You are here


ComicCon 2011: Lots of Excitement, but not much 3D

Frequent readers of the Semico Spin know that I am a fan of ComicCon and attend it in San Diego, CA during my family vacation.  This is the eighth year in a row we attended.  As I say every year, there were more nerds than you can shake a light saber at.

For those unfamiliar with ComicCon ( it is the largest convention for comic books in the world.  However, it covers a great deal more.  Science fiction and fantasy TV and movies are heavily represented.  These are usually tied in with comics and animation.  There is also a strong tie in with video games.  For the fourth straight year ComicCon was sold out for all four days with attendance of 125,000 each day.  It is the largest convention throughout the year for the city of San Diego.

The show began 43 years ago as a small convention for Sci-Fi fans focused on comics and literature.  It has ballooned into a huge media event attracting TV and movie producers to promote their work.  These productions usually have a tie in with comics and Sci-Fi, but Comic-Con has expanded to pull in other pop culture media.

Content is King!  Without enough material there is little incentive to buy the hardware.  What consumers want to see and how they want to interact with it drives the development of the electronics.  It is not surprising that many attendees are technically savvy early adopters.

A Solution to the 450mm Equipment Problem

Another SEMICON West has come and gone.  This was a good year.  Although there are signs that things have slowed a bit, the general outlook was positive.  In addition to the need for more semiconductor capacity due to continued growth in tablets, cell phones and a host of other electronic applications, the increased complexity of advanced processes has created a positive outlook for equipment vendors.  More complexity has translated into more layers, more process steps, and more new equipment.  There continues to be significant interest in TSV, EUV, used equipment productivity and MEMS.  And finally, this year the discussion around 450mm wafers took a new turn.  It was not “if” it would happen but when and how.

Omedeto, Renesas! Congratulations!

On the heels of a highly spirited SEMICON West covering all the challenges of TSV, 450mm and EUV, it's great to hear how this industry can rally around a cause and accomplish what appears to be an impossible task. I’m referring to the monumental effort that was required to get the Renesas Naka facilities back up and running.
In the many briefings at SEMICON West, a few companies mentioned the contributions they made this year to the human relief effort in Japan’s recovery following the earthquake and tsunami. This week Renesas provided more information on the resumption of their fab operation and sent out messages of thanks to employees, customers, suppliers and competitors for all their support.

Renesas has 10 fabs in Japan, with one site suffering major work stoppage from the earthquake. The Naka site located in Ibaraki Prefecture accommodated a 200mm and 300mm fab, a wafer bump facility and two test facilities. Even though the site is 100 miles away from Fukushima, the hardest hit area, the Renesas Naka site suffered significant damage and had to be shut down. A week after the tragic earthquake, site inspections had to be completed with flashlights because there wasn’t any power to the facilities.

Freescale Technology Forum 2011 in Review

The Freescale Technology Forum was held in San Antonio, TX recently, June 20 to 23, 2011.  Freescale is a leading chip vendor focused on embedded control.  Once again the event drew a large number of attendees, about 2,000.  This is roughly the same as last year, quite impressive considering the current economic conditions.  The exhibit area was packed with numerous and wide variety of companies offering products and services tied to Freescale products.  This shows the diversity and scope of the third-party ecosystem that supports Freescale.

The theme of FTF 2011 presented by President and CEO, Rich Beyer, was connected intelligence and the “internet of things."  He pointed out that connectivity emphasizes efficiency and integration.  The data traffic continues to grow at a rapid rate. Throughout FTF presented solutions for various markets such as mobile communications and consumer products, networking and telecommunications, wireless infrastructure, automotive, smart grid, industrial control and health applications.  Embedded control is at the center of this surrounded and supported by connectivity, sensors, power and software solutions.


The following are some of the notable products presented at FTF 2011.

Impressions of DAC 2011

I attended the 48th Design Automation Conference in San Diego this past week and I came away from the conference with several main thoughts:

  • EDA tool vendors continue to enhance their products by listening to their customers and acting on those inputs.
  • There is mounting evidence that the discussion centered around the trend towards IP Subsystems is real and has substance behind it.
  • The Automotive Networking workshop on Sunday featured a lively discussion around what networking bus would come after Ethernet.
  • There seems to be growing dissatisfaction around the limited amount of data showing silicon and software design costs for SoCs.

At this DAC conference several IP vendors and EDA tool vendors were discussing the term ‘IP Subsystem’ in their booths and in presentations and panel discussions given throughout the time I was there.

Some of the notable vendors discussing the concept were: Sonics, Synopsys, Cadence, Atrenta, ChipStart, and eSilicon to name a few.

A Tiny but Mighty MEMS Infrared Temperature Sensor

Did you ever use your a laptop on your lap and get an unpleasantly warm sensation, even a burning, sensation, on the top of your legs?  Manufacturers of portable electronic devices would like to have a way of monitoring case temperature to insure that you don’t experience that sensation on your legs; or an unpleasantly warm hand if you’re using a handheld device.  But, until now, the only way to do that was to measure the temperature of the warmest component in the device and use that temperature to approximate the case temperature.  Now, TI has made it possible to measure case temperature directly using a very small, inexpensive MEMS infrared sensor. TI part number TMP006 is a MEMS infrared digital temperature sensor in a 1.6-mm x 1.6-mm package; approximately 1/16” x 1/16.  That is certainly remarkable! In this small package, the TMP006 integrates an on-chip MEMS thermopile sensor, signal conditioning, a 16-bit ADC (analog-to-digital-converter), a local temperature sensor, and voltage references.  This provides a complete digital solution for contactless temperature measurement.  The TMP006 uses only 240 uA quiescent current and 1 uA in shutdown mode.  It supports a temperature range of -40 degrees to +125 degrees C (Celsius) with an accuracy of +/- 0.5 degree C (typical) on the local sensor and accuracy of +/- 1 degrees C (typical) for the passive IR sensor.   It includes I2C/SMBus digital interface.

More Than Trees Growing in Luther Forest

Last week Semico visited the GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ Fab 8 construction site and was impressed for several reasons. Not only is the infrastructure significant but the people and surrounding community have welcomed GLOBALFOUDNRIES, embraced the project as well as the invasion of businesses and people that go along with the project. This made our visit extremely pleasant and trouble-free.

The GLOBALFOUNDRIES fab is a multi-billion dollar facility that is on schedule and on budget! That’s noteworthy when we consider this is the first major project for the Luther Forest Technology Campus and a major portion of the infrastructure construction took place during the Upstate New York winter.

An Analog Devices Inertial Sensor for Down-Hole Drilling

The temperature, shock and vibration requirements for components used in down-hole drilling are exceeded perhaps only by the requirements for components used in Hades, whatever those might be.  An oil well drill bit is not only subject to temperatures that may be beyond 200C, it is also subject to vibration while the bit is rotating and severe shock when the drill string is pulled or new sections are added.   Amazingly, Analog Devices new inertial sensor, part number ADXL206, which combines a MEMS accelerometer and the required logic on one IC, meets the down-hole requirements at a fraction of the cost and size of previous solutions. Oil wells are no longer only drilled straight down.  They are often drilled at a slant to reach an oil field from an accessible location.  They are also often threaded around obstacles such as water or hard rock.  This requires an extremely accurate measurement of the tilt and direction of the drill bit.  The Analog Devices inertial sensor provides that measurement.  This part also has an application when the well is completed, when it can be used to monitor vibration from the down-hole pump to provide an early warning of a potential failure of the pumping apparatus.

Apple: Repeating the Mistakes of the Past or Trailblazing a New Future?

Morry Marshall:  Repeating the Mistakes of the Past!

Here we go again, right back where we’ve always been.  In the 1980s the Apple Mac OS was the best operating system on the planet, and Apple was heading toward a dominant share in the personal computer market.  Microsoft MS-DOS had a text interface with arcane commands rather than an easy to use graphical interface.  The IBM PC was just getting off the ground.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to market dominance.  Apple decided to keep the MAC OS and the MAC architecture proprietary.  For some inexplicable reason IBM, historically a company that kept everything to itself, decided to make MS-DOS and the PC architecture open systems.  A series of clone manufacturers emerged; and, as the Microsoft operating system evolved, it became overwhelmingly more popular with developers.  Easy to see why!  Their potential market was much bigger.

Today, Apple has a dominant share in the smartphone market.  Apple has also created the tablet PC market and dominates it.  The Apple iOS (born as the iPhone OS) is the best smart phone operating system on the planet.  It has been ported to the iPad, and it is the interface with the Apple App store for both the iPod and iPad.  The App store has far more apps available than any other site.  The iPod, the iPad, iOS and the App store are all proprietary.

MEMS in Smartphones: Growth At What Price?

It’s no surprise, the smartphone market is a high growth and potentially huge market.  In 2011 over 469 million units will ship worldwide.  This is an annual growth of 30.8% over 2010.  Semico Research projects that this market has a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.9% on units from 2011 to 2015, approaching 1.1 billion units by 2015.

It’s also no surprise that smartphone feature sets change over time.  What constituted a smartphone in 2003 is not at all the same as in 2011.  With each generation cell phones are becoming more feature rich, especially smartphones.

MEMS and sensors are important components that enable many of the new features on smartphones.  MEMS devices offer not only additional functionality but also smaller size and lower power consumption.  This makes MEMS very attractive to the smartphone market.  But what truly paves the way for MEMS in cell phones?    Is it just the new feature or new features at the right price point?

Will the cell phone market force MEMS devices to reduce margins or will manufacturers find ways to produce these chips more efficiently?