by Michael A. Fury, Techcet Group
July 12, 2011 – Another cold summer in San Francisco, another SEMICON West, brimming with the usual vital statistics: 1256 booths, up 10% over 2010; 712 exhibiting companies (up 24%) from 21 countries, of which 105 are new to this event. Among the equipment suppliers, 315 have brought equipment to demonstrate, an attribute that had been on the decline over the past several years. Over 30,000 people have pre-registered for the combined SEMICON and Intersolar events, though it is safe to assume that Intersolar is the steroid driving that number.
Having recognized the action in Moscone West, I elected to start my wanderings at Intersolar. Two impressions struck me immediately upon entering. First, there were displays set up in what was otherwise lobby and aisle space in previous events. Clearly, space was at a premium, and there was plenty of demand for it. The other impression is that the space is very European. I’m not talking about the kind of distribution of ethnicities that you see at SEMICON shows around the world — I’m talking about a distinct predominance of European languages and eyeglasses and haircuts. I found it striking, and can only attribute it to the very effective nature of government subsidies for solar technologies in Europe as compared to the US. Yes, of course, US and Asian companies were well represented, but they did not determine the ambience.
Navigation through the Intersolar aisles required a reasonable amount of care, though far short of that required to ride a Tokyo subway. The space around the Solyndra booth, however, was simply not navigable due to the throngs of people waiting to approach their representatives for a discussion. At least that why I think they were waiting; there didn’t seem to be any stupendous giveaway driving the crowd. I was glad to see eIQ Energy back at the show and apparently doing quite well. They manufacture power inverters for connecting panels of varying designs and power outputs, and doing so in parallel rather than series. Last year they appeared as a fledgling startup with big aspirations. This year, they appeared more confident and capable, much less tentative than before. I imagine the same can be said for many other companies on the floor.
But my comfort zone is still in the semiconductor halls, where I found it much easier to navigate, yet the crowds were respectable and the buzz was a level above my recollection of the past two years. My time on the floor was limited by my own private meetings and by the commencement of a new feature for 2011: a private symposium by CEA Leti of France. Multimedia convergence on mid-size devices like tablet PCs call for high performance at low VDD, which is the focus of Leti’s FDSOI program (fully-depleted silicon on insulator). These devices are built on an 8nm SOI film with raised source & drain and undoped channel. Migration from 28nm bulk transistors to 20nm FDSOI can enable a 50% power reduction at constant speed, or a 60% speed gain at 0.8VDD (35% gain at 1.0VDD).
3D integration is another program focus at Leti, as it is at so many other companies these days. Development and implementation of EDA methods for 3D TSV has made Grenoble a consortium center for design shops. Solder-free copper-on-copper direct bonding is one of the disruptive process concepts being developed in the program. Leti has launched a program called Open 3D to foster open access to 3D design and process integration technologies to accelerate industry implementation.
The Leti program on silicon photonics aspires to combine CMOS with photonics to leverage the cost effectiveness of CMOS integration with the high bandwidth demands that are presently limiting card-to-card and module-to-module data transfer. Since 2006, Leti has been operating a product prototyping collaboration with 60 commercial partners in the US and Canada, resulting in the release of over 150 products.
Another program focus at Leti is the creative use of electronics in the practice of medicine, moving us toward the notion of molecular medicine. The MEMS technology that is already integrated into cell phones and gaming handsets is being adapted to a variety of medical assignments. Direct brain-computer interfaces that were once relegated to science fiction are now being tested to allow a variety of tasks from guiding a wheelchair to quelling muscular tremors to commanding an exoskeleton device that would allow a paralyzed patient to walk and raise a glass of champagne. (Some of these concepts come from other sources, and are not necessarily part of the Leti program.) The already complex issues of integration and device packaging now have to address the additional issue of biocompatibility and FDA approval.