Monthly Archives: July 2016

IEDM 2016 Has “New Twists,” Supplier Exhibits for the First Time

By Dick James, Senior Technology Analyst, Chipworks

A bit earlier than usual, the IEDM (International Electron Devices Meeting) press kit is available, and among the announcements are a couple of surprises.

The biggest practical change is the addition of an exhibit hall – up to now the conference has been almost religiously anti-commercial, to the extent that forums (fora?) sponsored by (e.g.) Applied Materials, ASM, and Synopsys have had to be held offsite in other hotels.

To quote Tibor Grasser, IEDM 2016 Exhibits Chair, “We have decided to have a supplier exhibition in conjunction with the technical program this year, as an added way to provide attendees with the knowledge and information they need to advance the state-of-the-art.”

There is an element of truth to that, since many of the papers are authored by the R&D groups from equipment companies, and having some systems on site may help cross-fertilise ideas and techniques. Of course, a contribution to conference funds in the form of space rental always helps, too.

Another change is that the submission deadline for papers has been delayed to August 10, though there’s a twist to that too – accepted papers will appear without any modification; so BEWARE, your typos and other errors will follow you into perpetuity. Still, the later date is a good thing, in previous years submissions had to be almost six months before the conference, so finalised work could be almost a year old before presentation. There is still an opportunity for late-news papers to be submitted by 12th September.

Other than those changes, the conference follows its usual timeline from December 3rd to December 7th – tutorials on the Saturday, short courses on Sunday, plenary talks Monday morning, then likely eight parallel sessions of papers, wrapping up on the Wednesday afternoon. Interspersed through this will be the Monday evening reception, Tuesday conference lunch and evening panels, and the Entrepreneurs lunch on Wednesday.

There may also be off-site gatherings or hospitality suites; Applied Materials, ASM, Synopsys, and Silvaco have sponsored them in the past.

I would go through the schedule in more detail, but handily the Solid State Technology editorial staff have done that already. Once the full program is published, I plan on drafting my usual pre-conference review sometime towards the end of November. The conference is now in its permanent location at the San Francisco Union Square Hilton, no more visits to Washington DC.

Notes from The ConFab 2016 – Day 3

Notes from Day 1 can be found here.

Notes from Day 2 can be found here.

By Dick James, Senior Technology Analyst, Chipworks

Day 3 was just a morning session, with China being the topic. Sunny Hui, SVP Worldwide Marketing for SMIC, gave (for me) a notable keynote on “Collaborate to Win in the China Market”.

Sunny started by giving some background to China’s economic and technological growth; gross domestic product (GDP), for example, has increased by 35x in the last 30 years, to $10.4 trillion, and 40% of worldwide semiconductor shipments go to China (more is spent on semiconductors than on oil!). Depending on the segment, these semiconductors go into the 70 – 90% of electronics products that are made in China and exported. And Chinese brands are becoming well known in world markets – Huawei, Haier, Lenovo and others are no longer strange names to us in North America and Europe.

Specifically referring to SMIC, we were shown a teardown (something I recognise!) of the Huawei P8 phone, with six parts fabbed by SMIC inside it.


Huawei P8 phone teardown with SMIC-made parts highlighted

The rise in China (and elsewhere) of ubiquitous big data, driven by cloud usage and IoT, pressures users to choose the right technology node for their chips, which gave Sunny a chance to show the SMIC technology portfolio;

Which looks like a challenging range of processes to me! (SPOCULL = SMIC Poly on Contact Ultra Low Leakage.) We were also shown some SMIC finFETs, the first that I have seen.

They now have three 300-mm fabs (Shanghai and Beijing 1 &2), and five 200-mm fabs, with one dedicated to the MEMS, imager and 3D IC specialty platforms, and another to bumping, WLCSP and testing; and they are aware of the need for patent coverage, having filed over 12,000 patents. They claim to be the most preferred foundry among Chinese fabless companies, with revenue from them growing at a 30% CAGR over the last ten years. SMIC has also set up a joint venture with JCET (SJSemiconductor, based in Jiangyin), focusing on wafer-level packaging technology.

In the Q&A session, someone asked if FDSOI was on the roadmap – apparently, nobody is asking, though it’s possible – the focus is still on finFETs. And 28-nm HKMG is now in production.

Next up was Ed Pausa from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC); I thought I was an old stager in the business these days, having started in 1970, but Ed started with Fairchild in 1959! PWC recently published a report on China’s impact on the semiconductor industry (available here), and Ed went through it in considerable detail. It appears that China’s semiconductor consumption hit a new record in 2014, at 57% of the worldwide market, and it’s been over 50% for the last four years.

When it comes to revenue, China’s semiconductor industry grew by 17.5% in 2014 to a record US$$77.3bn, making up 13.4% of worldwide semiconductors. That breaks down into 22% IC design, 15% manufacturing, 26.5% package & test, and 36.5% optoelectronics, sensors and discretes.

The gap between consumption and production continues to grow, however, to $140Bn in 2014, and it is expected to keep on growing, despite well-publicised government attempts to reduce it.

As of 2014, there were 165 wafer fabs there, of which ten are 300mm. There are now reported to be more than 660 design houses, though PWC estimates that no more than 100 are actually viable fabless companies. At the packaging, assembly and test end of the spectrum, there were 120 facilities, which gave China 33% of this type of worldwide floor space, the largest share.

In 2014 SK Hynix topped the table of semiconductor revenue, followed by HiSilicon and SMIC. Only four of the top ten appear to be domestic Chinese companies, the others are all subsidiaries of foreign multinationals.

After Ed it was my turn to speak, and the topic of my talk was “China’s Penetration into Mobiles – Real or Imaginary?”, which gave me the chance to show a few teardowns of Chinese-made phones, and do a comparison with the iPhone SE. I started with a quick look at some smartphone statistics – by coincidence ICInsights had published them a week before The ConFab;



And we can see that eight out the top twelve companies are China-based. Then I did a quick run through design wins by Mediatek, Spreadtrum and HiSilicon, before getting into the teardowns.

First we looked at a Huawei Mate 8, a high-end phone targeting the same space as the Samsung Galaxy 7 and the iPhone. This has a complex bill of materials (BOM), but the lead chips are from Huawei’s subsidiary HiSilicon, including their Kirin 950 application processor fabbed in TSMC’s 16FF+ process.



Then we had a value 4G device, the JXD T5 (Blaster Mini) one of the top 10 phones in the Asia-Pacific region in March. Now that we have moved down-market, it is less complex, focused on Chinese cellphone bands, and with a cheaper camera. Mediatek dominated the silicon here, but the touchscreen controller and camera were also Chinese, from Focaltech and Omnivision.

When we get to basic 2G/3G phones (a Lenovo T2 and a Lava Iris Atom), the only non-Chinese chips are the memories and the accelerometers – everything else originated from China, including the RF front end.

For comparison we then examined the Apple iPhone SE, which of course is a complex worldphone; the winners here (apart from Apple’s own designs) were Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, and in the RF front end, Qorvo and Skyworks.

In part my talk was a not-so-subtle sales pitch for our new “Inside Technology” service, which is basically a subscription portal to our database of teardowns and parts analyses – in the case of semiconductor processes, down to the atomic scale, since it includes access to TEM images and materials analyses. Since we’ve been doing it for over twenty years, that’s a lot of data!

As with many product launches, we’ve made a video – I think it’s quite impressive, but then I am a little biased, since in the case of the teardowns, I showed, it was the tool that I used to compile the design win information and the teardown BOMs for the different phones, and in the iPhone I showed that we can see that the QFE1100 envelope tracker chip was used in 67 different phones, and that there were three different versions from two different foundries.



Then we had a quick look at patent landscapes for Mediatek, Huawei, and Apple, and the penultimate slide told the story that I was focused on; using ICInsights’ categorization of the types of chips in a mobile phone, Chinese-made chips are in seven of the eight categories.

In retrospect I should not have included Mediatek, since they are Taiwan-based, but that does not change the essential nature of the story, that China-designed and fabbed chips are making their way into mobile phones, especially at the value end of the market.


Given my liberal use of ICInsights’ information as background for my talk, it was slightly ironic that the final keynote speaker was Bill McClean himself, of ICInsights.

Bill started out with the background that in the last decade our IC industry cycles have morphed from a capacity/capital spending driven cycle to one that is much more controlled by world GDP.

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Then he moved on to China’s role in the IC world, echoing Ed Pausa’s comments that the IC consumption vs IC production gap is growing, and their government is making a well-funded push to reduce that gap. His slightly surprising conclusion (at least to me) is that this effort is failing.

His contention is that there is not yet a strong indigenous pure-play foundry industry, nor a strong presence in the fabless IC supplier space, since fabs there only take ~7% of the world market (and that includes foreign-owned fabs), and the fabless companies are at 10% market share.

There have been some successes – several joint venture fabs are being set up, notably with UMC, Powerchip, and GLOBALFOUNDRIES, and on the acquisition front, (e.g.) NXP has sold two divisions to JAC Capital, and Omnivision is now China-owned. On the other hand, moves to buy Micron, Fairchild, and a chunk of Western Digital have failed, and Bill’s opinion is that any significant purchases of US-based companies are now highly unlikely, and other governments are taking a similar position.

That wrapped up the Confab for this year, just a final networking lunch to finish, and then we all went our different ways. The ConFab in 2017 will be on June 14 – 17, again at the Encore in Las Vegas.

Notes from The ConFab 2016 – Day 2

Notes from Day 1 can be found here.

By Dick James, Senior Technology Analyst, Chipworks

The opening keynote for Day 2 was Wally Rhines of Mentor Graphics, always a lively and entertaining speaker. His topic this time was “What Will Stimulate the Next Wave of Semiconductor Industry Growth?”

Wally Rhines of Mentor talking foundry costs at his ConFab keynote

Wally Rhines of Mentor talking foundry costs at his ConFab keynote

Wally started by putting Moore’s Law in the context of a learning curve, in which

  • cumulative transistors produced increase exponentially with time (e.g. 2x cumulative volume -> fixed % cost decrease)
  • almost all cost reduction comes from shrinking feature sizes and growing wafer diameter

That gives us a nice log/log plot of revenue/transistor vs cumulative transistors produced;




He spent the first part of his talk putting the rest of the industry segments (equipment, EDA etc.) into that context, until we got to discussing the 28 – 20 nm transition, with no cost reduction, and with a 40% cost/wafer increase as we get to finFET-based 14-nm products.

However, the transistor learning curve continues, despite these challenges, because memory, especially NAND flash memory, dominates the transistor count – 99.7% of all transistors are now in memory chips, and 80% of those are flash. Now that we are in the 3D-NAND era, that trend will only keep going, Wally claims for the next 10 – 20 years.

A major driver for this will be image storage and processing; IC Insights predicts that the image sensor market will not flatten out until it reaches 30+ billion units per year, from the current ~6 billion; aside from consumer usage, autonomous vehicles and security applications will almost certainly demand more image handling.

Wally finished up by making the point that the conventional von Neumann computer architecture is not adequate for image processing, and if the transistor learning curve does continue, then different architectures will be needed, more akin to the human brain in terms of pattern recognition and power dissipation.

The theme of the morning session was “Success in Fab Management” and featured four speakers, the first Rick Glasmann from Infineon’s 150 mm fab in Temecula, a former International Rectifier fab. He described a case study whereby they tightened up the fab process control and achieved 19% improvement in on-time delivery, and a 10% improvement in Cpk, amongst other measures.

Second up was Sanchali Bhattacharjee of Intel, describing a SEMI initiative to drive defect control within equipment, specifically the SCIS (subcomponents instruments and systems) working group. Co-optimization is not just a buzz-word for product development, it also applies across the fab supply chain from the wafer level down to the individual components within the fab manufacturing equipment – valves, pumps, RF generator, seals, etc.

The components theme continued in the next talk by Ardy Sidwha, detailing QuantumClean’s capabilities of creating Atomically Clean Surface™ surfaces on everything from quartz components to complex showerheads. It was a bit of a sales pitch, but still impressive since the need is obviously there to maximize yields and reduce cost of ownership.

The last speaker of the morning was Mike Czerniak (Edwards), who went through the efforts by the industry to get rid of greenhouse gases. That has been successful in the case of per-fluorinated compounds (PFCs) such as carbon tetrafluoride, meeting the target to limit PFC emissions to 90% of 1995 levels by 2010, a significant challenge given the growth of the industry in that time period. This was mostly achieved by the replacement of PFC CVD chamber clean gases by nitrogen trifluoride, which is efficiently consumed by the process tool.

The World Semiconductor Council has now tightened up the target for equivalent carbon dioxide emissions, looking for a 30% reduction from 2010 levels.
Mike gave an example of a fab footprint, showing quite impressive reductions in emissions going across the fab:


Equivalent CO2 emission data + abatement for a 200mm fab


Newer fabs start off with the advantage that they are designed for abatement, so the figures are actually better; though it seems that etch chemistries are more difficult, and the focus is now in that area.

After lunch we had set of four presentations preceding another panel, this time focusing on system level integration via packaging.

Bill Bottoms of 3MTS was the first up, noting that we have seen the final edition of the ITRS roadmap; essentially, CMOS has run out of steam. In its place we have a plethora of new roadmaps (or at least four) – the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (INEMI) Roadmap, the International Roadmap for Devices and Systems (IRDS), the Photonic Systems Manufacturing Roadmap (PSMR), and the Heterogeneous Integration Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (HITRS).

Bill went on to describe HITRS, sponsored by IEEE CPMT Society, The IEEE Electron Devices Society and SEMI. There are working groups within the overall roadmap envelope;

  • Heterogeneous Integration Components
  • Cross Cutting Topics (Emerging Research Materials, Emerging Research Devices, Integrated Power Devices, Interconnect, and Test)
  • Integration Processes (System in Package, 2.5D and 3D, Integrated Power Devices, Wafer Level Packaging)
  • Packaging for Specialized Functions (Mobile, IoT and Wearables, Medical, Automotive)

The roadmap has an active workshop schedule, with nine meetings before year end, two during Semicon West week, one at the show and one in Palo Alto.
Brian Black (AMD) gave a review of the design/packaging co-optimization (there’s that word again!) of the Fiji chip in the new AMD Radeon Fury (Fiji) graphics processor. This is notable in that it uses the Hynix High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM), together with a silicon interposer, to give 60% higher memory bandwidth for 60% less power than GDDR5 memory.

AMD’s Fiji chip

AMD’s Fiji chip

As an illustration of the benefits of this type of integration, the GPU is made in 28nm technology, and the HBM is 25nm generation, and the performance is better than a competing graphics unit using 20nm logic and 20nm DRAM.

Islam Salama of Intel then detailed their approach to increasing memory bandwidth; one of their metrics is the number of I/O wires escaping per millimeter of die edge for each layer of the package, as a way of comparing different technologies.


This can then be used to help decide the most appropriate package type for a specific product, whether it be a co-packaged e-DRAM as in the Iris Pro series of processors, or a more complex multi-chip package as used in the new Knight’s Landing series.

Intel has been promoting their EMIB™ architecture of late, and claims an advantage over the silicon interposer in that it does not need a large piece of silicon, or TSVs, but gives similar bandwidth.

Intel’s EMIB architecture

Intel’s EMIB architecture

Rama Alapati from Amkor finished up; he gave a short and sweet exposition of integration trends across five key segments – mobility, IoT, auto, high-performance computing, and memory, and across those segments, Amkor’s place in the ecosystem. Considering that he had only been with the company for six weeks, he did pretty well!

The panel was moderated by Li Li of Cisco, and was also short and sweet, only half an hour or so, then a rest before the Tuesday night reception. Brian was asked if die stacking would help just as much with a 14 or 10-nm process; his answer was that a 14-nm die-stack would be better than a 7-nm fully integrated chip. Another question was about the high cost of 3D packaging, and Bill responded by saying that the high cost was due to high-aspect ratio TSVs, and most heterogeneous integration does not need them –simply thin the wafers, then 2D/3D becomes a cost reducer, not a cost adder.

All in all, a good afternoon session.

Stay tuned for a review of Day 3…