Don’t pop the champagne just yet! Although plenty of good news was shared at the 2014 SEMIIndustry Strategy Symposium (ISS) there was the sobering outlook of possible limited long-term growth due to technology issues as well as economic projections. Noticeable was the lack of news and updates on key industry developments.
This is the yearly “data rich” or “data overload” (take your pick) conference of semiconductor supply chain executives. The majority of the attendees and presenters are from the SEMI member companies that develop the equipment, materials, processes, and technology used to build, test, and package semiconductors. Keeping the pressure on for advanced technology were the “end customer” attendees and presenters – semi-conductor manufacturers.
Attending the SEMIIndustry 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.
Some consider the many of billions of dollars invested in the semiconductor supply chain to be huge bets on yet to be proven technology and future business. Even if you take a strict view of this as simply business it is possible to learn something from gambling.
Like the roller coaster ride that is the semiconductor industry, the SEMIIndustry Strategy Symposium (ISS) 2012 had its share of ups, downs, twists, and turns. Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International – better known as SEMI – as the industry association of suppliers to semiconductor manufacturers has held this annual conference in early January for thirty five years to provide updates on business conditions and technology roadmaps to enable SEMI members to plan for the coming year. The conference was packed with senior management paying close attention to the industry leaders, analysts, and customer presenters. All of the presentations, even the most poorly disguised sales pitch or infomercial, contained several valuable insights.
As the final presenter at this week’s IEEESemiconductor Wafer Test Workshop (SWTW), I outlined how critical it is to understand the true cost of a product’s architecture in “Probe Card Cost Drivers from Architecture to Zero Defects“. Without a proper understanding of these costs – especially for fully custom high technology products such as wafer test probe cards – it is impossible to maintain a sufficient gross margin. Gross margin is essential to maintain the health of a company and to fund the research & development required for innovation.
Yes, there were a few in the audience who appeared pleased since they are confident that their products are on the right path. There were others who may have been upset based upon their company’s direction. I would argue that a proper diagnosis – regardless of how disturbing – is essential to drive the proper cure.
There is plenty of opportunity in the test market and reasons for optimism. The key to long term prosperity is to really understand the fundamentals of the business and not be blinded by the technology.
I thank those who stayed for the entire conference and welcome your thoughts below. And I will be posting more about the conference (including my summaries) in the next few weeks.
Last week I was very busy visiting the combined SEMICON West and Intersolar North America trade shows in San Francisco. I had numerous meetings in addition to visiting the show floors and attending the excellent presentations. Based upon the lackluster show last year – I’ve heard some use “abysmal” to describe it – I almost hesitated to attend.
I’m happy to report that this year’s show was significantly better with a much more positive attitude and energy. SEMI’s preliminary attendance figure (for the combined show) is 29,461 which is up 32% from last year’s 17,048 verified attendance. This is significantly higher than both organizers expected. Intersolar had expected 1,600 visitors but had over twice as many. (The final numbers will be out in about two weeks in the “Post Show” report.)