On January 7th, 2000 FillFactory was established as a spin-off company of IMEC to specialize in the custom design of APS (active pixel sensor) CMOS image sensors. IMEC was founded in 1984 and is Europe’s leading independent research center for the development and licensing of microelectronic technologies. IMEC is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and employs about 850 people, of whom 75% are scientists and engineers. Its $88 million revenue is derived from agreements and contracts with government agencies and aerospace and semiconductor companies worldwide.
FillFactory has raised approximately BEF 183 million (~ US $4.3M) in seed capital. In addition to IMEC and its founders, the shareholders include a number of Belgian VC firms (IT-Partners, Partner@Venture, Capricorn Venture Partners) and various international VC firms including Prelude Trust (UK), Sofipa (Italy) and Dow (Switzerland). FillFactory currently has 11 employees, many of whom are former IMEC employees.
The research that gave rise to FillFactory’s APS CMOS image sensors began at IMEC in 1987. FillFactory will produce CMOS image sensors with image quality equal to that of conventional CCD chips, but with all the advantages of CMOS, including lower power consumption, lower production costs, and the potential to integrate a number of functions together with the sensor on one chip. FillFactory offers proven solutions for multi-megapixel resolution, extended dynamic range, and very fast readout speeds (kHz frame rates). The company can also design analog multiplexers and detector arrays for diverse wavelengths and particles.
According to industry research, only 1 in 5 image sensors use CMOS, and these are used primarily in industrial vision applications. However, the company believes that CMOS image sensors will not only overtake the CCD market, but will also enable new applications, such as portable videophones and Internet cameras. Frost & Sullivan forecast that by 2003 four out of five image sensors will use CMOS. The CMOS image sensor market will grow by 58% in a market which, as a whole (including CCDs) will grow by 12% per year.
FillFactory has taken over a number of current IMEC projects with partners in Japan, Israel and the U.S. FillFactory will continue to develop CMOS image sensors for applications in space, mainly for the European Space Organization. The company plans to address the market for CMOS image sensors by developing customer-specific products as well as a range of standard products.
Product families inherited from IMEC include the IBIS family of integrating active pixel sensors consisting of the IBIS4 1280x1024 sensor for still cameras, IBIS1 386x290 sensor for a CCIR camera demo, IRIS1 640x480 sensor for space monitoring cameras, and the ASCoSS 512x512 star tracker sensor. The Fuga family of sensors features high resolutions, with random addressing and logarithmic transfer. Random addressing of pixels enables frame speeds in the order of one thousand to one million per second. Logarithmic response yields a dynamic range of more than one million.
Scitex collaborated with FillFactory for the design of a 6.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor, Tower Semiconductor for the wafer fabrication, and ShellCase for custom packaging. The Leaf C-MOST, active pixel 6.6 Megapixel CMOS sensor, with its ultra thin packaging, can be positioned in the focal plane of a standard 35mm camera, allowing full-size, high resolution images to be captured using standard 35mm lenses. The Leaf C-MOST sensor provides exceptional image quality when compared to other CMOS sensors due to the unique active pixel design, and its high sensitivity and low noise levels are claimed to be comparable to currently available CCD technology. Future Leaf devices incorporating the Leaf C-MOST sensor are expected to offer cost effective digital imaging alternatives to CCD-based devices.
Luc De Mey, CEO