The Future of Semiconductors
Semiconductors are important components that are used by virtually every technology company.
From basic or standard chips to analogue chips used in thermometers, CPUs & GPUs and the memory found in smartphones and PCs, semiconductors have become a valued asset. In 2021, there was an exponential growth in the demand for semiconductors.
This is because semiconductors have been adopted by industries that are responsible for the top trends in this era. They include 5G, Predictive healthcare, Internet of Things, Automation, Self-driving cars, Smart home/city/work, wearables, artificial intelligence, robotics, and AR/VR.
No doubt, semicon has become a fast-growing sector which calls for more attention. In this post, we will dive deep into semiconductor shortages, and the future of semicon.
Lately, semiconductor stocks have increased. For the past 20 years, the industry has grown by an average of 5% each year. Such performance speaks volumes of what to expect from semiconductors. A large part of this growth can be attributed to digitalization.
We keep seeing different trends in digitalization and this isn’t something that will go away anytime soon. So long as industries keep embracing digitalization (which is inevitable), the demand for semiconductors will keep rising, hence the growth over time.
According to SEMI, in 2021, semiconductor equipment sales topped 100 billion US dollars. Smart investors are already learning about this red-hot industry to potentially invest in it.
Moreover, the demand for electric vehicles has increased over the last few years as governments continue to announce financial commitments to support major automotive companies.
While this will reduce global warming to a great deal and save the planet in the process, it will also lead to shortages of semiconductors. Companies will have to fight off competitions just to lay their hands on this Holy Grail which, for sure, will affect the cost.
For instance, even after signing an executive order to achieve 50% sales of electric vehicles by 2030, America’s President Joe Biden is well aware that shortages in the materials used to manufacture semiconductors could pose a serious threat and could limit the industry to meet automobile demand.
During the Semicon west conference last year, Bernard Swiecki Director of Research at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) from Ann Arbor, shared his view on the semiconductor shortage for light automobiles.
Bernard reiterated that semiconductor shortages led to a global loss of 210 billion in lost revenue and 7.7 million units of vehicle production. COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions led to numerous chip shortages and delays.
As many automotive companies are yet to recover from pandemic disruption, the question remains: how will these companies cope since the switch to electric vehicles will make the automobile industry even more dependent on semiconductors.
Now that we’ve highlighted the challenge faced as a result of semiconductor shortages, let us check out some adoption methods. Before then, what materials make up semiconductors?
Semiconductors are composed of raw materials such as tin, silicon, gold, and tungsten. These are physically sourced from various parts of the world. While there are thousands of suppliers, the prices of the material aren’t stable.
Demand, supply, and availability of raw materials are major factors affecting the prices of semiconductors. In Belgium, Imec held an event for analysts and others discussing semiconductor industry development.
This large semiconductor-oriented research laboratory gave insights into the future of semiconductors with lithographic features down to 7 Angstroms.
Semiconductors are manufactured by embedding integrated circuits onto silicon chips. This is done using special equipment. These circuits store and process the logic and data in computer programs in form of 0s and 1s.
The manufacturing process involves multiple stages and one of the most important stages in chip manufacturing is lithography. Lithography is a process whereby semiconductor designs are embedded on a silicon chip. So far, lithography equipment is produced by Canon, Nikon, and ASML.
President and CEO of Imec, Luc Van den Hove highlighted the convergence of computation & cognition, matter, energy & biology, sensing & actuation, among other technologies will lead to advances in Artificial Intelligence and ubiquitous and cognitive computing.
Luc Van also pointed out that creating energy-efficient computational concepts will be important to reduce the energy consumption growth starting in 2030. He further explains that continuing to drive computation with lower energy consumption will involve shrinking semiconductor switches and developing new ones.
The Future of Semiconductors
To ensure the availability of semiconductors, new technologies need to be developed. These include moving from:
- very thin atomic channel transistors
- forksheet transistors to complementary FET (CFET)
- FinFET to gate-all-around nanosheet
Combining several technologies, using new metals/metal compounds, and semi-damascene processes in a process known as “interconnect technologies” are important considerations in the future of semiconductor technologies and systems.
For instance, combining 3D SoC with 3D multi-chip DRAM via an interposer to reduce energy consumption and inspire computing.
Automated vision inspection is a cost-effective and reliable inspection tool that can detect a variety of surface feature defects such as stains, nodules, and scratches on semiconductors.
It also reduces the cost of fixing damage such as open circuits, shorts, and thinning of the solder during semiconductor production. AOI solutions or AOI machines will complement the growth of the semiconductor industry by decreasing potential reliability defects.
Both the 2021 Semicon West and Imec gave insights into semiconductor shortages and the future of semiconductors. We’ll wrap up by saying sustainability is an important element in the future of semiconductor technology.