BALL SEMICONDUCTOR INC. has attracted considerable attention in the chip business because of its commercialization of technology that allows integrated circuits to be built on millimeter-size silicon spheres, one at a time and without the need for expensive clean rooms breakthroughs that the Allen, Texas start-up estimates could slash the cost of IC production by up to 90 percent. Now, Ball Semiconductor, which was started by several Japanese semiconductor industry veterans, is attracting the notice of corporate Japan. YAMATAKE CORP., for one, formed a capital and technical alliance with the company. It invested $760,000, gaining a roughly 1 percent stake. The two also plan to collaborate on the application of Ball Semiconductor's technology to sensors, the area where the developer first expects to put its technology to use. Process control equipment manufacturer Yamatake reportedly is primarily interested in sensors to regulate heat and humidity in buildings. Prototypes could be ready as soon as the end of 2000.
Almost simultaneously, publicly traded JAPAN ASIA INVESTMENT CO., LTD., a pioneer in the venture-capital business in Japan, disclosed that it had raised close to $6 million to invest in BALL SEMICONDUCTOR INC. Participants in the fund include five unnamed companies listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange as well as nine individuals. The Allen, Texas company, which has 60 people on staff now but is building up to a work force of 100, will use the money for R&D. It plans to go public in 2001.
For its part, YOKOGAWA ELECTRIC CORP., Japan's number one in process control equipment, is strengthening its relationship with SMAL CAMERA TECHNOLOGY, INC. The Cambridge, Massachusetts start-up is developing CMOS (complementary metal- oxide semiconductor) sensors as replacements for the more expensive CCDs (charge- coupled devices) now used in digital cameras. Seeing benefits to using CMOS CCD devices in cameras designed for monitoring, Yokogawa Electric invested $1.5 million in SMaL Camera last October, soon after it was formed. Now, the Japanese company says, it will invest a like amount in SMaL Camera by June 2000. That will make YEC the top investor in the venture business with a 43.8 percent stake.
In another transpacific tie-up in the sensor field, NAGANO KEIKI CO., LTD. and TEXAS INSTRUMENTS INC. have forged a cross-supply arrangement. Under it, the Tokyo manufacturer, one of the world's biggest suppliers of pressure sensors, will ship evaporation pressure sensors to TI, which will combine them with its own pressure transmitters for use in state-of-the-art automotive engines. Before this part of the deal can be implemented, however, Nagano Keiki must renegotiate a never-activated agreement it reached three years ago with DELPHI AUTOMOTIVE SYSTEMS CORP. that gave the big parts supplier exclusive sales rights to its pressure sensors for automotive applications. The flip side of the Nagano Keiki-TI alliance calls for the Japanese manufacturer to sell the American company's sensors at home.
An exchange rate of ¥103=$1.00 was used in this report. aaa