Innovation in the shadow of volcanic change

The semiconductor equipment and materials industry is currently enjoying a double-digit annual growth rate and good prospects looking forward to 2015.  However, there are huge challenges around the corner with the move from planar to FinFET transistors, with 193nm immersion lithography being pushed well below 14nm, and with an explosion of new materials to integrate, among others.

The SEMI International Technology Partners Conference (ITPC 2014) convened on 9-12 November on the bright and crystalline Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.  Like our industry, all looked calm and peaceful – yet just around the corner, the Kilauea Volcano was violently reshaping the landscape with rivers of molten lava in the town of Pahoa.

Living in the shadow of an active volcano and the sometimes spectacularly disruptive process of building an island – or the nano-electronics manufacturing industry in our case – was picked up in this year’s ITPC theme:  New Structures for Innovation.  Wholly new concepts for collaboration and partnerships to address the challenges and to enable innovation were discussed formally in the conference, as well as informally in the many networking opportunities.

The program included keynote presentations by driving IC manufacturers:  Intel, SMIC, SK Hynix, TSMC, and Micron to set the stage for the rest of the program by hitting the key issues:

  • Delivering density scaling benefits in an era of increased capital intensity and materials complexity (Intel and SMIC)
  • Trends in semiconductor development following changes in the mobile market (SK Hynix)
  • Limits of lithography beyond the 10nm node (TSMC)
  • Collaboration for innovation (Micron)

Each of these keynote presentations neatly distilled the related challenges and opportunities and provided richly provocative observations on what is needed to keep innovation as the fundamental enabler.

Beyond the exceptional insights and depth of these presentations, a few “fun facts” were captured below.

  • Intel’s pursuit of 450mmm has had a positive impact on 300mm productivity (Bob Bruck, Intel)
  • China’s overall two highest revenue imports are oil and ICs  (Tzu-Yin Chiu, SMIC)
  • To succeed in today’s IC manufacturing world there needs to be system-level and process-level partnership and collaboration across the extended supply chain  (Sungwook Park, SK Hynix)
  • Of the Fortune 500 companies from 30 years ago, only 15% remain today.  Large companies are often too slow to react to change (Mark Adams, Micron)
  • Facebook and Google are now among the top six server manufacturers in the world (Mark Adams, Micron)

The conference continued with an industry and market outlook segment with special attention to IoT, electric vehicles, and nanoelectronics “connecting lives to improving lives.”  This included some amazing video clips of Nissan’s autonomous driving electric vehicles in Japan traffic, and imec’s intense visualizations of next generation nano-bio applications.

Among the best appreciated sections, was the segment on new industry structure that featured speakers and panelists from Google (David Peterson), Robert Metcalfe (University of Texas), Dan Solomon (Solomon Consulting), and AlixPartners (Dan Fisher). David Peterson brought a perspective from outside of our industry which is useful to test ideas and refresh approaches. He asked the audience to start with the most difficult ideas: make the tough choices, ask the questions that no one else will, and nurture a vibrant, distinctive culture. On making the tough choice, he was specific – and it is indeed tough, “sub-optimize current performance to invest in future performance:  innovations, R&D, learning, leadership development, building an adaptable organization, experimenting with ideas and projects that may not succeed. This segment was capped by Shozo Saito (Toshiba) providing an overview on the connections of new market and industry structure by device platform development.

The final segment focused on technology with Frits van Hout of ASML presenting the EUVL transition from R&D to industrialization. Following this a panel, moderated by Dan Hutcheson of VLSI Research, focused on frontiers of technology with panelists Paul Boudre of Soitec, David Hemker of Lam Research, Michael Liehr of CNSE, and Omkaram Nalamasu of Applied Materials.

It was a fascinating conference that both discussed the need and models for new collaboration and partnerships – and brought our industry’s thought leaders together to have opportunities to find these connections during the conference.

A few more interesting “fun facts” “fun bits” from the conference:

  • China plans to spend $100B to build a China-local IC industry that will supply up to 40% of China’s IC consumption.
  • The era of planar technology is coming to an end – and this precipitates great changes.
  • There is virtually no viable small company R&D engine model remaining in ICs and semiconductor equipment.  The model for innovation in our industry has significantly changed in the last five years.
  • Collaborations and partnerships are more essential now than ever before for developing innovation.
  • To build trust in developing partnerships, potential partners should work together and take many small risks together quickly.
  • Among the top innovations in our industry is Moore’s law and inventing SEMI – this is one of the big successes in collaboration and co-opetition.
  • A twelve week cycle from tape-out to finished wafer is too long.  This must change to keep pace with product development innovation.
  • The semiconductor industry should quickly work to define standards/platforms for IOT to ensure the pace of growth and chip consumption
  • A favorite slide was from Google that reminded the audience that to win, we have to view any customer problem as our problem:


To participate in other strategic events, consider the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium U.S. 2015 in January or SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium Europe 2015 in February.


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2 thoughts on “Innovation in the shadow of volcanic change

  1. Michael Clayton

    Planar technology will outlive all of us and our grandchildren.
    The newer shrinks are small quantity but high value added for low power circuits only.

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