Manfred Schmitz, CTO of MEN Mikro Elektronik, talks to Steve Rogerson in our series of interviews for CIEonline. Born in 1959 in Nuremberg, Schmitz graduated in communications engineering in 1981 at the Georg-Simon-Ohm-Hochschule, Nuremberg. He established MEN Mikro Elektronik with two co-founders in 1982 and since that time has been CTO, a role in which he has used to define the technological orientation of the company during the past 30 years.
In 1982, MEN was one of the pioneers in the field of programmable logic arrays. FPGA development is still one of the company’s core competencies.
Schmitz always likes to travel. He uses his holidays to discover the world, some times even by bicycle. And he has a sports pilot licence to observe the world from above.
1. MEN Mikro has just been taken over by Equita Holding. Why has that happened and what effect will it have on the company?
There were three owners who founded the company and we are all becoming old; I am the youngest. The other two have left the company because of their age. We have no children to take over, so we had to find a solution and that is Equita. They are dedicated to this type of business model and we felt they could be a partner for us.
They have a majority of the company, but there are some other owners, and I am one. There are also some other shareholders among my colleagues. But between us we have a minority share. But if Equita wants to exit, we have the right to take over again.
2. Do you think there are too many form factors in the embedded boards industry?
Form factors are becoming less and less essential. We do a lot of Compact PCI work but we see a huge trend away from modules. We do a lot of box computers and nobody cares what the form factors are just what the functionality is. When you have a modular computer, you need standard form factors, but for complete boxes it doesn’t matter what form factors are in the box
3. Your company was a pioneer in programmable logic. Why is this technology still important?
FPGAs started as an idea to replace some glue logic but it has now become much more complex. We see FPGAs sitting around an ARM CPU to give dedicated functionality. ARM CPUs are very specialised for the applications, such as in an IPad. The problem for the industrial market is you have much smaller volumes, so you need the FPGA to give you the flexibility.
Everything that is in silicon can be replaced by an FPGA, but this can be expensive, so you need a mix of a CPU with FPGAs on the same die. For that I see a big future. They can make the overall size of the die smaller and thus cheaper.
4. What are the pros and cons of exploring by plane versus by bicycle?
You cannot compare bicycles and planes. I like both. They provide different experiences of learning the world. The speed is different. But both are very different from driving a car. On a bike, you can see trees, tracks, fields, people. In a plane, you do not see the details but you gain an impression of how everything comes together.
I have been flying for two years, so I am not an expert; it is just for fun. I don’t do it for business, just for fun.
5. Last year, Europe gained a new standards body – the Standardization Group for Embedded Technologies (SGet). What sort of role will this play compared with established bodies such as Ansi and Vita?
I believe in the old existing bodies such as Ansi, Vita and Picmg because they take more care over IP. I understand why they wanted to do something new because it is so bureaucratic in Vita and Picmg, but there are good reasons for that because they have to guarantee the IP rights and make sure nobody can use their own patents to make money out of the standards.
I think we should stick with the existing bodies, which is why we haven’t joined SGet.