What are the recent technology trends which are shaping the semiconductor industry? What are the technology advancements structuring the semiconductor industry?
Pietro Polidori: The demand for small, smart, mobile, powerful and low-power devices that can access data whenever and wherever will drive the semiconductor industry to come up with innovative solutions.
The continued advances in lithographic techniques enable the fabrication of devices with finer and finer geometries. Several companies have announced the manufacturing of devices at the 14nm node within the next 12 to 18 months.
This, coupled with advances in film technology and the use of strained lattices and others, has made a path for very high-speed, low-leakage devices.
Advances in packaging technology, including TSVs, WLCSP, HDL, 2.5-D and 3-D packaging, Cu pillars and multi-chip packages are driving integration toward smaller and smaller footprints.
Can you throw light on the various challenges and opportunities that you foresee in the semiconductor industry?
Pietro Polidori: Developing and manufacturing at these very advanced digital technology nodes is extremely expensive. Thus, very few companies can afford the huge investments.
Consequently, companies with digital designs will be looking toward the huge foundry companies for manufacturing their devices, if they haven’t already.
Also, the percentage of packaging and testing cost within the overall product cost is climbing. The opportunity will be to optimise the total cost of the product right at inception and make the call on the technology node.
On the mixed-signal and analogue designs, the process complexity requires very tight coupling with design. Due to power and signal integrity requirements, typically they are a node or two behind pure digital designs.
However, even here the costs are getting higher, as some are on a “specialty process” for which the costs cannot be easily absorbed. There will be a challenge in managing the cost. Again, the packaging and testing cost comments apply here.
What are the major shifts being witnessed in the semiconductor industry?
Pietro Polidori: Companies whose products need “bleeding edge” technologies and those in the analogue world that are two generations behind in technology but have unique process requirements are driving the requirements, while not necessarily in two different directions, certainly at a different pace.
Where are the mixed-signal solutions going to take the respective industries in the near future?
Pietro Polidori: On one hand, everything is mixed-signal as interlock with humans is analogue. On the other hand, processing data is best done digitally. So, while processing data storage can all be digital, interaction with the outside world is analogue.
Flash is the latest technology shaping the semiconductor industry. What are the benefits and the concerns it has brought? How can the industry curtail these concerns?
Pietro Polidori: Flash is a proven technology, and now improvements in increasing density can be achieved. Using solid state drives (SSDs) that are based on flash technology is becoming wide-spread in many enterprise applications, with some primary storage systems using only solid state storage for some applications.
The benefits of speed, power, compact form factor and more are well known.
While the concerns of data corruption and loss are there, I believe the technology exists to improve the reliability. This, coupled with built-in redundancies, will reduce the concerns.
You must be interacting a lot with customers. What are the shifts in demands they make and the reasons behind them?
Pietro Polidori: Customers are looking for more and more system-level solutions and related expertise from their “chip” suppliers. While that does not always mean a full turnkey solution, it does require our field and marketing engineers to truly understand the customer’s system to provide the necessary solution and support.
The primary reasons for this shift are growing complexity, increased global competition, speed of innovation, and product lifecycles. So, to do this right requires expertise and collaboration across the entire supply chain to bring products and solutions to the market faster.