SEMI ISS: Sense of Scale

Intel shows first fully patterned 450 mm semiconductor wafer at SEMI ISS 2013
Intel shows first fully patterned 450 mm semiconductor wafer at SEMI ISS 2013

Attending the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) is like drinking from a fire hose with the additional risk of whiplash. Don’t get me wrong, it is an exquisite fire hose but sometimes the data presented can be overwhelming at this conference of semiconductor supply chain executives. The majority of the attendees and presenters are executives from the SEMI member companies that develop the equipment, materials, processes, and technology used to build, test, and package semiconductors. And the executives present from the semiconductor manufacturers are typically the “end customers”.

The greatest value of SEMI ISS, beyond the networking, is the strategic overview of the entire semiconductor ecosystem. What are the market drivers, the technology needed, and the roadmap status of this industry? It is true that we all know where we need to head courtesy of Moore’s Law and the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors which attempts to keep us on that trajectory. The pressure of consumers needing wanting greater functionality at lower costs is relentless. Much of the technological detail of this ecosystem is addressed in a myriad of other forums throughout the year. ISS ties these technical requirements, development needs, and business needs back to the strategic direction and desires of the global marketplace.

The whiplash comes from the sense of scale and the range of numbers presented. Talking about 10 nm process technology on 450 mm wafers is almost 10 orders of magnitude. Robert Bruck‘s (Intel) “one more thing” was to show one of the first fully patterned 450 mm wafers that Intel will loan to equipment companies for tool development.

The market numbers are even more astounding. According to Bill McClean (IC Insights) ihe average selling price of an integrated circuit (IC) was $1.35 with an astounding 193 billion (yes, billion with a “B”) units shipped in 2012. This $259 billion global semiconductor market needs to be viewed in the context of an estimated $60 trillion in global gross domestic product (GDP) for 2012. From 2010 through 2012, McClean found a 0.99 correlation between GDP growth and IC market growth which he predicts will continue through 2016. Therefore, thinking about the monetary scale requires twelve (12!) orders of magnitude. Definitely, difficult to quickly wrap one’s thinking around. The global markets may be why ISS opened with three economists starting with a keynote by John Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on Monday. When was the last time you needed to include quantitative easing in the market analysis of your technology product?

From the global economic outlook and semiconductor market forecasts, the conference shifted to exploring the drivers of these markets in the second half of Monday. Tuesday morning was focused on discussion of supply chains for end customers, equipment manufacturers, and material suppliers. During Tuesday afternoon, strategic development in materials were discussed. Jan Vardaman (TechSearch International) delivered a well needed wake up call that 3D semiconductor packaging is simply not ready for high volume manufacturing (HVM) on the basis of material availability, process readiness, and enabling electronic design automation (EDA) tools.

Wednesday morning started with the “Opportunities at the Edge” exploring the future direction of technology applications including cognitive systems by Dario Gil (IBM), utility scale solar power by Peter Carrato (Bechtel Corporation), advances in automotive technology by Kal Gyimesi (IBM), and ingestible ICs used to uniquely identify medicine a patient swallows by Andrew Thompson (Proteus Digital Health). The final session of the conference was the “Streetviews Panel” where financial analysts provided their insights into the semiconductor equipment and materials market.

Each session and every presentation was excellent and worthy of a detailed summary. What is critical is knowing how the information presented impacts a specific market segment. The equipment and materials market along with the supporting markets of semiconductor and automated test are too large to be treated homogeneously. I am certain that every executive present at ISS was busy filtering the data through the lens of their business and specific markets. Without this focus it is difficult to absorb everything covered, similar to the challenge of scale with 9 to 12 orders of magnitude. Throughout the coming year, what I have learned at ISS will help me shape the big picture and provide critical knowledge for detailed analyses when working to solve my client’s problems.

I may also explore one or more of these gems of knowledge in more detail in a future blog post. I am certain know this knowledge will serve me well until ISS next year. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss how any of this relates to your business challenges please don’t hesitate to ask me.



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