Let’s Do the Numbers

Everything is measured in numbers. This September, Sunnyvale-based Advanced Micro Devices introduced a 64-bit chip designed for speeding up and increasing memory in desktop computers. Though most wonder if the increase from today's 32-bit is useful, since most desktop software cannot take advantage of the new capabilities. Intel's 64-bit processors, for instance, have been aimed at the server market; however, AMD's new chip uses some code designed for present 32-bit chips to ease the transition. Microsoft may extend the usefulness to the business world by hinting at a 64-bit update to Windows XP as soon as next year. As surely as we transitioned from 16-bit, desktops will demand 64-bit in the future.

In the front end, the move to 300-mm wafers has increased the productivity of the semiconductor market recently as well. This change in the industry offers more than twice the number of chips per wafer for the increased cost in equipment, as compared to the 200-mm wafer. As a result, cost per chip has dropped. How will this change the back-end?

Productivity increases the numbers game. For instance, Newport's Peter Cronin stopped by our offices last week to go over cover photos for this issue. Their new Mach FCplus, an automated flip chip bonder was released September 14th at Semicon Taiwan. In talking, we mentioned how automated advanced package assembly has become. Though the company's engineers originally thought that the precision of past equipment was challenging to reproduce in parallel processing modes, their new machine handles several processes at once at greater speeds with improved precision. The more they talked, the more encouraged we became, because sheer numbers can be discouraging in electronics.

Now it's time for the numbers to be connected to real people. Though the stock market is rising, as are economic indicators like the Book-to-Bill, unemployment remains at a stubborn six percent in the U.S. Employment has shrunk by 1.1 million, largely due to manufacturing layoffs. Electronic assembly at EMS providers has moved mass production to China, complex assembly and repairs to Mexico, software and assembly to India, and has kept a shrinking industry in the U.S. This topic comes up constantly.

Now that I've become a New Englander, my faith remains in the stubborn, can-do attitude of Americans. (What state but New Hampshire has “Live free or die” for its feisty motto?) We already have a population made up of people from around the world whose innovation created the electronics industry. The speed at which change occurs, another measurable number, is what continues to amaze us. The fact that we will persevere is accepted.

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Gail Flower


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