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Mature Technology: It's Where the Action Is

Semico Research has just released a mature technology market research study.  Wait!  Mature technologies?  Aren’t those fabs trailing-edge technology, old hat, passé?  They may use older technology, but there’s a lot of action there now. 

For many years, semiconductor manufacturing has tended to migrate from older fabs to newer fabs in a predictable manner.  Leading-edge semiconductors such as processors and memory migrated to leading-edge fabs.  ASICs and other integrated circuits migrated to the second-generation fabs just vacated by the leading-edge parts.  Discretes and other trailing-edge devices migrated to the third-generation fabs.  Older fabs were decommissioned.  That pattern ended several generations ago.  The reasons are complex.  It involves economics, diverging memory and logic technologies, new applications which require low power, and market dynamics which include company consolidation.

CES Technology in the Driver’s Seat

What a show! Not sure if it’s the weekend attraction of Las Vegas, but CES managed to retain the crowds through Saturday.  Most booths were bustling with curious attendees trying to get a better understanding of the new products and underlying technologies. Once again, the automotive section was quite busy with autonomous driving and electrification of vehicles front and center. While Level 5 autonomous driving is still several years away from reality, all manufacturers are equipping cars with some type of enhanced driving autonomy or assisted driving. In the Ford booth we saw the Ford Lincoln (pictured below) equipped as an autonomous driving car.

The first thing one might notice is that the radar, lidar, and other electronics are nicely incorporated into the body, unlike what you would see in the Google car. The current generation of autonomous driving electronics is quite bulky. It’s somewhat analogous to the mainframes from the ‘70s, when one computer required a large dedicated room.  Clearly, miniaturization needs to happen on the automotive side as the picture below shows the trunk completely packed with electronics.  It looks like we could barely fit one bag of groceries into the trunk. 

Increasing Lithium Ion Safety with Semiconductors

As the world’s devices get smaller and lighter with increasing power requirements, we need batteries that can provide more power for more time. Modern lithium ion batteries are reaching incredible energy densities enabling devices and vehicles to be more efficient than ever before. All energy storage devices have some risk, however these high energy densities come with increased danger. The dangers of lithium ion batteries have garnered national media attention with the explosions of Samsung smartphones, “hoverboards”, e-cigarettes, and other consumer electronic devices. While manufacturing error contributes to battery failure, many cases of battery explosions are the result of insufficient battery management technology built into the device.
 
Previous generations of portable devices and vehicles have used nickel cadmium, nickel hydride, or lead acid batteries. These chemistries are inherently less volatile than lithium chemistry packs and do not require constant monitoring. Lithium battery packs are much more finicky, requiring protection from overcharge, over-discharge, temperature, and physical shock. While all batteries can be damaged by these factors, lithium ion batteries become volatile and will overheat, catch fire, and explode.
 

Debate in the Desert on MEMS Capacity

The MEMS and sensor market continues to be a hotbed for innovation, new opportunities and, as with most new frontiers, there are also some disparate views on market dynamics and strategies.  All this was evident at the 2016 MSIG Executive Congress last week in Scottsdale, Arizona. 
 
First, I’ll cover the pioneering and fun subjects.  In addition to the Technology Showcase demos and member presentations there were a couple of “outside-the-box” topics such as 3D-printed cars.  Co-create was the buzzword on Day 2 and was used by Local Motors General Manager, Philip Rayer, as he showed off several 3D-printed vehicle designs which reduce manufacturing time while integrating a totally digital process and open sourcing options such as an OS battery management system.  The company is co-creating an autonomous, electric car with partners such as IBM Watson, Siemens, NXP and Meridian.  Rayer challenged the audience to consolidate the MEMS and sensors into a simplified suite of assemblies and reduce the wiring necessary. 
 
Figure:  Local Motors Strati 3D-Printed Car

Source:  Local Motors
 

iPhone 7 Announcement Inspires More Questions Than It Answers

Well, now we know all about the iPhone 7.  Having watched the announcement this morning, I am left with more questions than I had beforehand, however.  First and foremost, why does the iPhone 7/7 Plus not include iris recognition?  We’ve seen this feature added to several Android phones over the past year and a half or so.  I think it’s time for a premium phone like the iPhone to have this feature.  It was great that Apple inspired widespread use of fingerprint authentication on smartphones, but it’s time to catch up with iris recognition.  It is, after all, a more secure biometric method; if you’re interested in learning more about biometrics and sensors, Semico just released a report on the topic

3D Printing: What Does It Mean for the Semiconductor Industry?

Semico Research was pleased to host the 3D printing TechXPOT at SEMICON West 2016, in conjunction with SEMI.  We also hosted the inaugural 3D printing session at SEMICON West 2014.  What is striking is how much the 3D printing industry has changed in those two years.  In 2014, 3D printing was at the height of media attention; the major questions were when each home would have its own 3D printer.  In 2016, the conversation is much more focused on certain industries where 3D printing shines—namely, healthcare, automotive, and aerospace.  In 2014, we were just beginning to put plastics and metals in the same 3D printed object.  In 2016, the focus is now on refining those materials for conductivity and reducing design time and costs for PCBs. 

Wafer Shortage? Reality versus Perception

The promise of explosive growth associated with IoT has semiconductor unit forecasts growing at double-digit rates for key product categories.  Anything with the word ‘sensors’ seems to be in vogue today.  Sensors, image sensors, sensor hubs are all expected to benefit from the billions of connected devices that are forecasted to be in place by 2020.  Semico agrees.  Unit growth for key products will experience double-digit growth, but with capital expenditures flat to down this year, will the industry be able to support the huge growth?

Cadence CDNLive Keynote Address: Thoughts and Implications

I attended the Cadence CDNLive conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center on April 5 and 6, 2016 and had a chance to listen to four very thought provoking presentations given by the speakers. These presentations were combined to follow the keynote address given by Cadence CEO, Lip-Bu Tan and addressed several different aspects of the current semiconductor industry landscape.

Speakers
• Lip-Bu Tan, CEO, Cadence Design Systems
• Steve Mollenkoph, CEO, Qualcomm
• Sanjay Jha, CEO, GLOBALFOUNDRIES
• Tom Beckley, Sr. Vice President and General Manager, Custom IC & PCB Group

Silicon Valley Comic Con: The Woz Delivers Fun and Technology

On March 18 to 20, 2016, the first ever Silicon Valley ComicCon (SVCC) (http://svcomiccon.com) was held in San Jose, CA. The event was the brainchild of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Stan Lee of Marvel Comics. This ComicCon, like those held in other cities, is a convention for comic books, science fiction and fantasy, TV and movies. These are usually tied in with comics, animation and gaming. Some of these conventions, such as the largest one in San Diego, CA, have become inundated with popular culture. However, it was Steve Wozniak’s goal to have more technology at SVCC, most appropriate for Silicon Valley. Some of you have read my past posts about San Diego’s ComicCon International. Going to a ComicCon gives me the opportunity to mix business and pleasure. Yes, I actually did go to San Jose on vacation. And, no, I was not in costume. I can honestly say that Steve Wozniak, known affectionately as the Woz, was as big a draw as any other figure appearing at SVCC; as big as Nathan Fillion, Michael J. Fox, Stan Lee or even … William Shatner. The Woz is highly regarded and respected in the high tech world. A native of San Jose, he wanted a show in the heart of Silicon Valley. So many scientists and engineers have been inspired by sci-fi. Most important for this event was the emphasis on technology in addition to entertainment. Quite often these go together. This was the first SVCC. Every event has growing pains.

Wafer Demand Growth Depends on Smartphones

As the rate of growth for smartphone sales slow, questions arise regarding the impact that slower growth will have throughout the semiconductor supply chain. Over the past decade, the 1 billion-plus smartphone market has driven the need for more advanced manufacturing process technologies, new input materials and the need for more fab capacity. It has even legitimized new players into the supply chain.

Does a slower growth rate mean a change is on the horizon? What portion of the growth is due to semiconductor content versus smartphone unit growth? Semico looked at the change in smartphone silicon content over the past 10 years and the impact on wafer demand.

Although there were smartphones well before the Apple iPhone, it was the iPhone, introduced in 2007, that set the smartphone on the path to the mass adoption that we see today. Between 2005 and 2010, smartphone sales grew at a compound annual growth rate of over 50%. In addition, over that time period, silicon content in a high-end phone doubled. The amount of silicon necessary to produce all the smartphones worldwide has grown from less than 1% of total wafers in 2005 up to over 18% of wafers this year.

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