Mark Denissen is vice president, worldwide strategic marketing, for Dallas-based Texas Instruments. TI, whose core manufacturing product is analog semiconductor chips, has nearly 9,000 employees in North Texas.
Tell me about innovation at Texas Instruments.
In September 2008 we opened Kilby Labs, which is a place where small teams of our best and brightest engineers incubate new technologies and new ideas. We have 15 projects in there with 30 to 40 people, and we’re doing some very interesting things.
Why did you set it up?
As you know [TI engineer and Nobel laureate] Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit, so we kind of decided to pull together a place where people could come and work on breakthrough new applications and systems for semiconductors. You could think about it as a research incubator for the best and brightest at TI. We tried to set up a place where people maybe would go beyond the normal research risks they might take. Most of those ideas then go back into our main business units. We can actually commercialize those great ideas and turn them into real products.
Do you have any examples?
We have over 100 product lines in all at TI, so what we might do in Kilby is look in areas where you need expertise from a number of those product lines to solve a problem. Like with our solar lab, we’re looking at unique ways to control individual solar panels and maybe to communicate to those panels. That requires capabilities from several of the product lines. We’re looking at unique ways to improve the efficiency of electric motors, where you might need a power electronics expert, a digital signal processing expert, somebody that understands current sensing, somebody that understands motors.
Have any of these initiatives borne fruit yet?
Yes. We’ve seen some data-conversion products that are three to four times faster than the products we were holding previously. So we’ve proven the process, and we’re just in the process of commercializing that. The process will show up in products that help make your stereo better, that will make all kinds of things more efficient.
In what trends do you see the greatest potential for TI going forward?
The desire to make things more efficient from an electronics standpoint is being driven by rising energy costs, which leads to the need for energy efficiency, better energy management, including in the new-economy countries like India and China. We have tons and tons of activities [in those areas]. Also, the number of things that you used to plug into a wall and don’t anymore—because battery technology is better, for example—is growing every day. We have great technologies to control batteries.