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Below is our recent interview with James McDonald, President and Co-Founder of Cactus Semiconductor:
Q: James, what exactly is your role in the company? What’s your job, and is it hard?
A: I’m the President and co-founder of Cactus Semiconductor. Basically I’m responsible for running the company along with our other co-founder and COO, Nandini Srinivasan. My primary focus within the broad spectrum of running a company is business development and company financials. Business development includes both existing markets and defining new market opportunities.
As President of a company, I think one of the biggest challenges of my job is managing the myriad of issues that present during the course of doing business. No two days are exactly alike. In many cases what I thought I would focus on when coming into work never makes its way to the top of the “to-do list” for that day. Prior to starting Cactus Semiconductor 16 years ago, I primarily spent most of my career as an Integrated Circuit Designer. That job was very focused, and it was much easier at the end of each day to point to your accomplishments. As President the job is very broad, and any day I can deal with several, what appear to be, unrelated topics such as hiring, finance, new business proposals, etc. In reality, these decisions are related to a very complex and multi-dimensional problem, “How do I run a business successfully?”. Determining the impact of your decisions on these matters can take months and sometimes years. The feedback and unfortunately, the sense of accomplishment may not be appreciated for quite some time.
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Q: What’s the biggest challenge you faced in your job?
A: Besides the multi-tasking, I would say the biggest challenge is making sure our customer’s needs are met or exceeded and do so within the budget and schedule allotted. We are all consumers. As consumers, we want our vendors/retailers to appreciate our business and deliver what they promised. My job is to help make sure our customers are appreciated, satisfied, become repeat customers and great advocates for Cactus Semiconductor. People often say I’m lucky to own my business and not have a boss. Actually, I have several bosses. Each customer is my boss.
Q: Can you explain the different products Cactus is creating and what they do?
A: Cactus develops Integrated Circuits (ICs) for a variety of applications in the medical, wearable, and portable product space. What is common among these applications is the need for miniaturization and low power. The electronic integrated circuits we develop primarily run off a battery. To extend battery life, the power these circuits consume must be minimized. In addition, since these devices are portable, in many cases even ingestible or implantable, they need to be small.
For example, Cactus Semiconductor is involved in developing custom integrated circuits that are used by medical device companies. These medical companies create devices that are implanted within the body.
Such devices may be used to stimulate nerves and sense the nerve’s responses. Such neurological stimulators have been found to provide therapy for treating issues such as sleep apnea, back pain, over-active bladder, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches and many other crippling and life threatening diseases.
In addition to medical devices, Cactus also does a significant amount of work with sensor interfaces and energy harvesting. Energy harvesting involves developing circuits that interface with transducers or devices that can take energy from such physical quantities as wind, light, sound or heat, and convert this to electrical energy. This electrical energy can be used as a power source to run circuits for many of the wearable devices that are coming into the market. The challenge for Cactus is to develop very efficient circuits as to not “waste” the harvested energy of the transducer.
Q: Can you give us insights in the process of semiconductor testing? Why is it important to do it?
A: Semiconductor testing is done to screen out defects in integrated circuits. During the development process the design team simulates the circuits over process corners to ensure a design is statistically robust. However, there are “point” defects that can occur in the actual manufacturing of the silicon wafers. Such defects, for example, can create open circuits or short circuits in the device. In order to detect these defects, we must test the device. When we ship a device to our customer, we are ensuring the customer that the device works to specification and the device has been tested to guarantee compliance with those specifications. As a semiconductor company providing ICs for class III, life sustaining devices, quality of the products we ship is paramount.
Q: What are the benefits of power management IC design?
A: Power Management Integrated Circuits, sometimes referred to as PMICs, are critical in the world of portable battery-operated electronics. Basically, all the custom integrated circuits Cactus develops have various forms of power management. The primary function of PMICs, in this case, is to manage battery life or more importantly extend battery life. Power management can be achieved using switching regulators and/or by way of controlling circuit activity. In the later case, circuits can be judiciously turned on and otherwise turned off when not required, thus improving the efficiency of the integrated circuit.
In addition, power management plays a role in device miniaturization. Battery capacity is generally directly related to battery size. Bigger batteries offer more capacity or power. Hence, if you can reduce power, you can choose to use a smaller battery while maintaining the same battery life. Doing so reduces overall device size. In many applications such as implantable medical, battery size can play a significant contributor to overall device size. A smaller battery equates to a smaller implantable device.
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Q: What does the future hold? Where is the company headed?
A: Cactus Semiconductor started out developing custom integrated circuits in the medical device market, primarily implantable medical. We will continue to focus on this application space. However, the key capabilities and infrastructure such as low power circuit design, miniaturization, intellectual property and quality systems have allowed us to expand into health monitoring and medical markets outside of implantable medical. We will continue to leverage these capabilities as we expand our presence in wearable devices and interface circuits for sensors. Sensors developed as Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) are part of the evolutionary miniaturization process. In applications where miniaturization and low power intersect, I see Cactus Semiconductor at the forefront of custom integrated circuit design.Activate Social Media: