CEO Interview with Anthony Ambrose, Data I/O Corporation
For 40 years, Data I/O Corporation has been the world leader in the manufacture, distribution and service of trusted & innovative manual and automated programming systems and software applications for programmable semiconductor devices. Since 1972, it has championed the use and growth of programmable devices in a wide variety of industries and products. Data I/O provides programming solutions for devices in any package, whether programmed in a socket or on a circuit board. Its expertise in programmable integrated circuits, global supply chain processes, and IP management and protection helps bring innovative new products to life. Global electronics manufacturers rely on Data I/O’s systems and software application to program their intellectual property into devices during this critical step in the manufacturing process. Data I/O recently appointed Anthony Ambrose as its new president and CEO. We recently sat down with him to find out what he has in store for the company.
The company celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012. How has Data I/O’s focus and mission changed since then? What would you say has been the largest area of growth since 1972?
Data I/O is a pioneer in device programming. Our products have evolved over the years to support rapidly changing device technology. In 1972, we introduced the first commercial PROM programmer, the Model 1. Data I/O continued to advance device programming technology and methods by introducing more than 40 new programmers in the first two decades. Until the mid1990s, Data I/O’s solutions were used primarily by design engineers. In the mid90s, methods for design engineering changed and NAND Flash emerged as the latest device technology targeted at the consumer electronics and wireless applications. NAND presented challenges to manufacturers who needed to program large volumes of devices efficiently and correctly. Data I/O was the first to develop a programming engine, automated and manual programming systems and a library of bad block schemes to address the NAND challenges. eMMC device technology emerged in the late 2000s driven by the need to support exponential growth of file sizes and smaller PCBs for tablet computers and smartphones. These devices created new problems for electronics manufacturers due to special features of the device and long download and programming times. Data I/O was the first to support these high-density devices. This move from developing solutions for design engineers to automated solutions for electronics manufacturers has been a significant area of growth for Data I/O.
We are already seeing fundamental changes in NAND Flash technology. NAND Flash memory continues to advance towards higher density and lower power. Multiple bits per cell have proven to be effective in increasing the density. As silicon shrinks, device variability and error rates can increase, requiring sophisticated control algorithms to offset this trend.
Moving forward we will continue to see an exponential explosion of programmable devices with increasing file sizes. As electronic devices continue to become increasingly complex and play mission critical roles in our daily lives Data I/O will continue to develop trusted reliable solutions with a broad range of flexible hardware and software options that support emerging device technologies. I’m excited to continue Data I/O’s tradition of innovation and lead the company into our next 40 years.
Can you provide our readers with a brief background of your career experiences and explain how your qualifications make you the best fit for advancing Data I/O to the top of its industry?
Data I/O is the industry leader for 40 years developing high-quality reliable programming solutions for cutting-edge device technology. We are trusted by the world’s leading automotive, wireless and consumer products, industrial controls, and military/aerospace electronics manufacturers to deliver programming solutions that meet their manufacturing requirements
In order for Data I/O to remain the industry leader we must focus on our core business — developing innovative new solutions for new device technologies and delivering the highest quality programming solutions with software applications allowing our customers to customize their programming systems to meet their requirements. As smart electronics continue to play a huge part in our daily life, from medical devices, safety features and sensors in cars, satellites and defense to ubiquitous wireless devices, electronics manufacturers’ will be required to meet higher quality standards. I am confident I can lead Data I/O into success for the next 40 years with my past experience in the semiconductor industry coupled with my record of driving growth companies.
I have 30 years of engineering, development, sales and marketing experience in the semiconductor and embedded telecommunications markets. I joined Data I/O in October 2012 as President and CEO. Prior to Data I/O I was the Owner and Principal of Cedar Mill Partners, a strategy consulting firm focusing on growth strategies for small and medium sized technology companies. At RadiSys Corporation, the leading provider of embedded wireless infrastructure solutions, I was the Vice President and General Manager where I led three product division and worldwide engineering teams. At Intel Corporation I was a General Manager and held several other progressively responsible positions where I led development and marketing of standards based telecommunications platforms and grew the industry standard server business to over $1B in revenue.
What have you learned from visiting and talking with customers and distributors in Europe, Americas & Asia?
Over the past four months, I have personally met with customers, distributors and sales reps that do business on four continents. The feedback I received from them was quite clear. They all have tremendous respect for our products, service, support, and see us as the “gold standard” in device programming. Data I/O is regarded as the highest quality programming equipment provider in the world, serving mission critical applications for more than 40 years. The introduction of the second-generation 3D Coplanarity Vision System with our PS588 automated programming system is the latest example of Data I/O’s focus on delivering solutions to support our customers’ strictest quality requirements. Our customers have come to trust and rely on Data I/O’s quality and ability to support cutting edge device technologies.
At the IPC APEX tradeshow in February you announced the introduction of a Second-Generation 3D Coplanarity Vision system with the PS588 automated programming system. Can you tell us about the new system and who would benefit from it?
The number of programmable microcontroller and flash memory devi
ces used in mission-critical automotive applications (antilock braking systems, engine control units, telematics, powertrain, navigation systems and more) is increasing every year and the file sizes associated with these devices are growing exponentially. Mistakes during this crucial process can be costly.
3D Coplanarity Vision Systems is the gold standard for line yield and designed for customers. With accurate measurements down to 7 µm (0.0003″), 3D Coplanarity gives customers assurance that these critical semiconductor devices are ready for assembly — programmed correctly and free from defects, we are the only programming company that supports true 3D coplanarity.
3D Coplanarity is just one of the options we offer to support our customer with demanding quality requirements such as automotive electronics manufacturers. In addition to our 3D Coplanarity Vision System, Data I/O has the industry’s most reliable handling systems, trusted FlashCORE III programming engine and a suite of software applications allowing customers to customize their automated programming systems to meet their quality and process needs. Data I/O will continue to develop solutions to help our customers increase their quality, streamline production processes and meet throughput needs
From what we have seen in the news recently, software is a key part to the success of your business. What role does it currently play and why is it this important? As technology continues advancing, how will software adapt?
Software is the cornerstone of Data I/O’s systems enabling our solutions to be fast, flexible and extensible. It plays a critical role. It starts with algorithms, or individual software packages, written specifically for each device. These algorithms are a set of instructions that define the digital timing via current and voltage levels to program data into a specific device. Our software engineers write hundreds of these individual software packages each year to enable the full capability of each device.
Data I/O’s FlashCOREIII, a FPGA based programming engine, enable us to quickly respond to changes in device silicon and optimize the programming engine through software updates without making any changes to the hardware. Because of this optimization our software team is able to create new and boosted algorithms increasing the programming performance and allowing devices to be programmed at theoretical maximum speed. Customers are able to easily take advantage of these optimized algorithms increasing programming speeds and maximizing throughput. We make these enhancements available immediately to any customer via annual support contracts.
Beyond algorithms, software applications are the foundation of our whole product solutions extending the value and capabilities of our systems. A recent example is our Automotive Performance PakTM software suite. Some software application examples include: Version ControlTM providing configuration management ensuring traceability; Factory Integration SoftwareTM integrating Data I/O’s automated programming handlers with customers’ MES systems; and Serial Number ServerTM managing dynamic data. This allows programming to seamlessly integrate with customers manufacturing processes.