Wafer fabs

Smarter tools for smarter fabs

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Jörg Recklies, Infineon Technologies, and Rüdiger Dorn, Google Corp., presented on smarter tools for smarter fabs — taking automation to the next level, on day 3 at the Fab Management Forum, during the SEMI Technology Unites summit.

Jörg Recklies, Infineon, said it has been linking the real and the digital worlds. The smart fab at Infineon aims for operational excellence and time-to-market to support the targets. Smart production requires the smart fab. First, there is big data and advanced analytics to take advantage of the data. There are focus areas for manufacturing for AI. We can analyze and predict the material flow for factory manufacturing.

There is equipment stability and control for higher productivity. You can also improve the process yield. On solution being used is defect detection by REM images with AI. There are requirements to succeed with AI models. These are data, model, scalability, and operation model.

Rüdiger Dorn.

Rüdiger Dorn, Google talked about the challenge around scale and automation. There is advantage in running AI and ML in the hybrid environment. These include, efficiency, automatically, centrally, flexibly, and monitoring data. Scalability of AI and ML has benefits in automation and centralization. You can have pre-packaged solutions for manufacturing AI. There are unified cloud AI platforms. You also have AI/ML operations with CI/CD pipelines.

Another area is flexibility and adaptability. You can plug-and-play to collect data in heterogenous environments. You can deploy and manage ML algorithms in heterogenous environments. A third area is explain-ability.

Doug Suerich.

Doug Suerich, PEER Group, spoke about Cost-effective Automation for Legacy Factories, at the Fab Management Forum. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and rise of 5G have increased the demand for electronics, and have introduced renewed need for automation at existing 200mm facilities. These “legacy” factories already run at full capacity and have little or no room.

He said that we need to deal with the problems. There is the Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety. If a system is to be stable, the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled. Complexity still has to live somewhere. Data collection is the first step in deploying upgraded automation. PEER FACTORY Station Controller (PFSC) offers a practical way.

Dr. Murat Gulcur, Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, presented on Correct Material Selection and Life-Time Prediction of Elastomer Parts Using FEA Simulations at the Fab Management Forum.

Trelleborg is a leading supplier of polymer-based critical sealing solutions. Seals come in many shapes and materials. Elastomer seals are used in semiconductor apps. There are lot of different considerations, such as process type, seal location, process gases, etc. Trelleborg has developed the PureFab material. FFKM base polymers have very high etch rates. Not all plasmas are the same. The Isolast PureFab JPF 10 material provides better plasma resistance than inorganic-filled materials.

Dr. Murat Gulcur.

There is stiction force testing. It can cause longer preventive maintenance time and poor dynamic sealing performance. Trelleborg has stainless steel, anodized aluminum and quartz surfaces. A material can have different properties on different surfaces.

There is a method to capture long-term behavior. CSR and viscoelastic material modelling is one such method. It is used in the FEA to analyze long-term behavior. FEA results are in agreement with tests of the valve seal. Gasket apps are used for heat exchangers. Present lifetime predictions need to be done with chemical compatibility, temperature profiles and other conditions to select and validate the correct material.

Eyal Shekel, Tokyo Electron Ltd presented on Data Utilization for Equipment Intelligence Using AI at the Fab Management Forum. TEL smart manufacturing vision includes digital enabler, Smart X framework, including monitoring, analyze and prediction, and control, and business condition. The data volume explosion and evolution of AI is a powerful combination. There are opportunities in 5G networks, IoT, and sensors.

Eyal Shekel.

There is data analysis in the semiconductor industry. WFE is the company’s most important responsibility. There was a use case on material informatics. Training of the model with experimental data improved the prediction accuracy. Another case was of virtual metrology. Deep learning correlating actual metrology and OES data enabled accurate metrology predictions. TEL is also developing equipment intelligence tools. It is developing solutions for future equipment intelligence.

AI technology continuously becomes a key enabler for smart manufacturing. Tokyo Electron (TEL) sees our equipment on a development roadmap from single standalone tool to providing integrated manufacturing solutions enabled by AI.

Coronavirus disrupts Chinese chip production; major ramifications for global semiconductor/EMS industries

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While the global semiconductor industry seems to have escaped the direct impact of the coronavirus crisis in Mainland China so far, the market is likely to suffer the repercussions as the outbreak slows or suspends the production among the electronics manufacturers, according to Omdia.

Ron Ellwanger, senior analyst, Semiconductor Manufacturing, IHS Markit and Omdia, said that this is such a dynamic situation! As soon as you read this, something could have changed!! The risks are considerable, and a potential disruption to the Chinese chip production could have major ramifications for worldwide economic growth.

EMS/semiconductors struggling
How badly has the global semiconductor industry been hit by coronavirus? Ron Ellwanger said: “At this point it is very difficult to say. The EMS companies are feeling the pressure, mainly due to workforce issues. The Chinese government has just announced that they have to do more to open borders and open up supply chains. No details have been released.”

What are the dangers as coronavirus disrupts production at EMS companies? He added that the danger lies in balancing the inventories at the EMS companies. For example, if an EMS firm cannot get the displays or even a fraction of a cent of passive components, you will see them starting to either put their semiconductor orders on hold or even push out the semiconductor deliveries.

And, how are Jabil, Wistron, and Foxconn dealing with the crisis, separately? Ellwanger clarified: “We do not follow the EMS companies directly. We know that they are running at about 25 percent due to workforce issues. This is in the virus-affected areas. We will begin to see them offering salary or bonus incentives to those that show up to work.”

Some EMS companies have already started transferring manufacturing to Taiwan, Vietnam, etc., due to tariff issues. This could solve the workforce issue. But, if piece part shortages exist, having a complete workforce will not solve that issue.

Next, how are the challenges facing import and export logistics being handled? The import and export is again a workforce issue. If a shipment is cleared, most importantly, can it be transported to the areas where the roads and railways are still closed?

Total semiconductor market to drop 6 percent in Q1
Finally, how key is the impact felt by chip makers in package and testing? He said that at this point, we don’t see a real issue because the affected area has very few semiconductor companies.

One hopes that everyone gets over coronavirus. By when? A year? Ellwanger said: “We don’t really have a comment. You have to remember that sequentially, Q1 is typically flat to down, quarter from Q4. This is one statistic that makes evaluating the impact of the virus difficult. For example, a major player that highly depends on China supply chain has seen their Q1 revenue decline sequentially 27 percent since 2013.

“The total semiconductor industry will decline on average 6 percent Q4 to Q1. So, is it the coronavirus or just Q1 seasonality? It remains to be seen!”

Global semiconductor market likely to grow 6 percent in 2020!

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Given the depressing run, so far, in 2019, how is the global semiconductor industry going to perform in 2020? The mid-year global semiconductor sales was down 14.5 percent, compared to 2018, as per the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA).

Recently, SIA reported that the global semiconductor sales had increased 3.4 percent month-to-month in September 2019. Q3 sales were 8.2 percent higher than Q2, but 14.6 percent less than Q3 of 2018. Are there any hopes for a better 2020? Let’s find out!

I asked Len Jelinek, senior director, Semiconductor Manufacturing at IHS Markit, the key question regarding the global semiconductor industry’s performance in 2020.

Hold it, recovery in sight!
Indeed, there are hopes! Len Jelinek said, “In 2020, IHS Markit now anticipates that the market will rebound slightly and achieve a 6% YoY revenue growth.” Now, that’s excellent news for everyone in the global semiconductor industry!

Regarding the noticeable trends next year, he added that the market in 2020 will be driven by two significant factors. One, the return to growth for global server expansion, and two, the introduction of 5G handsets.

“The first factor will drive stabilization in memory pricing, while the second factor is very likely to drive TSMC’s revenue for advanced component manufacturing to record levels. As next-generation handsets become available and at lower prices, the consumer is very likely to transition very quickly to the next generation of technology.”

Automotives key?
How is automotive going to be a significant application in future? What other segments are likely to grow?

Jelinek said: “Any automotive discussion needs to start with the fact that the automotive semiconductor represent approximately 10-12 percent of the total chip market. As the automotive industry recovers from the disastrous year in 2019, the trends in the industry will be for smarter, safer and more ecologically friendly cars. These consumer-driven demands will help to drive component suppliers in power, discrete and analog.

“Beyond automotive, the wireless and the server markets are expecting to see modest growth in the industrial market segment. Security, medical and other markets are forecast to rebound.”

As for the emerging new opportunities in automotive, IoT, AI and AR/VR, he added: “In automotive, the most exciting new technology is the silicon carbide (SiC) used in high-voltage applications targeting HEVs. In AI and AR/VR, it’s all about the enablement of development through advances in chip technology.”

As per Rohm, SiC is emerging as the most viable candidate for a next-generation, low-loss semiconductor element due to its low ON resistance and superior high temperature, high frequency, and high voltage performance as compared to silicon.

What about foundries?
Foundries are said to be performing a bit below par. Are they? Let’s see how are China and Taiwan are driving the growth of foundry services.

He replied: “TSMC is the dominant pure-play foundry company. With its leadership position in advanced manufacturing, including next-generation packaging, no other foundry is likely going to challenge TSMC in 2020.

“In China, growth of the domestic foundries is being supported by the government initiatives for ‘Made in China.’ More specifically, China wants to guarantee the availability of semiconductors. Although the Chinese foundries are behind the Taiwanese foundries, they are rapidly closing the technology gap.”

Miniaturization of electronic components
Another trend has been the rising demand for miniaturization of electronic components.

He added: “If you are meaning advanced packaging (heterogeneous packaging or chiplets), advances here will allow designers to bring together dissimilar technologies within the same package for more optimal results. This is one of the most exciting areas within the industry.

“Advanced packaging technologies are providing the industry with a roadmap to continue Moore’s Law by improving the system performance, without only focusing on lithography shrinks.”

Memory recovers, finally?
Lastly, it has been quite a distressing time for memory, recently. Yole Développement said that in Q2 2019, the memory business was approaching the bottom. So, how will the memory market perform well in 2020?

Jelinek replied: “In 2020, the overall memory market is forecast to make a strong recovery. Although we will not surpass the record revenue on 2018, total memory will grow by 12% after a disastrous 2019, where revenue is forecast to decline by 30.3%. DRAM is forecast to grow by 9%, while NAND will grow by 17% in 2020.”

Global semicon chip sales plunges 13.9pc in H1 2019; 5.5pc growth forecast for 2020

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Global semiconductor chip sales plunged by 13.9 percent during the initial six months of 2019, compared to a year earlier, the biggest drop in a half since the first half of 2009 — exactly a decade ago, according to IHS Markit.

Major chip suppliers suffered their worst revenue declines in years—10 years in some cases. Major semiconductor product areas also experienced the largest drops in demand since 2009.

Global semiconductor revenue in the first half totaled $203.7 billion, down from $236.6 billion in the first half of 2018. This represents the worst performance since the market declined by 26.5 percent in H1 of 2009.

Chip debacle?
First, wasn’t the chip debacle expected? Yes, said Ron Ellwanger, senior Research analyst, IHS Markit, USA. “In late 2018, IHS Markit had forecasted a significant decline in semiconductor revenue in 2019. Semiconductor inventory was high and demand was weak. We didn’t foresee any compelling new product to stimulate consumer demand and growth.”

So, what is the main reason for the precipitous drop in memory segment? And, is there a way out? According to Ron Ellwanger, they are overcapacity and weakend market demands. As the datacenter and handset markets recover, the existing capacity will be in utilized.

Again, what are the reasons for the drop in data processing? He said that data processing tends to refer to the PC market. The PC market continues to be negatively affected by smartphones. Servers and data centers were simply overbuilt. “As capacity is utilized, the next wave of build out will occur. We expect that to start in early 2020.”

Next, what are the reasons for the revenue declines in logic, sensors and actuators? Ellwanger said that there was a lack of new products that captured consumer interest, which increases demand. This caused the chip companies to see a decline in their orders. The market needs new compelling products for consumers to re-enter the market.

Is there any advice for the application markets that purchase semiconductors? He noted that application markets must develop new products that stimulate consumer’s desire to acquire the new device. Evolutionary products are not causing consumers to purchase the next generation gadget.

Forecast 2020
Finally, what is IHS Markit’s forecast for the global semicon industry for the end 2019, and full 2020? Ellwanger said: “The current IHS Markit forecast will be updated by the end of September 2019. Our existing forecast for 2019 is -12.5 percent, and we anticipate that this may further degrade.

“The current forecast for the global semiconductor industry for 2020 is 5.5 percent. We believe that this will be in the range of our new forecast.”

Global semiconductor market in worst-in-a-decade downturn in 2019: IHS Markit

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Conditions in the global semiconductor market have deteriorated rapidly since the start of the year. In fact, IHS Markit, USA, is slashing its 2019 growth outlook for global semiconductor market by more than 10 percentage points.


Myson Robles Bruce

The worldwide microchip industry is set to suffer a 7.4 percent drop in revenue this year, according to the latest figures from the IHS Markit Application Market Forecast Tool (AMFT). Revenue will very likely fall to $446.2 billion in 2019, down from $482.0 billion in 2018.

So, why has IHS Markit predicted that semiconductor market is lurching into downturn in 2019? Didn’t it have some good years recently?

Myson Robles Bruce, semiconductor value chain research manager, at IHS Markit, said: “Yes, 2017 and 2018 were high growth years in the industry due mostly to revenue generated by higher Memory IC pricing. In 2018, more than a third of all semiconductors revenue came from memory ICs, so when pricing on these components fell late last year and early this year, due to oversupply, the effect was a highly negative impact on the overall market.

“However, the downturn in 2019 might not last very long, depending upon how much recovery later in the year and the effect of macro factors next year like the global economy.”

Segments affected
Which are the segments, specifically, that will be affected? According to him, the IHS Markit Q1 2019 AMFT had memory ICs down -14.5 percent sequentially for the first quarter, and it now seems that actual results were much worse. For total semiconductor revenue, the first quarter was expected to be at -9.6 percent, but it was likely 3-6 percent lower. IHS Markit CLT will confirm this by end of May publication. If first quarter of 2019 was that much lower than expected, then the year overall could fall to a double-digit decline.

“For different macro and micro reasons, automotive electronics, industrial electronics, consumer, computing (including data center) and wireless (smartphones) all found growth in Q1 2019 difficult, even taking into account the usual seasonal patterns. The most significant problem is too much memory IC inventory and not enough current applications demand, and most of the other semiconductor categories are affected as well at least to some extent,” he added.

Recovery in sight?
In that case, when will there be some recovery? He said: “Recovery could happen in the second half of the year starting in Q3, and it would be led by memory ICs. If this is the trend, then there will be signs of memory growth appearing in Q2. NAND inventory is expected to be reduced enough by Q3 that the currently very aggressive pricing will be returned to normal levels.

“The increased demand from high-tier smartphones is a factor in both DRAM and NAND growth, but in NAND, the amount of bit growth will be higher than for DRAM and that should produce greater revenue growth. The largest application for NAND memory is solid-state drives, which is expected to contribute strongly later this year and in 2020. These devices are used in both data centers and notebook PCs.”

And, what are the segments that will be responsible for the recovery? While it is challenging to find significant applications demand that would help semiconductor revenue for this year overall, but it could happen to some extent with 5G network implementations, and by way of high-tier smartphone sales outside the US market.

“IHS Markit considers high-tier smartphones to be priced at $400 or more, which includes handset models from Apple and Samsung for sure, along with units from other brands like Huawei. Also, a possibility that increased data center server shipments in H2 2019 will drive stronger revenue for memory ICs and MPUs especially,” he added.

Forecast for 2019 and 2020
What is the end year forecast for semicon? What is IHS Markit’s outlook for 2020? Bruce said: “As of March 2019, this year was predicted to end at -7.4 percent, with 2020 up by 3.5 percent. However, the forecast as of end of June for the IHS Markit Q2 2019 AMFT will likely indicate even lower growth this year followed by higher growth next year as compared to the previous update.

“The emerging 5G technology will be a growth driver next year (networks and smartphones), along with continued growth in data centers and automotive electronics. In automotive, though global car sales are declining, the electronics per vehicle (and therefore, semiconductor content) is increasing rapidly.”

Finally, a welcome back to a very good friend, Jonathan Cassell, to IHS Markit, USA.

— By Ms Aanchal Ghatak and Pradeep Chakraborty

Semiconductor design activity accelerating: Dr. Wally Rhines, Mentor

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Dr. Walden C. Rhines, CEO Emeritus, Mentor, a Siemens Business, is in Bangalore, India, at Mentor U2U India, 2019. He delivered the keynote during the day-long conference.

Dr. Walden C. Rhines.

Why is the semiconductor industry design activity accelerating? Dr. Rhines said that the acceleration of semiconductor revenue growth, in terms of the annual growth of ICs has been 2.8 percent in a 5-year CAGR from 2011-2016. It was 22.2 percent in 2017 and 2018E (estimated) is 15.5 percent, according to VLSI Research, Jan. 2019. There has been an acceleration in R&D investment, with semiconductor R&D spending touching 7.5 percent in 2018.

Memory prime driver
Fabless semiconductor venture capital investment by year, all rounds, has been $3,118 million in 2018 YTD (year to date). Memory was the primary driver of semiconductor growth in 2017. Memory is now almost 40 percent of IC revenue vs. 27 percent in 2016.

Memory average selling prices (ASPs) increased dramatically in 2017, and in H1 of 2018. Memory prices peaked in Q1, but are expected to decline in 2019. Negative memory ASP year-to-year growth in Q418 and forecast for next four quarters, with MOS logic at 6 percent, MOS memory at 57 percent, and analog devices at -8 percent. Memory unit volume now needs to grow faster than logic!

Memory now dominates transistors manufactured. 3D NAND allows memory to scale faster than logic or SoCs. Despite 55 percent revenue growth in 2017, the memory unit volume growth is below the long-term trend line. Will non-memory growth remain strong when memory ASPs decline?

New companies in semicon design
New companies are now entering the world of semiconductor design. Amazon has just become a chip maker. Bosch has opened a billion-dollar wafer fab. Google has built its first chip for machine learning. Facebook plans to build its own chips as part of hardware push.

The Internet has greater than 22 billion connections today. Of these, 81 percent of the connections are things. Things are growing at 15 percent CAGR, wireless mobile at 11 percent CAGR, and stationary/desktop at 5 percent CAGR.

The Industrial Internet and connected cities are 79 percent of the market today. Connected vehicles are showing the fastest growth. Connected homes are growing at CAGR 18 percent, connected vehicles at CAGR 23 percent, wearables at CAGR 21 percent, Industrial Internet at CAGR 21 percent, and
connected cities at CAGR 7 percent, as of the end of 2018.

Chinese investment growing
Chinese investment is now moving from manufacturing to design. The Chinese government’s incentives for semiconductor investment have been rising. The government-backed China IC Investment Fund is worth US$ 47.4 billion (Yuan 300 billion).

The China semiconductor initiative has accelerated new startup formation. IC design enterprises have gone up from 715 in 2015, to 1,380 in 2017. China’s fabless companies have also become much larger, from 479 enterprises in 2006 to 715 in 2015. And, this number is only rising.

China fabless semiconductor companies by market segment has 935 unique companies – who can be in multiple sub-segments. There are 961 companies in power devices, 267 in analog devices, 266 in MEMS/sensors, 260 companies are fab owners, while 209 are in RF devices. Interface chips have 179 companies, memory devices have 135, full custom devices have 124. Video compression has 82 companies, while vision processing/AI/ML has 35 and there are 34 photonics suppliers. All other categories (semi and system) have 1,325 companies.

Neuromorphic computing
Neuromorphic computing is said to be for the next wave of automation. The
Evolution of non-von Neumann computer architectures will improve processing speed, reduce power and integrate more memory.

Traditional Von Neumann computer architectures are not efficient for pattern recognition. Computer architectures are a long way from human brain pattern recognition and power dissipation. Large number of computer cycles are required to perform the same level of pattern recognition as the human brain.

Neural networks are a fundamental building block for AI-related machine learning. Today’s artificial intelligence scenario looks like this: in 2017, more than 300 million smartphones shipped with some form of neural-networking capabilities. In 2018, 800,000 AI accelerators were shipped to data centers. Every day, 700 million people use some form of smart personal assistant like an Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri.

India’s strengths in AI
TheIndian industrial companies are among the early adopters of AI. Early adopters are defined by BCG as businesses that have fully implemented more than one AI use case in multiple industrial operations areas. India ranks third, at 19 percent, behind the USA, at 25 percent, and China, at 23 percent, respectively.

India’s design activity is accelerated by investment activity. There is the Semiconductor Fabless Accelerator Lab (SFAL), which the IESA launched in December 2018. It has investment by the Government of Karnataka. SFAL plans to accelerate 20 startups in the next three years, and 50 in next five years. It will support the existing fabless companies with a goal of at least 2-3 products out of the accelerator over the next two years.

There is also the Fabless Chip Design Incubator (FabCI), launched in 2018 by IIT Hyderabad. It is an incubator for fabless chip design startups. Funded by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, technology partners are Cadence Design and Mentor. Its goal is to incubate at least 50 ‘Make-in-India’ chip design companies.

IITs are supporting the AI education. IIT Hyderabad offers a Master’s degree in AI. It is adding a Bachelor’s program in AI during the 2019-20 academic year. IIT Kharagpur has a six-month AI certificate course. IIT Madras has the Robert Bosch Center for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. India has a strong AI skillset, and ranks third, behind the USA and China.

There are two key requirements for brain-like pattern recognition — memory improvements and processor architecture improvements. In memory improvements, there are increased capacity, hierarchical memory, memory cell connectivity, and invariant memory. Processor architecture improvements have parallelism, error tolerance, continuous feedback and integration with memory.

Major wave of new ‘domain-specific’ architectures
There is the end of the Moore’s Law and faster, general-purpose computing, and a new golden age. Software-centric, modern scripting languages are interpreted, dynamically typed and re-use is encouraged. Hardware-centric, the only path left is domain-specific architectures. Just do a few tasks, but extremely well. The combination of software and hardware gives domain-specific languages and architectures.

Startups dominated by application specific architectures in the worldwide fabless company VC funding show AI and ML topping at $1,834 million between 2012-18. AI is NOT a new technology. It is a technology that arrived before its time, in 1986. (Dr. Rhines is among the heavyweights involved).

Reasons for AI adoption delay in the 1980s were lack of big data to analyze, as there was no Internet or IoT to collect sizable data sets. There was limited computing power, and limitation of traditional computer chip architectures. There was a need for more advanced algorithms. Besides, there was lack of ‘killer’ applications to make money! What’s different today? All of these limitations are going away.

24 fabless AI companies received VC funding in 2018. Some are AIMotive Gmbh, Beijing Intengine Tech, Hailo Technologies, Mythic, Syntiant and Xanadu Quantum Tech. Also, the early round China fabless funding passes the USA.

If you look at the domain-specific AI/deep learning controllers, there are 39 for vision/facial recognition, 9 for voice/speech/sound/pattern recognition. 17 are for autonomous driving/ADAS, three each for disease diagnosis AI and optical computing AI, 2 for smell/odor recognition, 23 for data center/cloud AI/HPC, 6 for unknown/stealth mode, 3 for space/military apps, 2 for cryptocurrency, 21 for edge computing, 4 for robotics/motion control/collision avoidance, 8 for deep learning training, and 1 for intelligent wireless control. Pattern recognition dominates the new AI designs.

Microsoft has developed custom deep neural network chip for HoloLens. HoloLens is an untethered mixed-reality device. It has local compute for low-latency (fully battery powered). It includes custom holographic processing unit (HPU), custom AI coprocessor, custom time-of-flight depth camera, four gray-scale cameras, IMU, other sensors, and infrared camera.

EMOSHAPE has developed an emotion processor unit (EPU), which has the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively. Emoshape has developed its own CPU optimized to handle emotional data. The technology has the potential to change computer games, virtual reality and augmented reality applications, said Roberta Cozza, research director, Gartner.

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Global semicon industry likely to grow +4.4pc in 2019: Dr. Wally Rhines, Mentor

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Happy new year, to all of you. 🙂 And, it gets even better, having a discussion with Dr. Walden C. Rhines, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Mentor, A Siemens Company, on the global semiconductor industry trends for the year 2019.

Semiconductor industry in 2018, and 2019
First, I needed to know how did the global semiconductor industry performed last year? And, what is the way forward in 2019.

Dr. Walden C. Rhines.

Dr. Wally Rhines said: “2018 was another strong growth year for the global semiconductor. IC bookings for the first 10 months remain above 2017 levels and silicon area shipments for the last six quarters have also been above the trends line, with fourth quarter YoY growth 10 percent. And, IC revenues overall continue to have strong double-digit growth for 2018, with fourth quarter YoY growth of nearly 23 percent.

“However, analysts are expecting much more modest growth in 2019. Individual analyst predictions for growth in 2019 vary from -2 to +8 percent, with the average forecasts at +4.4 percent.

“Much of this is due to the softening memory market, along with concerns about tariffs, inflation and global trade war. While the rest of the IC business has been relatively strong with Samsung and Intel noting solid demand for ICs for servers and PCs, sentiment by senior managers of semiconductor companies is near a record low level. So, I’m not expecting much growth, if any, in 2019 and more likely a decline.

EDA in 2019
On the same note, how is the global EDA industry performing, and what’s the path in 2019?

He said: “Revenue growth of the EDA industry continues to be remarkably strong, fueled by new entrants into the IC design world, like networking companies (e.g. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, etc.) and automotive system and Tier1 companies, as well as a plethora of new AI-driven fabless semiconductor start-ups. Design activity precedes semiconductor revenue growth so it would not be surprising to continue to see strong EDA company performance even with a weak semiconductor market in 2019.

“EDA venture funding has rebounded, reaching a 6-year high of $16.5M showing a renewed confidence in the future of EDA. The major companies all have sighted better than expected results. On the semiconductor side of EDA there seem to be more technology challenges than the industry has faced in a long time.

“Some of those include new compute architectures, the emergence of photonics, increased lithographic complexities involving EUV and other techniques, new and more complex packaging, massive increases in data, and the multiplication of sources of design data (often created according to differing standards).

“The challenges on the system side of EDA are multiplying as expected. It is becoming more difficult to be at the leading edge when designing end-products in silos. Embedded software, mechanical, PCB, packaging, electrical interconnect, networking (access to the intranet) and security are just a few of the domains that need to work closer together in a more integrated manner. The increasing complexity is also making each of the domains more challenging. This all pushes new materials and methodologies into each of the domains listed above.”

Five trends in semicon for 2019
I wanted to find out about the top five trends in semicon for 2019.

He said: “The top five semiconductor technology trends include:
* the ongoing ramp of next-generation technologies, led by Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and cloud, and SaaS demand on the datacenter,
* the roll-out of IoT – especially in manufacturing,
* 5G development,
* computing on the edge, and
*the increasing semiconductor content within electrical devices.”

Menlo Micro ports DMS platform to 8″ wafer manufacturing line

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Menlo Micro announced that it has successfully ported Digital-Micro-Switch (DMS) technology platform from an R&D facility to a commercial 8” wafer manufacturing line, at Electronica 2018, Messe Munchen, Germany. 

Menlo is a GE spinoff that is re-inventing the electronic switch. Menlo’s DMS technology operates up to 1000x faster than a typical mechanical switch with 1000x longer lifetime. It can handle kilowatts of power and is built in a structure smaller than a human hair.

Working in partnership with Corning Inc. and Silex Microsystems, Menlo is now sampling product from this new manufacturing line and will begin scaling up the production of its unique micro-mechanical switches before year’s end.

Elaborating on the Digital-Micro-Switch (DMS) technology platform, Menlo’s senior VP of Products, Chris Giovanniello, said: “The electromechanical switch hasn’t experienced much change in the past 150 years, and many of the applications Menlo is addressing have seen little innovation in the last 25 years. Menlo Micro’s innovations have come to market by developing unique materials, designs and processing techniques to build an enhanced electronic switch that can handle high-temperature, high-stress conditions for products that require decades of useful life.

Menlo DMS

“Menlo Micro’s DMS platform is the re-invention of the most basic electronic function, the switch. It is a game changer for those who design electronic systems with a market opportunity of more than $20 billion.

“It has the potential to serve multiple industries, including: next generation 5G mobile networks, industrial IoT markets, battery management, energy management, enterprise building management, home automation, electric vehicles and medical instrumentation.

“The new switch operates up to 1000x faster than a typical mechanical switch with 1000x longer lifetime; it can handle hundreds of watts of power and is built in a structure smaller than a human hair.”

Some of the key attributes of Menlo Micro’s switch technology include:

Size: Board space and weight are at a premium in many applications. Traditional mechanical switches take up lots of space, have limited number of channels, and in some cases need to be manually assembled. Menlo Micro switching elements are smaller than the width of a human hair and are architected to be scalable, depending on the power ratings required. All switches are manufactured using automated wafer-level processes and tools. They are so small we can fit hundreds of them in a space smaller than 10mm2.

Speed: Making mechanical structures small also means you can make them move fast. A typical mechanical switch might operate in a few milliseconds, whereas Menlo Micro switches can operate 1000x faster, in only a few microseconds. This can have enormous implications on systems that were previously limited in performance by how fast they could reconfigure, or open and close critical circuits.

Power handling: This is an area where Menlo Micro completely throws conventional wisdom out the window. When faced with the prospect of handling higher power levels, most people think bigger. More mass, more metal, larger air gaps between conductors. We took a different approach. We make everything smaller and move the electrical contacts closer and closer together. Our miniaturized switches and scalable architecture allows us to handle 100s of volts and 10s of amps without arcing.

Power efficiency: In an increasing number of systems, power is getting more and more expensive. When you’re working off a battery, every 0.1dB and every microamp counts. Both RF and AC/DC losses need to be balanced with amplification and in some cases with extra power supplies. This is where the Menlo Micro technology really shines.

We can scale our switches to have ultra-low losses, from 1 ohm down to a few milliohms. Additionally, our electrostatic-driven actuator means that a single switch only needs a few pico amperes (pA) to function.

Reliability: When you are developing products to meet the needs of businesses that serve markets like healthcare, aviation, and other mission-critical industrial applications, reliability is not an afterthought; it’s the primary design criteria. In the end, that’s why we are here. Our mechanical switching device has lifetimes more than 1000x longer than traditional mechanical switches; not millions of cycles, but tens of billions of cycles without degrading performance.

“Even more important than the performance demonstrated to date, is the deep understanding in material science, reliability, and failure analysis that enables us to model and predict the failures, so that we can push the technology even further.”

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MOS memory investors, China to correct DRAM imbalance

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penn1According to an IC Insights report, the 47 percent full-year 2017 jump in the price-per-bit of DRAM was the largest annual increase since 1978, surpassing the previous high of 45 percent registered 30 years ago in 1988! This sounds interesting!

Are the rising DRAM prices aiding startup Chinese competitors? Are major DRAM suppliers somehow stunting global DRAM demand?

Dr. Walden C. Rhines, president and CEO, Mentor Graphics, a Siemens Business, said: “The DRAM business has always gone through cycles of imbalance between supply and demand. Growth of demand in the last 18 months has been stronger than growth of supply.

“Substantial investments in 2017 by the MOS (metal-oxide semiconductor) memory producers, as well as the addition of China to the supply chain, will correct this imbalance late this year or, at the latest, early next year.”

The DRAM price-per-Gb has been on a steep rise. To this, Dr. Rhines said: “It is a commodity, although there are many types of specialty DRAMs emerging. Because DRAMs are viewed by customers as a near-commodity, the price is heavily influenced by the availability of supply. Supply has been very tight during the last 18 months.

Malcolm Penn, chairman and CEO, Future Horizons, UK, added, “This is supply and demand, pure text-book economics.”

Are the rising DRAM prices opening the door for startup Chinese competitors?

Dr. Rhines noted: “Chinese competitors made their decision to invest in DRAM capacity long before the recent strengthening of demand in the balance of supply and demand. Of course, higher, or stable, pricing may make it easier for new producers to absorb the costs of ramping up new capacity and developing experience with a new technology.”

Malcolm Penn agreed: “Potentially yes, and to anyone else. Coca Cola were contemplating building DRAMs in the 1990s. DSRAM market boom, again, pure text-book economics. Whether or not they succeed is an entirely different matter. If the Chinese do enter the market, can they then survive the inevitable downturn and cycles? That remains to be seen!”

Can the startup Chinese DRAM producers field any competitive product soon? Dr. Rhines noted: “They probably can. But, they will have to develop a production base of “learning” to reduce cost, improve yields and maybe even reliability. This will take some time.”

Penn added: “Technically (i.e., meeting the spec), probably, yes. Reliability, probably no, for the Tier 1 customers (that will take several years to build up the production experience). Cost, definitely not!

“Their small fab scale and late learning curve start means that their die cost will be sizably higher than those of Samsung and SKH, and also Micron. Plus, their yields will be lower. Then, there’s the deep cash pockets issue to fund these ongoing cost disadvantages.”

300mm fabs
In a separate situation, some 300mm fabs closing, for example, ProMOS. Dr. Rhines said: “It’s because of an imbalance of supply and demand for the products they make, thus limiting their profitability. It could also be because they don’t see an adequate investment return from the expensive new capacity investments, and therefore, find it more attractive to phase out some of their existing capacity.”

Malcolm Penn felt that the fabs were too old and technically obsolete.

Finally, are there more IC companies making transition to fab-lite or fabless business model?

Penn noted: “There’s no-one left to change! Everyone’s now fablite or fabless, except for Intel and Samsung (logic) and the memory manufacturers.”

Dr. Rhines said: “Based upon the growth of foundry revenue vs. total semiconductor revenue growth, there must be a continuing transition of capacity away from IDMs toward foundries. In addition, IDMs like Samsung are finding it economic to build the foundry business to increase the volume base of products that utilize their technology and capital investment.”