space and 3,000 feet of manufacturing space. American Semiconductor plans to double its staff of about 20 employees and construct an additional 18,000 square feet of manufacturing space. American Semiconductor’s annual revenue is about $10 million, Chaney said.
“You are seeing this convergence in electronics,” said Jay Larson, president of Idaho Technology Council. “American semiconductor is a worldwide leader of this space. It is great to have them here.”
The flexible hybrid electronics American Semiconductor is creating can be used in many ways. It can be attached to bridges and buildings to monitor weight loads in areas where earthquakes occur frequently, or to rockets, munitions or airplane wings to monitor stress and pressure.
“If you put a regular chip in those high G situations like being attached to munitions it wouldn’t get 30 feet from the launchpad before shearing off,” Chaney said. “Because this fits to what it is attached to and is so thin it doesn’t contend with as much wind
Many companies have used American Semiconductor’s new technology already, including the Department of Energy, the Air Force and NASA. The company has also done four rocket experiments with Northwest Nazarene University, including one to outer space to ensure the chip can survive extreme conditions.
“It’s fun because you look at things that used to take up a lot of space and now they use a fraction of that,” said Larson. “The technology has advanced to the point that essentially a piece of paper can sit under your watch and can monitor your heart rate.”
Conversations about flexible hybrid electronics began to occur on a large scale in 2009, Chaney said, but it took several years to convince companies it was possible.
“At the Printed Electronics Conference in 2009 we first presented our concept to people and they all thought we were crazy,” Chaney said, “We weren’t the first to come up with the concept, but we were the first to show it could be executed.”
In 2013, American Semiconductor won an innovation award for its flexible semiconductor at the Flexible and Printed Electronic Conference.
“American Semiconductor is visionary when it comes to tech development,” Larson said. “It is an impressive team and in the next two to five years you are going to see flex manufacturing just explode.”
American Semiconductor outsourced its manufacturing process to different parts of the country while it saved up for the technology required to do the manufacturing itself. It’s ready to begin that transition in 2016.
“When you are doing manufacturing, if you pay it out you don’t know how it is being done,” Chaney said. “Steering your business’ manufacturing is a lost art. This has always been our process, we were just borrowing someone else’s tools and that has made this transition a lot easier.”