Cypress buying CMOS image sensor manufacturer

San Jose, CA—Cypress Semiconductor Corp. recently agreed to acquire Belgium-based FillFactory NV, a leader in active-pixel, complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor technology, for $100 million in cash.

By Control Engineering Staff July 9, 2004

San Jose, CA— Cypress Semiconductor Corp. recently agreed to acquire Belgium-based FillFactory NV, a leader in active pixel complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor technology for $100 million in cash. FillFactory offers custom and standard solutions for advanced digital photography, high-speed imaging, machine vision, and automotive applications.

Scheduled to close in the 2004’s third quarter (3Q04), the deal is expected to be accretive to Cypress’s pro forma earnings in 2004, excluding the cost of acquisition-related intangibles. FillFactory posted sales of $6 million and profit before tax of $1.3 million in 1Q04.

FillFactory’s products, which are based on a proprietary pixel architecture, include a 13.85-megapixel sensor for Kodak’s new DCS line of professional digital cameras; a 100 x 135 mm sensor for mammography applications, which takes up an entire eight-inch wafer and is one of the world’s largest sensors; radiation-tolerant sensors for aerospace applications, such as star trackers and sun sensors; and active-pixel sensors that combine a true snapshot synchronous shutter with very high readout rates for use in high-speed scientific image analysis.

Besides possessing large numbers of pixels, FillFactory’s image sensors have high frame rates, which make it easier to capture images in motion; and high dynamic range, which improves their ability to distinguish dark objects against light backgrounds. This proprietary pixel architecture has a high ‘fill factor,’ meaning that the entire area of a pixel is photosensitive, even with the three or four transistors that are required to reset and sense an image. As a result, FillFactory products have no need for the microlenses required by competitive products. High fill factors translate into smaller CMOS sensor chips and/or sensor chips with better resolution without making concessions to sensitivity.

Cypress reports that demand for CMOS image sensors, essentially cameras on a chip made with standard CMOS process technology, is growing rapidly, driven by a swift expansion of the market for digital still cameras (DSCs) and cell phone cameras. According to a 2Q04 report by iSuppli, an El Segundo, CA-based semiconductor research firm, the 78-million-unit market for CMOS sensors in 2003 is projected to expand at an annual rate of more than 40% through 2008.

‘The market for image sensors is exploding and FillFactory’s products are among the highest-performing,’ says Tony Alvarez, executive VP of Cypress’s memory products division, which will add FillFactory as a product line when the acquisition is complete. ‘FillFactory image sensors will enable us to effectively double our sales into the cell phone market, where we are already a leading supplier of low-power memories.

“These sensors will expand our market share in DSCs, where we currently sell a broad array of timing solutions. They will augment our growing automotive business, where we sell configurable microcontrollers and memories. And, they also will enable us to penetrate new customers and markets, including those in Japan and the Asia-Pacific. The CMOS manufacturing process used to make image sensors is highly similar to that used to manufacture memories. That also makes FillFactory a great fit with Cypress’s core manufacturing capabilities.’

Luc De Mey, FillFactory’s, co-founder, president, and CEO, adds that, ‘Cypress’s low-cost, high-volume CMOS manufacturing capabilities and extensive worldwide sales and marketing channels will enable us to quickly expand our business in new areas and to strengthen our ability to meet our existing customers’ needs. We’re pleased to join a company that will accelerate our growth in the future.’

T. Rogers, Cypress’ president and CEO, explainsrket. Longer-term, we aim to combine FillFactory’s intellectual property with existing Cypress IP, such as the optical microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and image-processing capabilities of our Silicon Light Machines subsidiary to lay the groundwork for new, integrated, value-added solutions.’

Control Engineering Daily News DeskJim Montague, news