TrendForce announces top 10 tech industry trends for 2021

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TrendForce has provided its forecast of 10 key trends in the tech industry for 2021.

As the DRAM industry officially enters the EUV era, NAND Flash stacking technology advances past 150L
The three major DRAM suppliers, Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron, will not only continue their transition towards the 1Znm and 1alpha nm process technologies, but also formally introduce the EUV era, with Samsung leading the charge, in 2021. DRAM suppliers will gradually replace their existing double patterning technologies in order to optimize their cost structure and manufacturing efficiency.

After NAND Flash suppliers managed to push memory stacking technology past 100 layers in 2020, they will be aiming for 150 layers and above in 2021 and improving single-die capacity from 256/512Gb to 512Gb/1Tb. Consumers will be able to adopt higher-density NAND Flash products through the suppliers’ efforts to optimize chip costs.

While PCIe Gen 3 is currently the dominant bus interface for SSDs, PCIe Gen 4 will start gaining increased market share in 2021 owing to its integration in PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and motherboards featuring Intel’s new microarchitecture. The new interface is indispensable for fulfilling the massive data transfer demand from high-end PCs, servers, and HPC data centers.

Mobile network operators will step up their 5G base station build-out while Japan/Korea look ahead to 6G
The 5G Implementation Guidelines: SA Option 2, released by the GSMA in June 2020, delves into great technical details regarding 5G deployment, both for mobile network operators and from a global perspective. Operators are expected to implement 5G standalone architectures (SA) on a large scale in 2021.

In addition to delivering connections with high speed and high bandwidth, 5G SA architectures will allow operators to customize their networks according to user applications and adapt to workloads that require ultra-low latency. However, even as 5G rollout is underway, Japan-based NTT DoCoMo and Korea-based SK Telecom are already focusing on 6G deployment, since 6G allows for various emerging applications in XR (including VR, AR, MR, and 8K and above resolutions), lifelike holographic communications, WFH, remote access, telemedicine, and distance education.

Internet of Things evolves into Intelligence of Things as AI-enabled devices move closer to autonomy
In 2021, deep AI integration will be the primary value added to IoT, whose definition will evolve from Internet of Things to Intelligence of Things. Innovations in tools such as deep learning and computer vision will bring about a total upgrade for IoT software and hardware applications. Taking into account industry dynamics, economic stimulus, and remote access demand, IoT is expected to see large-scale adoption across certain major verticals, namely, smart manufacturing and smart healthcare.

With regards to smart manufacturing, the introduction of contactless technology is expected to speed up the arrival of industry 4.0. As smart factories pursue resilience, flexibility, and efficiency, AI integration will equip edge devices, such as cobots and drones, with even more precision and inspection capabilities, thereby transforming automation into autonomy. On the smart healthcare front, AI adoption can transform existing medical datasets into enablers of process optimization and service area extension.

For instance, AI integration delivers faster thermal image recognition that can support the clinical decision-making process, telemedicine, and surgical assistance applications. These aforementioned applications are expected to serve as crucial functions fulfilled by AI-enabled medical IoT in diverse settings ranging from smart clinics to telemedicine centers.

Integration between AR glasses and smartphones will kick-start a wave of cross-platform applications
AR glasses will move towards a smartphone-connected design in 2021 in which the smartphone serves as the computing platform for the glasses. This design allows for significant reduction in cost and weight for AR glasses. In particular, as the 5G network environment becomes more mature in 2021, the integration of 5G smartphones and AR glasses will enable the latter to not only run AR apps more smoothly, but also fulfill advanced personal audio-visual entertainment functionalities through leveraging the added computing power of smartphones. As a result, smartphone brands and mobile network operators are expected to venture into the AR glasses market on a large scale in 2021.

A crucial part of autonomous driving, driver monitoring systems (DMS) will skyrocket in popularity
Automotive safety technology has evolved from an application for car exteriors to one for car interiors, while sensing technology is moving towards a future where it integrates driver status monitoring with external environmental readings. Similarly, automotive AI integration is evolving past its existing entertainment and user assistance functions, into an indispensable enabler of automotive safety.

In light of the string of traffic accidents in which the drivers ignored road conditions due to their overreliance on ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems), which have recently skyrocketed in adoption rate, the market is once again paying close attention to driver monitoring functions.

In the future, the main thrust of driver monitoring functions will be focused on the development of more active, reliable, and accurate camera systems. By detecting the driver’s drowsiness and attention through iris tracking and behavioral monitoring, these systems are able to identify in real time whether the driver is tired, distracted, or driving improperly.

As such, DMS (driver monitoring systems) have become an absolute necessity in the development of ADS (autonomous driving systems), since DMS must serve multiple functions simultaneously, including real-time detection/notification, driver capability assessment, and takeover of driving controls whenever necessary. Vehicles with DMS integration are expected to enter mass production in the near future.

Foldable displays will see adoption in more devices as a means of upping screen real estate
As foldable phones progressed from concept to product in 2019, certain smartphone brands successively released their own foldable phones to test the waters. Although these phones’ sell-through performances have so far been mediocre owing to their relatively high costs – and, by extension, retail prices – they are still able to generate much buzz in the mature and saturated smartphone market. In the next few years, as panel makers gradually expand their flexible AMOLED production capacities, smartphone brands will continue to focus on their development of foldable phones.

Furthermore, foldable functionality has been seeing increasing penetration in other devices as well, specifically notebook computers. With Intel and Microsoft leading the charge, various manufacturers have each released their own dual-display notebook offerings. In the same vein, foldable products with single flexible AMOLED displays are set to become the next hot topic.

Notebooks with foldable displays will likely enter the market in 2021. As an innovative flexible display application and as a product category that features flexible displays much larger than previous applications, the integration of foldable displays in notebooks is expected to expend manufacturers’ flexible AMOLED production capacity to some degree.

Mini LED and QD-OLED will become viable alternatives to white OLED
Competition between the display technologies is expected to heat up in the high-end TV market in 2021. In particular, Mini LED backlighting enables LCD TVs to have finer control over their backlight zones and therefore deeper display contrast compared with current mainstream TVs. Spearheaded by market leader Samsung, LCD TVs with Mini LED backlighting are competitive with their white OLED counterparts while offering similar specs and performances.

Furthermore, given their superior cost-effectiveness, Mini LED is expected to emerge as a strong alternative to white OLED as a display technology. On the other hand, Samsung Display (SDC) is betting on its new QD OLED technology as a point of technological differentiation from its competitors, as SDC is ending its LCD manufacturing operations. SDC will look to set the new gold standard in TV specs with its QD OLED technology, which is superior to white OLED in terms of color saturation. TrendForce expects the high-end TV market to exhibit a cutthroat new competitive landscape in 2H21.

Advanced packaging will go full steam ahead in HPC and AiP
The development of advanced packaging technology has not slowed down this year despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the various manufacturers release HPC chips and AiP (antenna in package) modules, semiconductor companies such as TSMC, Intel, ASE, and Amkor are eager to participate in the burgeoning advanced packaging industry as well. With regards to HPC chip packaging, due to these chips’ increased demand on I/O lead density, the demand on interposers, which are used in chip packaging, has increased correspondingly as well.

TSMC and Intel have each released their new chip packaging architectures, branded 3D fabric and Hybrid Bonding, respectively, while gradually evolving their third-generation packaging technologies (CoWoS for TSMC and EMIB for Intel), to fourth-generation CoWoS and Co-EMIB technologies.

In 2021, the two foundries will be looking to benefit from high-end 2.5D and 3D chip packaging demand. With regards to AiP module packaging, after Qualcomm released its first QTM products in 2018, MediaTek and Apple subsequently collaborated with related OSAT companies, including ASE and Amkor. Through these collaborations, MediaTek and Apple hoped to make headways in the R&D of mainstream flip chip packaging, which is a relatively low-cost technology.

AiP is expected to see gradual integration in 5G mmWave devices starting in 2021. Driven by 5G communications and network connectivity demand, AiP modules are expected to first reach the smartphone market and subsequently the automotive and tablet markets.

Chipmakers will pursue shares in the AIoT market through an accelerated expansionary strategy
With the rapid development of IoT, 5G, AI, and cloud/edge computing, chipmakers’ strategies have evolved from singular products, to product lineups, and finally to product solutions, thereby creating a comprehensive and granular chip ecosystem. Looking at the development of major chipmakers in recent years from a broad perspective, the continuous vertical integration of these companies have resulted in an oligopolistic industry, in which localized competition is more intense than ever.

Furthermore, as 5G commercialization generates diverse application demands for various use cases, chipmakers are now offering full service vertical solutions, ranging from chip design to software/hardware platform integration, in response to the vast commercial opportunities brought about by the rapid development of the AIoT industry. On the other hand, chipmakers who were unable to position themselves in time according to market needs will likely find themselves exposed to the risk of overreliance on a single market.

Active matrix Micro LED TVs will make their highly anticipated debut in the consumer electronics market
The release of large-sized micro LED displays by Samsung, LG, Sony, and Lumens in recent years marked the start of micro LED integration in large-sized display development. As micro LED application in large-sized displays gradually matures, Samsung is expected to be the first in the industry to release its active matrix micro LED TVs, therefore cementing year 2021 as the first year of micro LED integration in TVs.

Active matrix addresses pixels by making use of the display’s TFT glass backplane, and since the IC design of active matrix is relatively simple, this addressing scheme therefore requires a relative low amount of routing. In particular, active matrix driver ICs require PWM functionality and MOSFET switches in order to stabilize the electrical current driving micro LED displays, necessitating a new and extremely expensive R&D process for such ICs. Therefore, for micro LED manufacturers, their greatest challenges at the moment in pushing micro LED to the end devices market lie in technology and cost.

Please note: These are all the predictions from TrendForce, Taiwan for 2021.

Without ICs (and, TSMC), we are nothing! Really!!

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I’ve often told several friends, my wife, and son, that without semiconductors, we are absolutely nothing, or even, dead! Why, my son, Prateek, even repeated this very line, during his induction in college, which left everyone present, absolutely speechless! Now, Malcolm Penn, founder and CEO, Future Horizons, UK, has posted a brilliant piece on Facebook. I am repasting it here, with Malcolm’s permission. Read on!

Given below are the thoughts of Malcolm Penn, Future Horizons.

menlo-waferThis is a message I have been preaching since the mid-1980s, initially at Dataquest, and then, as a key pillar for the founding of Future Horizons. First, in Europe, which was initially headed by such industry visionaries as Pasquale Pistorio, Juergen Knoor, Keis Kriegsman and Jacques Noels, supported by the European Commission with programmes like JESSI and MEDEA, then ignored by the next generation ‘easy option’ contemporaries fuelled by the fabless/fablite illusion/delusion, bravely revived by Commission VP Neelie Kroes in 2013, with her ambitious 10-100-20 plan for reviving semiconductor manufacturing in Europe, only to be whole-heartedy rejected and sidelined by the sadly misnamed “European Leaders Group”.

Japan, having led the world in the 1980s, under similar strong visionaries such as Makimoto-san (Hitachi) and Kawanishi-san (Toshiba), threw in the towel in the early 2000s, again taking the rose-tinted easy-option sacrificing longer term security for short term profits; likewise the USA quickly followed in their footsteps.

ICs are the catalyst!
ICs are the catalyst that drives the whole world economy, by enabling the end products and services, we could not now live without. Imagine, if Covid-19 had hit the world in the 1960s, even the 1980s?

Loose control of manufacturing, and you loose control of your manufacturing future, and a big chunk of your economy! If TSMC, the world’s leading IC manufacturer, were to go off line tomorrow, whether due to the act of God (remember Fukashima, it is, after all, sitting on top of an earthquake waiting to happen) or act of political aggression (just think China / Hong Kong or Russia / Crimea), or even a change in business decision priorities (who gets what shipments when), the whole world’s economy would collapse overnight!

It is hard to identify a single piece of meaningful electronics equipment that does not have a TSMC chip inside it. Once the WIP and inventory dries up (a matter of weeks maximum) it would take 4-5 months to restart supply, 2-3 years if the chips need redesigning for a different manufacturing line, no-one has a Plan B!

EMS 2.0: What’s next for electronics manufacturing?

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A typical electronics manufacturing assembly line generally consists of inspection, mechanical assembly, ICT, x-ray, post-SMT, automated optical inspection (AOI), reflow, PnP, solder paste inspection (SPI) and printer.

Today’s electronics product marketplace is somehow off-balance. Plant managers are feeling the pain. Key drivers of supply shortage include massive labor shortage and political instability. Key drivers of rising product demand include rise of the middle class, IoT and autonomous vehicles.

Bartosz Mazurek, VP Electronics Segment, Bright Machines, said that over 60 percent of plants are planning to focus on technology investments. They are looking to invest in workforce and acquire new technology. Automation in manufacturing is customized today. It drives cost, and is not completely flexible. There should be a much better way to manage the situation.

A typical manufacturing line.

Modular hardware way forward
A way forward is modular hardware. Bright Machines provides end-of-arm tools, such as grippers, screw driving, heat sink assembly, DIMM insertion, dispensing, soldering, labeling, functional testing, bar code reading, inspection, and tool changer. The feeding system consists of tray feeder and bowl feeder. The transport system comprises of an embedded conveyor, return conveyor and lift for conveyor. There are Bright robotic cells (BRCs) as well, such as BRC70 and BRC35.

Bright Machines has microfactories that are configured using modular hardware. The modular hardware approach is using Bright robotic cells. There is an intuitive programming and operation using the Brightware software. Brightware has integrated all of the elements. Next-gen automation is making the process very fast and does not require a highly-skilled expert. This enables you to get high-quality production, predictable production output, and provides an ability to scale.

Bright Machines highlighted two case studies. One, a heatsink assembly for telecom, where it provided a microfactory comprising one BRC and tray feeder. 33 percent more units were produced per hour, with 92 percent of fewer operations. Another, a case study of internal lighting and assembly for automotive. The solution was a microfactory, with four BRC and testing station.

Industry 4.0 all about digital transformation
Industry 4.0 is all about digital transformation. To enable this kind of a transformation, manufacturers have to improve their current automation capabilities. They need solutions that have to to be modular, flexible, re-usable and the time to deployment should be very short.

Data is becoming the currency of the future. Data should be collected in the cloud. Cloud-centric data enables real-time monitoring analytics. There should be configuration management, as well. This should be used across all deployments, moving forward. You also need robot teach, especially in the offline environment. The overall programming should happen in the offline environment.

You also need to do the overall programming in the offline digital twin environment, with real-physics simulation and remote deployment. Bright Machines helps customers transform their existing manufacturing process.

Building up industry knowledge! For good!!

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This is an old post from 2007. I am re-posting it, as per some requests. I have made minor changes. It is actually very useful to anyone who cares to read.

Fate has been most kind to me. Fate has also been most kind to me in terms of bringing me in touch with several good folks who appreciate whatever little talent I possess.

That’s me, in front of the JFK Memorial, in Boston, USA, Sept. 2015.

One of my good friends, Alfred Cheng, in Hong Kong, suggested that I speak to the sales team at Global Sources regarding building up the industry knowledge. It was an idea, floated later, by Claudius Chan too. I actually ended up taking a session with the team! 😉

May I also add that two of my very, very dear friends, Kevin Ho Lau Fai and Jo Yashan Kuo, felt great pride after reading my presentation, and later, thanked me profusely.

Well, it’s all worth it when you have friends such as these four, who take the time to appreciate all of your efforts. They make my day, my life! Thanks guys!!

Here’s what I have to say regarding building up industry knowledge.

‘Speaking’ the supplier’s language

  • From experience, suppliers open up to those who can share information on their (suppliers’) industries/verticals.
  • From experience, suppliers open up to those who can share information on other markets.
  • From experience, suppliers open up to those who provide good, useful, suggestions.
  • Suppliers DO NOT open up easily, if you cannot provide insights about specific verticals of their interest.
  • Suppliers would respect you even more, if you could provide meaningful suggestions.
  • Suppliers always look for leads; so, develop a habit of providing those.
  • Suppliers also look for trust; provide that by exchanging relevant information, when possible.
  • If covering electronic components, try and get an insight on the industry. It certainly helps!
  • If covering electronics, computer or telecom, know the industry background a bit; see how a supplier laps up all the information that you may have.
  • Convert the supplier into a trusted ally. How do you do that?
  • Suppliers always look for leads; develop a habit of providing those.
  • Suppliers look for trust; provide that by exchanging relevant information, when possible.
  • Try and understand what the buyers need; it helps in understanding the suppliers needs.
  • From experience, suppliers are keen to know what’s happening in India and China? Can you provide that information?
  • Do not provide statistical information, as suppliers already have access to that! Instead, give them information you may have gathered from other sources.
  • China and India markets are very strong cases. Develop yourself and know more about those.

Most of all, keep learning all the time.

Educate yourself!
No one can say, “I’ve a good knowledge about an industry.” Absolutely, no one! There is no end to learning!

Everyday, new things are happening. How do we keep pace with so many new things happening in the verticals? The best way is to educate yourself at work!

Education-at-work programs
Follow these religiously:

  • Bookmark relevant Web sites – visit them often.
  • Sign up for newsletters and news – at least, read the headlines.
  • Flip through technology and other magazines you may get your hands on – there’s always something to learn.
  • Build your network and get help.
  • Visit Web sites of leading research firms, there’s lot of information out there.
  • Visit Web sites of industry associations.
  • Visit Web sites of industry events, look at the live coverage.
  • Browse presentations of industry events; that’s an excellent way to track trends.
  • Read relevant articles in print/on Web.
  • If you don’t understand a technical term, do search on the Web/dictionary. You don’t need an expert, nor do you need one to tell you what the term means.
  • Listen to what the suppliers say – you can pick up lots of points.
  • Make it a point to talk to your seniors, especially in sales and editorial – they actually have a lot of information to share.
  • Look up competitor Web sites and magazines – they always have relevant stuff.
  • Read flyers and memos from sales and marketing departments.


PS: A leading manufacturer has launched next-gen ultracapacitors. While I won’t divulge who, it certainly took me back to my earlier posts. Again, if interested, read here.

Components banks to help Indian start-ups: IESA

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By Ms Aanchal Ghatak & Pradeep Chakraborty

Large-scale manufacturing of India-designed products has still to pick up in the Indian ESDM industry. In this context, Dr. Satya Gupta, co-founder and CEO, Senzopt Technologies India, and Member, Executive Council, IESA, was asked how the India Electronics & Semiconductor Association (IESA) was working toward building India as an electronics manufacturing hub by 2030?

Dr. Satya Gupta.

He said: “The IESA is working towards promoting intelligent electronics innovation throughout the country. Under this, the IESA envisions to support 50+ start-ups in each state, thus creating 1000+ start-ups and 1 millions jobs, promoting geographic inclusion.

“These start-ups will drive innovation in mega trends like Industry 4.0, connected mobility, smart cities, healthcare, 5G, agritech, etc., creating a big impact towards the strategic growth of India.

“Scaling up of IESA initiatives, like state-level ESDM policies, electroprenuer parks, sector-specific CoEs, Nethra, Startup exchange network, etc., will help in achieving this vision through partnerships with the Central and State Governments, including the academia. Through these initiatives, we should be able to create business value of Rs. 100K crores in the next 5-7 years.”

Local innovation
In that case, when will local, Indian innovation actually start creating some global impact?

He added: “India has already started doing significant electronics manufacturing in traditional electronics products, such as smartphones, STBs, white goods, accessories, etc. Innovative products through these startups will invigorate innovation and design-led manufacturing. This will help the Indian electronics manufacturing ecosystem to move towards high value-add manufacturing.

“Local innovations have already started making global impact. Intelligent electronics product companies like Tejas, Grey-orange, Mybox, Ather energy, Cirel, etc., have significant presence outside India and are expanding. As some of the start-ups, which are currently in the early stage scale-up, they will start creating bigger global impact.

EMS in India and components banks
Now let’s see how is EMS doing in India, and what is the IESA doing to boost EMS?

Dr Gupta elaborated: “We feel that the major challenge for the EMS companies is the demand. As the number and volume of the products designed in India is low, it is difficult for the Indian EMS companies to scale-up. The IESA is trying to address this by promoting a large number of domestic intelligent electronics companies, which will create and accelerate demand.

“The other major challenge for both start-ups and EMS companies is the component suppliers meeting the lead time and cost requirements. IESA is planning to address these issues by working with distributors and component manufacturers to serve the need of both SMEs and larger domestic product companies.

“We also plan to work with the Indian Government to work on any anomality in the duty structure of the components to remove any financial disadvantage of design and manufacturing of electronics products in India.

“The other initiative that we are planning is to set-up components banks. This will help the start-ups in getting the required components in small quantities in time and at a reasonable cost, thereby cutting down on the overall cost and time for new product development.”

Large-scale manufacturing
Lastly, what are the interests as far as large-scale manufacturing is concerned?

He added: “Large-scale manufacturing requires the following ingredients: consumption, operational cost, and products.

“India is performing very well on the first two scales as the global product companies are setting up large captive manufacturing facilities to produce their products to serve the domestic demand, and subsequently exports. We see this trend will continue to grow. In the next 10 years, India will reach the no. 2 spot in electronics manufacturing.

“On the other front, large-scale manufacturing of India-designed products has still to pick up in terms of volume. We expect the IESA and India focus on domestic intelligent electronics companies in growing this part of high value-add manufacturing to start yielding results in next 5-10 years.

“Policies like Preference for Domestically Manufactured Electronic Goods (PMA) can also help in this as Indian companies can design and manufacture standard products such as STBs, Wi-Fi routers, energy meters efficiently, given a chance. IESA will continue to push for effective implementation of these and other policies.”

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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