Tag: future horizons

Good chip engineers are hard to find

FUTURE HORIZONS ARMENIA 2016 Mentor Graphics has offices all over the world but we talked to the head of its Armenian office and she had plenty to say about finding top engineers.

Irina Dumanyan said that that she looks after 150 people in Armenia and also runs an internship programme.

Mentor has a set of different projects which are worked on by people in its offices all around the world.

But its Armenia office was never in the business of hiring cheap labour.

“Engineers are hard to find, that’s why we established the internship programme,” she said. The company puts its internees on live projects.

She said universities needed to get more savvy about what graduates will actually need in the real world.

“The university mentality should be changed and lots more investment is required,” she said.  It’s hard for Mentor to cooperate with the Armenian state university.

Chip industry still suffering from economic crunch

snail-8296a552f7bd1064368205306ff8a3c7c7bdc7c4-s900-c85The chip industry is still in the doldrums and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

That’s the verdict of Malcolm Penn, CEO and chairman of UK semiconductor analysts Future Horizons.

At a semiconductor conference in London, Penn said that the chip industry is driven by four factors: the economy, fab capacity, unit demand and average selling prices (ASPs).

Penn said: “The economy is in a mess and it’s not getting any better. It’s the ‘wait one more quarter’ syndrome. Nobody reacts when the data is good because they don’t believe it.”

He said that 2016 seemed to be an almost exact replay of 2015. Nobody believes in the numbers any more, he said.

“No-one is spending money. There are no new killer products on the horizon. There is nothing, nothing at all.”

Killer apps can’t be predicted and have always been a surprise, Penn said. The outlook is somewhat grim.

“No one knows how to restart the engines.

Regionally, he said, the picture is also pessimistic. “Japan is a complete disaster. China is on a downward trend. Russia has shot itself in the foot,” he said. “Newly industrialised Asian countries have run out of steam. The overall trend is decidedly bad.”

So what of the future?

Historically, integrated circuits (ICs) have shown a 10 percent growth but, he said, the current trend is low with only a six percent figure in 2016. He said: “PC and smartphone IC shipments are still relatively very small. Unit demand is driven by the economy, and the PC market is as dead as a dodo.”

The figures over the last four years show a steady decline, 9.5 percent growth in 2013, 8.3 percent in 2014, 5.1 percent in 2015 and six percent this year.

He said: “Fab capacity is in the hands of the few. No there is no excess capacity. It takes a year to add new capacity and the lead time has never changed.”

As far as capital expenditure (CapEx) goes, Intel, Samsung and TSMC rule, he said at 60 percent CapEx. That’s not true for Global Foundries (GloFo) which is only nine percent.

He said: “A capacity shortage is waiting to happen. At some point of time there will be a shortage and it will catch everyone by surprise.” And most of the bigger fabs are in earthquake zones.

He’s gloomy about next year too. In 2017 he expects a weak PC and smartphone market.

“The economy is still horrid. There’s no life in the semiconductor business.”

450mm wafers inch towards production

It could be as late as 2024 before the semiconductor industry puts 450mm silicon wafers into production.

That’s according to the Enable 450 newletter, which reports that ECSEL (geddit?) – the Electronic Component Systems for European Leadership – is attempting to line all the big ducks up.

ECSEL will have its first pre-brokerage event at the Crowne Plaza in Belgian capital Brussels on February the 4th and the 5th.

Enable 450 has been in existence for a year and has eleven members including ASM International, Applied Materials Israel, ASML Netherlands, the French atomic energy agency (CEA-LETI), Fraunhofer IISB, market research company Future Horizons, Intel Performance Learning, Interuniversitair Micr-Electronics Centrum, RECIF Technologies, SEMI Europe and SOITEC.

So far the boffins have discussed mechanical cluster interfaces, notchless wafers – including fiducial marks on the wafer backside,  metrology tools, alignment marks and other stuff.

The Euroboffins will have to coordinate links with Asia and other regions, including America, if the whole thing is to come together successfully.

Intel lays claim to the internet of fangs

After realising that it’s a bit behind the rest of the semiconductor world, Chipzilla (tick: INTC) has rolled out some marchitecture and claiming it’s still on the roadmap – especially about the internet of things/fangs.

Last week Intel was accused of fabricating data about its gate sizes, while Moore’s Law was called into question. To be fair, Samsung, GlobalFoundries (GloFo) and TSMC were also accused of fabricating data too.

Fangs ain’t what they’re used to be, but Intel rolled out a number of products which it hopes will bring revenues real soon now.

Those include the Atom Bay Trail E3800, some gateway stuff that uses software from McAfee and Wind River.

Intel still uses a capital “I” for the internet and Ton Steenman, VP of Intel’s intelligent systems group rolled out the perfect storm of a marchitecture statement.

Steenman was made to say by the PR spinners: The Internet of Things consists of a wide range of Internet-connected devices, from a simple pedometer to a complex CT scanners.  The true value in the Internet (sic) of Things is realized (sic) when these intelligent devices communicate and share data with each other and the cloud, uncovering information and actionable insight that can transform business. As a leader in computing solutions from the device to the datacenter, Intel is focused on driving intelligence in new devices and gateways to help connect the billions of existing devices.”

Now what can all that mean? No-one from Intel was available for comment at press time.

Silicon crunch "around the corner"

Malcolm Penn, CEO of chip analyst Future Horizons, gave his annual rundown on the semiconductor market at the IEF2013 in Dublin, and he had some warnings of what the industry should expect.

The financial crisis is clearly not over: “We’ve got three more years to go through, but still the [semiconductor] industry was not that bad”.

“We’re cruising at slow speed,” this year, Penn said. Companies have got money but they’re not spending it. “We’re still in this lack of confidence period. Everyone is still waiting, waiting, waiting.

“The real fundamentals of the chip industry is that peaks and troughs are the natural part of the fabric. When this industry does rebound, it will rebound more strongly than it ever has. 

“ICs represent 10 percent of the world’s GDP because of its influence. It varies from country to country. Long term demand for units has been incredibly consistent over the last 30 years. The amount of units shipped over the last 30 years is 10-11 percent per annum. 

Penn said that sales are coming from capacity not stock, and most saleable inventory is gone. A small increase in demand will trigger a massive undersupply, he warned.

“The basics of fab capacity is cast in stone,” Penn said. “Capacity can’t be influenced for a year. We’ve not being building capacity which I think is dangerous. 

“There’s a silicon crunch just around the next corner. The most crucial part of the food chain is being treated with complete cavalier indifference,” said Penn. “That’s because the capital spend is too low.”

Revenue per wafer starts continues to be flat at $9 per square centimetre on average for a very long period of time. Penn said that chip industry growth is driven by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse – economy, unit demand, fab capacity and ASPs. 

He forecast semiconductor growth in 2013 last year would be plus 10 percent growth at around $325 billion, but the first quarter was particularly bad. In 2014 he forecasts six percent growth. 

All new fab shell constructions are 450mm ready but the industry is divided on whether to say yes or no. The semi industry says no, or rather, wonders who is going to pay for it.

If 450mm wafers do happen it will affect all the industry and the cost structure will annihilate any firm that is still 300mm based. The 200mm fabs will struggle.

TSMC sizes are just all wrong

A senior semiconductor analyst has claimed that chip giant TSMC   is being economical with the truth about the size of its semiconductors.

Malcolm Penn, principal analyst at Future Horizons, claimed that the company was overegging the cake on claims that it had 14 nanometre technology.

Rather than 14nm, he said, the size of its latest chips were about  20nm.  TSMC was unavailable for comment.

Intel bends the truth about its nodes

A senior semiconductor analyst has claimed that chip giant Intel is being economical with the truth about the size of its semiconductors.

Malcolm Penn, principal analyst at Future Horizons, claimed that the company was overegging the cake on claims that it had 14 nanometre technology.

Rather than 14nm, he said, the size of its latest chips were between 16nm to 17nm.  Intel was unavailable for comment.

TSMC: 18 inch wafer production to start in 2018

TSMC has announced that it will begin volume production of chips using 18 inch (450mm) wafers in 2018.

J.K. Wang, vice president for operations at the mega foundry, said at a conference held by industry body SEMI in Taipei that the company is expecting to complete specification settings for 18 inch wafers in 2014 or 2015, with a view to setting up pilot lines in 2016 or 2017, according to The Taipei Times.

Assuming that each step goes to plan, Wang said that TSMC expects to then begin volume production in 2018, which would also coincide with plans to move to 10 nm process production with FinFET transistors at the same time.  

He said that the company has now completed its planning stage for 18 inch wafer production, and will work with other chip manufacturers as part of the G450C alliance to set standards for the technology.

The move to 18 inch wafers from 12 inch wafers will mean manufacturers will be able to get double the amount of chips from each wafer produced, with the same effort.

Wang also gave an indication of the development timeline of other chip production technologies. Vice president for research and development, Burn Lin, said that TSMC would use legacy immersion technology up until 10 nm process production, according to the Taiwan Economic News.  

For production at smaller processes, TSMC is considering using e-beam lithography technology, while it waits for another next generation production technology, extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, to mature.  

TSMC, along with Intel, recently invested in dutch chip equipment firm ASML, contributing towards the firm’s R&D spend as it develops its EUV technology.

While EUV is not the only option for TSMC for 18 inch wafers, or Intel or any others for that matter, Wang said that that the firm would be waiting for ASML to move ahead with development of its production technology in 2015.  Wang contends that this has led to a delay in the move to 18 inch production.

Chip industry analyst Malcolm Penn at Future Horizons told TechEye that the timeframe given by TSMC for implementing 18 inch production is more achievable than previous estimates.

“That’s more realistic, that beats their original one that said 2013,” Penn said, adding that there has a certain amount of chest beating in the past.

While Intel and TSMC have both been chucking money at developing EUV technology, Penn thinks that 18 inch production will not necessarily hinge on its use, and Intel is expected to move to 18 inch production ahead of TSMC.

“Each of those timings is completely independent, they may for convenience choose to time them together, but they don’t have to,” Penn said. “It is purely convenient, nothing technical.”

Samsung may choose to link them in a different way,Intel may choose to link them in a different way, we are talking about implementation – Intel can hang on to lithography longer than the other other two can,” Penn said.

European Commission report looks into 450-mm fab initiative

A study commissioned by the European Commission has looked into the potential role of European authorities in encouraging the construction of a 450-mm wafer fab on the old continent.

The report, prepared by Future Horizons and Decision SA, tried to identify activities required to support research and innovation in semiconductor production in Europe. It found that semiconductor output in Europe could decline unless something is done to support development.

The report concluded that the EU and member states could launch a five-year program to create a 450-mm pilot line in Europe, allowing companies to transition to 450-mm production and coordinate with the US G450C initiative in Albany. The construction of a jointly-owned 450-mm fab for more-than-Moore semiconductors is another possibility. 

The transition to 450-mm production is necessary to keep up with 10 percent annual growth in wafer capacity, the report found.

Future Horizons CEO Malcolm Penn points out that 450-mm fabs have 2.25 times the output of 300-mm fabs, with a 30 percent cost reduction.

Interestingly, a recent SEMI report found that companies will make record investments in fab equipment next year. However, Europe will not see much investment, as most fab spending is expected in Korea, the Americas and Taiwan.

Fab equipment spending in Europe is also behind China and Japan.

Samsung cracks graphene transistor conundrum

Samsung is throwing its considerable weight behind graphene production, claiming a breakthrough that should overcome problems with using the material in transistors and open the doors to future development in electronics.

Various firms have been throwing money at developing graphene for future applications in replacement of silicon, with big hitters such as IBM and Intel achieving considerable headway.

Now Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology research arm has claimed that it has overcome one of the most fundamental problems with using graphene in a circuit – its ability to switch from one state to another like a semiconductor.

In the past, even Intel and IBM have written off graphene being used in a CPU, in its current state at least, due to the difficulting in getting the material to switch. But Samsung believes it has found a way to overcome this with a new transistor structure.

While graphene has many extraordinary properties that would make it very useful in electronics, such as extremely high electron mobility, the inability to switch between a ‘0’ and ‘1’ state makes it difficult to use in semiconductor applications.

Samsung points out that [revious attempts have been made to turn semi-metallic graphene into a semiconductor, but this has resulted in a decrease in electron mobility.

The team at Samsung’s research arm believe that by re-engineering the basic operating principles of digital switches, they have found a way to get graphene to switch between states without losing its coveted properties.

Samsung says that it has developed a ‘Schottky barrier’ control device named a ‘Barristor’ which can stop current in the graphene by lifting the barrier to a cut off point.

The firm claims to have also expanded the research into basic circuit components such as logic gates and logic circuits.

Samsung owns nine patents relating to the Barristor, which will go into the pile marked ‘graphene patents’ that it has been amassing.

According to the Intellectual Property Office, Samsung was leading last year in the number of patents for the ‘wonder material’.

This covers a range of applications and Samsung, like various other tech firms, has been eyeing the more imminent use of graphene in flexible touchscreens – with smartphones and tablets likely to be among the first ways that consumers see graphene implemented in their devices.

According to chip industry sooth-sayers Future Horizons, it could be a few years before we start to see processors using graphene in mainstream applications, and it appears that its apparent destiny to replacing silicon, in some quarters anyway, is far from assured.

However, if Samsung is keen on staying at the forefront of future chip development it will be interesting to see how other powerhouses respond.