SEMICON West: Consumers key to next upcycle

The telecommunications industry started saying it a few years ago, when the bottom fell out of the dot-com market, and now the semiconductor industry has joined the chorus: the consumer is the key.

Jul 15th, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - The telecommunications industry started saying it a few years ago, when the bottom fell out of the dot-com market, and now the semiconductor industry has joined the chorus: the consumer is the key. In fact, according to speakers at SEMICON West’s Market Symposium on July 11, the convergence of consumer electronics and personal computing is expected to impact the semiconductor market in a number of ways over the next decade-not all of them good.

“The convergence of consumer electronics with PCs and the ability to communicate in new ways creates new usage models for consumers,” said Kevin Kettler, chief technology officer for Dell. “People want to switch out some of the equipment they have today, and this replacement cycle will generate demand”-which, in turn, means an increase in the need for new silicon. This bodes well for a number of key consumer markets, such as PCs and peripherals; projectors, TVs, and other digital displays; optical media; portable media devices; and next-generation networking.

“By 2010, consumers will represent the largest buyer of semiconductor chips,” said Klaus Rinnen, managing vice president, semiconductor manufacturing, Gartner Dataquest. “And by 2013, more than 50% of chip sales will be for equipment markets targeted at consumers.”

However, as semiconductors become less expensive and are found in more and more electronic products that get cheaper every day, the pressure on the entire supply chain to lower costs increases as well. In addition, while Moore’s Law continues to hold true in terms of the pace of technology innovation, chip manufacturers are increasingly hard-pressed to cost-justify the amount of R&D spending they must do to keep up with never-ending customer demand for “smaller, faster, cheaper.” The result, according to Rinnen, will be a major industry consolidation and the emergence of new business models.

“The next decade will be the decade of change in semiconductor manufacturing and will reshape the entire supply chain,” he said. “By 2014, fewer than 25 manufacturing will be building new fabs (compared to 45 today) and less than 10 equipment suppliers will be satisfying 80% or more of the semiconductor manufacturing equipment demand.” In addition, he said, the existing R&D model will have to change drastically because equipment companies will not be able to afford product development with no guaranteed ROI.

In fact, the realization of digital communication requires new architecture models, according to Kettler. Dell is looking for advances in integration and new packaging technologies to assist it in making products that are as small as possible, with the greatest features and functionalities-and, of course, reasonably priced. Kettler noted, for example, that the incorporation of dual-core and multicore processors has the potential to cause a shift in usage models. As processing power increases with no significant change in hardware size, two (or more) software-based machines can run on a single piece of hardware. The multiple processing concept goes hand in hand with virtualization.

Other opportunities lie in the push to bring digital data-sharing capabilities to the consumer home market by bridging the “last mile” gap, particularly in broadband. According to Kettler, Dell is closely monitoring the development of new wireless technologies, including the 802.11 family, ultrawideband, and WIMAX. The increasing availability of broadband nationwide will make the digital home possible, and thus increase consumer demands for electronic devices that further integrate the personal computer and digital entertainment products.

“It’s about how to distribute high-speed capabilities to the last mile, to individual homes,” Kettler said. “There is huge expense associated with running wire, but the potential to bring broadband through wireless, to new neighborhoods, is vital.”

In the mean time, chip manufacturers continue to grapple with a number of technology challenges resulting from the growing consumer market, including power density, thermal issues, and digital rights management. In addition, software has become the critical path for consumer electronics product development and is limiting the transition to new silicon technologies and products, according to Kettler. The solution, he said, is to develop software components in parallel with silicon so that these components have standard interfaces, processor independence, loose coupling, and extensibility.

In the photonics space, the ever-shrinking chips are creating new opportunities for optical metrology. Several companies at SEMICON West exhibited instrumentation designed to handle the increasingly small features and complex materials being employed in semiconductor manufacturing. For example, Oxford nanoScience (Milton Keynes, England) launched its Laser 3-Dimensional Atom Probe (Laser 3DAP) microscope, designed to allow atom-by-atom visualization of the structure of semiconductor materials and devices. According to the company, the key to the instrument is a femtosecond laser that evaporates atoms from the surface of the material under test. Each atom is then analyzed according to its mass, and a position-sensitive detector records the original position of the atom in the sample. The process is repeated for millions of atoms. Oxford nanoScience says a complete analysis can be run in just 10 minutes, revealing layer structure and dopoant distributions in semiconductor materials and devices to single-atom depth resolution and sub-nanometer x-y resolution.

Rudolph Technologies (Flanders, NJ) unveiled the new ultra-II CD metrology solution, which combines focused-beam ellipsometry and scatterometry to enable thin-film and optical critical dimension (CD) metrology in a single tool. The ultra-II CD introduces Rudolph’s new Simultaneous Multi-angle LASER Scatterometry, a CD measurement technique based on its patented focused beam ellipsometry technology; according to the company, the combination provides high-speed, non-destructive CD metrology, as well as thickness and optical property measurements for transparent films.

Other companies focused on the speed and precision advantages their optical products can bring to chip manufacturing. New Focus (San Jose, CA) demonstrated a number of new technologies, including a new fast actuator technology that the company says offers submicron positional accuracy, complete speed and acceleration profile control, scan rates to 300mm/sec and projected lifetimes in UV applications of billions of cycles. Based on actuator technology utilized in high-reliability disk drives, New Focus is applying this technology to a wide range of applications, including precision scanning, shuttering, and apodization. Acceleration and deceleration profiles, as well as scan rates, can be programmed and monitored in real time while maintaining submicron position control. New Focus also demonstrated active mounts with integrated Picomotor linear actuators and quad cell position detectors being used to achieve highly stable control of laser beam position.

More in Home