ACE AWARDS INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR: Michael McCorquodale
Patrick Mannion, Director of Content - March 28, 2012
The Innovator of the Year Award goes to the individual who brings leadership, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking to technology, a product, or a business, and this year's winner is no exception. Two truisms come to mind when thinking about Michael McCorquodale, general manager of the silicon-frequency-control business at Integrated Device Technology. The first: If you want to be successful, find a big problem and solve it. The second: If you want to get engineers to do something, tell them it can't be done-or that you think one of their peers can do it better.
In the case of the first truism, McCorquodale picked a doozy, one that has occupied his entire 14-year academic and professional career. He chose to focus on replacing mechanical quartz crystal oscillators with all-silicon CMOS oscillators that are neither mechanical nor MEMS-based and are manufactured entirely in standard CMOS technology.
The primary obstacle to all-CMOS oscillators is silicon's lack of high-frequency accuracy or stability, due to manufacturing variances and high-temperature sensitivity. Still, the advantages of all-CMOS oscillators-versus using an external device-are manifold and attractive. They include lower cost and the integration of on-chip oscillators with timing controllers. Typical quartz-based frequency-control devices need to be assembled in temperature-stable ceramic packages with CMOS circuitry.
When trying to solve this big problem, McCorquodale had many naysayers. Most industry experts considered the feat impossible, and engineers largely abandoned it in the 1960s. Since then, quartz-based frequency references have become ubiquitous, with manufacturers shipping more than 10 billion units-and represent one of the final holdouts for integration into silicon.
Despite this tide of negativity, including tight-fisted venture capitalists working with previous assumptions, McCorquodale didn't waver. In 1998, he took the opportunity to use advances in RF-CMOS technology and revisit the performance capabilities of CMOS oscillators. The next 14 years of work included six years of academic research as well as five years of commercial-development efforts at the start-up he founded, Mobius Microsystems.
By then, teams with decades of experience had founded several MEMS companies. Meanwhile, McCorquodale struggled to build a team, raise capital, and gain market traction. Most experts considered the technology unfeasible, so there was little interest. Nevertheless, his persistence enabled him to raise modest capital, and he finally realized his vision at Mobius.
IDT purchased Mobius in January 2010; IDT saw it as a natural fit for its vision of equipping every digital system with an interface employing IDT silicon. The company is currently the leader in silicon-timing devices that translate and synchronize timing signals originating from quartz- or silicon-based frequency references.
At IDT, McCorquodale continues to spearhead further innovations that are leading to the emergence of additional CMOS-oscillator products, realizing the low-cost promise of gross margins in excess of 90% at the same price at which quartz devices achieve 30% or less. Dramatically expanding its served market, IDT is now in a position to finally merge its silicon-timing products with McCorquodale's CMOS oscillators to enable all-silicon timing devices that require no external quartz crystals.
Today, CMOS oscillators are replacing quartz devices in volumes in excess of tens of millions of units a month and achieve performance levels no one ever believed possible. Without McCorquodale's vision, his continuous innovation to realize that vision, unwavering persistence, and leadership in the face of decades of thinking to the contrary, CMOS oscillators would not exist today and would not be transforming the industry.
See the links below for this year's other winners:
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