CEO Talk: Michel Villemain, Founder and CEO of Presto Engineering

This interview was held with Michel Villemain, Founder and CEO of Presto Engineering.



Can You tell me a bit about your background?


I started my career with Schlumberger (later NPTest), where I served in various technical and managerial capacities in Europe, Texas and California, mostly in semiconductor equipment. I have served as General Manager for Schlumberger ATE Europe, Vice President Marketing of the Test Division, and General Manager of the Probe (IDS) Division. I was also Vice President Marketing at FEI, and General Manager of the CD-SEM Business Unit at KLA-Tencor. I have a Math degree and a PhD in Computer Science.


When did you start Presto Engineering?


I started the company in 2006 in California, with Frank Sauk. We first took over a test and reliability facility from Cypress Semiconductor in San Jose. We then expanded in Europe with a QA lab from NXP in France in 2010, the TPE team from ST Ericsson in 2010, a Silicon Operations team from Inside Secure in 2015, and Delta Microelectronics in 2020. This strategic path, along with organic growth, allowed us to expand our service portfolio from outflow backend services to full ASIC capabilities, from design to production.


We are headquartered in Meyreuil, France and we have operations in France, Denmark, UK, North America and Asia, with a total of approximately 150 employees.



Tell me about Presto Engineering?


We are recognized experts in ASIC design and integrated semiconductor services. We focus on four main markets: Industrial, Automotive, Communications and Medical and specialize (at least on the design side) on sensor hubs and wireless radio enabled devices. On average, we complete approximately fifty projects per year (including 3 to 5 designs), shipping some fifty million units annually. We are very focused on the European (and North America) markets, and we are one of the very few operations with complete industrialization capabilities (test floors, qualification lab and failure analysis lab), providing our customers with proximity, collaborative services with optimum reactivity. Finally, we offer our volume-growing customers a path to Asia where we have two test floors (one in Thailand and one in Taiwan) along with a deep supply chain network.


What problem did you see that needed to be fixed? What is your approach to solving that? 


Successfully implementing custom semiconductor technology into products and processes is a challenge for many small to medium sized companies when developing new products. However, custom ICs can really be a game changer for market competitiveness. Thus, we help our customers develop ASICs for less than $5 million dollars in upfront investment. Our customers lower their risks by outsourcing their entire ASIC procurement process, from design to delivery, to Presto, enabling them to focus their resources and energy on the system and final product creation.


The key to making ASICs more affordable is taking advantage of mature process nodes, and their particular specialty options . They are less expensive than the newer fabs, but they are still perfectly suited for many applications in industrial, medical, automotive and communication end products, with the right area to performance trade-off – Analog does not really benefit always from scaling down transistors. In a word, trendy and fancy finfet is not systematically the avenue for a successful mixed signal ASIC. Non-recurring engineering costs – such as chip design EDA software and photomasks – are also much lower for legacy nodes.


Once you provide a low-risk ASIC option to an existing electronics product, based on standards component and/or FPGA, the economics are fairly easy with a short payback.


Figure 1 compares a discrete solution with negligible initial investment and $10 unit cost at a volume of 500,000 units per year with an ASIC solution that has an upfront cost of $4M and a unit cost of $4 at the same volume. With a cost differential $6 per unit saving $3M per year, the initial $4M investment will be paid back in 16 months.



How has the role/offering of Presto Engineering changed during the recent years?


There is growing demand for companies that can manage the entire ASIC procurement process from initial design to final delivery. Over the years, Presto Engineering has built such an offering through investments – 50 million euros in equipment value, manufacturing test assets, and a device packaging pilot line – and in part through acquisitions. More recently, our customers have requested more automation and traceability, as a result, we have invested into our own, web-based platform called OCEAN. It implements our proprietary quality processes, QuDF for design and SQuP for industrialization, hosts all of our B2B supply chain operations, and provides full, real-time electronics records for quality, product engineering and traceability purposes.



Which market segments seems promising to you? And why?


In the industrial area: sensor-based ASICs aimed at applications such as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) solutions used for smart tracking and data logging, automation, preventive maintenance, production machinery, surveillance, smart buildings, etc.


In the medical area: applications for diagnostics and proactive medicine, connected solutions of Medical Internet of Thing (MedIoT), in-vitro diagnostics, patient monitoring devices, medical imaging. Being located in one of the most creative European healthcare electronic clusters in Denmark has allowed us to keep a close link with customers in a market where reliability and sustainability over long period of time is a must.


In the automotive and transport area: hybrid, electric and powertrain electronics (especially battery management), ADAS and passive safety, as well as in-vehicle infotainment and cluster. Through the acquisition of one of the Quality Analytical Lab of NXP, we inherited broad experience in releasing innovative automotive products through production.


What sets you apart from other companies similar to Presto?


As a vertically integrated European microelectronics solution provider, we support our customers in all stages of development and production, from feasibility study to component delivery, with volume production operations in Asia.


Our customers take advantage of Presto’s urCHIP comprehensive toolbox, allowing them to validate project ideas (technically and economically) and to get started quickly, before moving onwards to design and development phases. This modular platform enables fast prototyping and is the fastest way to outline the device key specifications and feature set.


As highlighted above, our OCEAN proprietary web-based platform for supply chain management allows full traceability, which is quite critical for certification-heavy sectors like automotive and medical. The OCEAN platform allows error-free transmission of production files and instructions, as well as consolidation of the feedbacks.


We have developed two more proprietary processes: QuDF (ASIC Quality Design Flow) for design and SQuP (Service Quality and Planning) for post-silicon. They provide more predictability and visibility for our customer as well as more efficiency from our teams. This quite dramatically improves our ability to reuse (IP, methods, libraries, failure mechanisms, etc.) which is the only real way to de-risk projects that, by essence, have never been done before.


Last but not least, we have established several very long-standing partnerships with leading foundries, EDA companies, and OSATs.



Are you currently hiring? What type of jobs?


We are looking for talent in many fields and have open software and product engineering positions, account manager, IT and more. These open positions are mainly in Europe and Asia.


Where can one find more information?


Please visit: https://www.presto-eng.com/join-our-team.


You can also follow us on LinkedIn.

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