Thoughts from the Executive Office

Maestro PR Blog: Leading-Edge Technology or Lagging It, Collaboration is Key ~ Part 2

While Common Platform Technology Forum  (CPTF) attendees were debating timelines for EUV and 14nm finFETs and putting 7nm on the roadmap in February, Fab Owners Association (FOA) members were examining ways to mine revenues from legacy equipment and 200mm and 300mm wafer fabs.   These conversations highlight one of the main differences between the groups. At CPTF, the timetable is in years.  At FOA, the timeline is today.. now… as soon as possible… keep the line up and running.  Otherwise, a customer might see delayed deliveries.

 

In both scenarios, the key to success is collaboration. (See Part 1 of this blog topic.) The difference is in the details of how collaboration is structured and implemented. Four key differences:

  1. Timing.  The future arrives at any date we choose. Consider how many timelines you’ve seen for EUV over the past three years (or more).  For current fabs, timing is literally when the customer needs delivery.
  2. Shared Knowledge. R&D is costly and time-to-market is a winner-take-all factor. For mature fabs, collaboration means cooperative problem-solving where solutions let both parties win.
  3. Cost. No discovery, improvement, or advancement comes without a price tag.  What customers need to understand or learn is that the future is the ticket to continued success in improving health, the environment, and our lifestyles. The cost is high, but it must be paid.  Right down to the consumer.
  4. Service vs. Technology.  Legacy fabs have partners that are really service companies that provide technological (not technology) solutions.  Advanced semi companies, like Common Platform members, partner with technology companies that provide technology.

 

For FOA members, the concept of collaboration takes on an immediate urgency.  After all, we’re not talking vision and blue sky. We’re talking about getting a customer order out now.  Suppliers become the go-to, must-have resource for solutions.  This is where the FOA meeting glowed.  The collaboration between integrated device manufacturer (IDM) and supplier shone through every presentation, highlighting cooperation in the successful delivery of quality products. 

 

Suppliers in this business environment must have knowledge of legacy equipment, the manufacturing process, and how to solve problems quickly.  And not just at a working level, but at the corporate level.  While these companies would place themselves in the equipment business sector, one day with them clearly shows they sell service.

 

Anyone unfamiliar with the IDM business model and their products might have two questions:

  1. Why would a semiconductor company continue to use legacy equipment to sell semiconductors made in older technologies?  Of course, the primary answer is cost. The cost of new equipment is counted in high millions of dollars.
  2. Why would a systems company use older technology instead of the newest, fastest, tiniest chip?  Of course, the answer is cost!  But wait, there’s more.  Markets based on MEMS, LEDs, solar, sensor, equipment for rugged environments, to name a few, can function quite well on established semiconductor processes.

 

Markets and Money.  Reliablity and Quality Count, Too

Think about it. We’ve seen the solar market heat up and cool like meteor over and over.  By relying on established, reliable technology and manufacturing processes, companies have been able to create a new market for less investment and cost than if they had utilized the newest processes.

 

And then there’s money. There’s still significant revenue to be made in the applications mentioned above, and others.  See SEMI (www.semi.org) and Semico (www.semico.com) for their data on this.

 

Quality and reliability in any part of the semiconductor industry are paramount.  Here, the tried-and-true 200mm and 300 mm manufacturing processes can drum out reliable, quality products quickly and at a compelling price. 

 

Three Impressive FOA Associate Members ~ What Successful Suppliers Do

Three supplier companies particularly impressed me at the FOA meeting because they all shared qualities that make suppliers successful. Those qualities are:

  1. Dedication to the success of the client.
  2. Smart thinking about finding and delivering solutions.
  3. Focusing on delivering a complete solution. By that I mean, not just delivering what the customer asks for, but going beyond expectations in terms of the process of defining problems, fixing the problem,  ensuring that the solution meets most up-to-date specs and requirements, providing ongoing support, educating the customer and thinking ahead to solving other challenges before they happen.
  4. Liking what they do.

 

The Suppliers

Concept Manufacturing Systems, Inc. (www.csmanufacturing.net) dedicates itself to supporting all legacy Novellus 200mm equipment, including Concept One, Concept Two and the Gastronics product line. Besides offering spare part and upgrade support, they repair, refurbish and rebuild equipment.  They also train operators, process engineers and others on the operation of equipment, along with troubleshooting and maintenance procedures.

 

Over at Microtronic (www.microtronic.com), the company manufactures and sells macro-defect semiconductor inspection equipment, sorters and metrology products.

 

Robert Rhoades, PhD, of Entrepix (www.entrepix.com), presented a most compelling discussion for the benefits of remanufacturing and the business model of companies that successfully serve the IDM business sector.  The company’s expertise is in chemical mechanical polishing (CMP), wafer surface conditioning and metrology solutions.

 

Back to the FOA

Beyond the everyday challenges, FOA members considered their future.  What exactly is the IDM lifespan in an increasingly fables world?  The good news is that 200mm/300mm wafers and production of these semiconductors I alive and well. Suppliers continue to support legacy systems and manufacturing tools, so cost remains an attractive selling point. With tenuous timelines for EUV and the host of challenges in leading-edge technologies, the comfort of known manufacturing methods is another check-mark on the side of the IDMs.  And, as long as new applications, like MEMS and solar, can use older technologies and processes, there will be a market.

 

The question for IDMs is how to keep their business fresh, attractive to customers, and relevant to today’s world.  These are not answers that can be placed on a timeline. And so, in some ways, the challenges here are tougher than figuring out physics.

~Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & Public Relations

Note: Maestro PR does not represent the three supplier companies mentioned here.

 

Maestro PR Blog: Leading-Edge Technology or Lagging It, Collaboration is Key ~ Part 1

Two very different conferences focused on opposite ends of the semiconductor industry took place this week.  The Common Platform Technology Forum (CPTF) was all about the future and how the Common Platform host companies – Samsung , IBM, GLOBALFOUNDRIES – are going to take us there with their partners.

 

A few miles away, the Fab Owners Association (FOA) members were talking about how integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) can mine mature processes and technologies to sustain their growth.

 

Interestingly, both conferences beat the same thematic drum: Collaboration is the key to success, whether your company is designing chips in 14nm with cutting-edge technologies, or striving to stay viable with 0.18um (or larger) manufacturing processes and equipment from yesteryear.

 

And both conferences delivered the same stark message:  Whether you are at the leading-edge of technology, or the lagging-edge, collaboration is the only way to succeed.

 

Takeaways from Common Platform

Do you ever stop to think about the technology that enables you to have the power of a computer in the form of a smartphone?  If you don’t, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably amongst the majority of smartphone owners.  And semiconductor companies like it that way.  They want you to appreciate the phone as a phone that can do lots of things, rather than as a conglomeration of semiconductors made of electronic connections.

 

And, if you want more features on your phone…say the ability to program the temperature of your house so it’s nice and cozy when you arrive home on a cold, dreary night…Fine!! The semiconductor industry doesn’t mind. We’re happy for the challenge.  And we’re happy when you can add this capability by calling it an “app” and paying a small fee for it.

 

Defining Collaboration

But, let’s get real. Every time you add an app, there are dozens of companies and hundreds of people working to make it happen.  That’s one part of collaboration.

 

The other part of collaboration is MONEY.  (Yes, everything does come back to the money.)

 

Consider that innovating a new system for you to buy tomorrow costs in the neighborhood of $100 million dollars. Why?  Because your tablet, your smartphone, and your notebook computer that’s thinner and lighter than your 6th grader’s 3-ring binder are really complex systems. Researchers, designers, engineers, scientists and others are the brains behind the products.  And behind these people are technologies in the form of EDA, microprocessor, memory, logic, foundry, packaging/assembly, test, and equipment resources that all have a hand in the success of every system. That’s collaboration in action. I can’t think of another industry that has this level of cooperation.

 

The business part of collaboration is that it is the backbone of innovation. At a $100 million price tag, individual companies cannot afford to create new systems.  So collaboration becomes a necessity. And we all know what necessity is: it’s the mother of invention.

 

Collaboration reduces the cost of innovation by spreading it out amongst expert companies with special skills.  It reduces risk by tapping the right talent in the right company or research organization, whether the talent is for an embedded processor or a fabrication twist.

 

Collaboration allows companies to bring new products to market faster. By putting lots of talent together, solutions can be created, tested and productized more quickly than by working alone.

 

And, as the CPTF showed, collaboration brings the industry’s best brains together to tackle some of the most difficult challenges we’ve ever faced:  making the smallest device structures even smaller and manufacturing them in high-volume with the quality and reliability necessary for market success.

 

FinFET Frazzle is Nearly Over

CPTF examined two areas of continuing concern:  FinFETs and EUV. Technologists seem to have the issues surrounding finFETs defined, with “defined” being the operative word. Again and again, speakers reminded the audience that accurate modeling of the fin is crucial. With finFET issues more or less under control, more sophisticated mobile apps at 14nm and below are possible.

 

(For an excellent background on FinFETs, get a copy of “FinFET: The Promises and Challenges”, by Jamil Kawa and Andy Biddle, both of Synopsys. The article is excerpted from Issue 3, 2012 newlsetter, “Synopsys Insight” [www.synopsys.com].)

 

EUV -- Ugh

EUV remains that elusive goal in sight but still just out of reach. It’s daunting to think how much money has been poured into EUV development and how much more money, time and talent it’s going to take. Suffice to say, it will happen, but it’s going to be a tough road built on small gains.

 

Common Platform seers said the semiconductor industry belongs to the biggest companies. When faced with creating the future of semiconductors and products for the masses, that statement certainly rings true. These are the companies that have the infrastructure, the money, and the know-how to discover solutions and bring them to the practical level of design and manufacture.  And as long as consumers will want to be connected to every aspect of their world, we can only wish these industry giants godspeed.

~Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR(sm), 07 February 2103

Maestro PR Blog: What’s Your Story? Using narrative to market your company.

Storytelling has become the trendy way to boost a blog, pitch a start-up, or revamp an old company.  While it’s touted as the newest tool to maximize marketing efforts, storytelling is an old approach with a new twist to build its appeal. New or old, all successful stories must be compelling.  And there are lots of them if you just look.

 

As part of an email conversation, a colleague mentioned a new book about using storytelling as a marketing tactic.  Someone quipped that embedded-technology companies were all boring and had no stories to tell.  It was one of those comments that’s funny at first, and then raises all kinds of questions, like, is this person bored, burned-out, jaded, or simply unaware that every company not only has a story to tell, but also that its success depends on it.  That’s a question answered below.  For everyone else who knows there is a story to tell, this old form is worth a second look.

 

What is Storytelling?

It is not the bedtime story kind or even a beach-read. The idea is to present information, even technical data, in a friendly narrative that reads like, well, a story. Storytelling allows companies to add content quickly to a website because writers use common words and expressions instead of corporate jargon, which tends to sound like a legal document.  Informal, even folksy, language makes reading fast and easily understandable. It saves a customer time.  It gives a face to the company and makes customers feel like they are dealing with people they can relate to on a friendly level rather than a formal arms-length business basis.

 

From a functional perspective, storytelling allows many employees to create content to populate a website instead of placing the burden on appointed writers. Customers see a friendly face on every aspect of the company, from the ‘about us’ icon to products, technology, news, service, and especially sales.

 

By creating a massive amount of information in a short time, websites can be vibrant with new information posted frequently.  Added together, the stories can build and strengthen the company’s brand and market position. 

 

We all know that the web creates a level playing field in terms of giving visibility to the smallest companies.  With the ability to draw information from many employees, or storytellers, small companies can appear larger and, most importantly, generate the information necessary to build their customer base or even attract new employees.

 

Is storytelling just for high-tech? No.  Like many other smart marketing and sales techniques, tech companies have borrowed the concept from consumer markets. In its current form, we can probably credit social media sites like YouTube® and blogs for its popularity.  It’s even popular amongst foodies.  Just Google ‘storytelling in food blogs’ to see examples of how individuals are creatively attracting attention to their sites. 

 

Storytelling – an ancient form revamped.

Every good journalism major knows all about the art of storytelling. Naturally, in college, it’s got names like ‘exposition’ or ‘essay’.  That’s so the college can charge lots of money for the course and help the student convince his parents a journalism major is just as valuable as a law degree.

 

While I would love to tell you that the first storytellers were word people, early records seem to show they were artists.  The cave paintings in Lascaux, France, and Spain date from 35,000 – 40,000 B.C.  Bulls, reindeer, horses and other animals crowd the walls in rich palettes of ochre and red minerals.  Later, Egyptians produced their wall art.  Storytelling might have continued on this way, except that these early men had  a problem incorporating foreshortening, or perspective, into their storyboards. That’s why everyone was shown in profile, marching along in single file.

 

About 5,000 BC (give or take 1,000 years), the earliest language experts finally got some attention. Egyptians developed hieroglyphics to describe what all those carvings were about.  Hieroglyphics cleared the way for alphabets. (Of course, all this happened in China, too, but it’s too diverting to include that part of history here.) The invention of papyrus relieved slaves of hammering all those figures into stone, and the scribe profession was born.  Handwriting continued as the storytelling form of choice, until Gutenberg invented the printing press. From there, we all pretty much are up to date on history highlights.

 

Pictures and Videos are not enough.

Just in case you are thinking that video does the job of storytelling today…WRONG!  We cannot escape the imperative of the written word. Pictures – even the best ones – cannot take the place of the need for words. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but the problem is those words translate into thoughts that can be vastly different to everyone who looks at a picture. Video is alluring, but it is nothing without words. Even silent films needed words at the bottom of the screen to tell the story.

 

With every drawing or picture, we need explanations to tell us what the writer is trying to communicate, what we should think, do, act on.  How to think about a company. How the company wants to be thought of. What differentiates it.  What makes it special. What its values are.  What it can offer a customer that its competitors cannot.

                                                

This is what makes storytelling special and important.

 

Is there a problem with storytelling as a marketing technique?  Yes.  After all, this is planet earth, not heaven.  The biggest problem is that instead of telling one cohesive story, companies start adding different stories with different themes and topics. The result is a mish-mash of information that leaves readers (ie, customers) confused about what your company does and how it can help them.

 

Content overload is another problem.  Too much information can be overwhelming and tends to include details not really necessary to a site visitor.  After all, the goal is to provide the right information thoroughly and efficiently. Too much information may eliminate the need for a customer to call.

 

How to proceed.

Business slide presentations and websites are nicely divided into sections.  The author creates categories and slips relevant information into each category: the company overview, executives, financials, customers, products, and so forth.  Every time a new piece of information is gathered, another slide is created. On the web, another column is filled.  It is so easy to create categories and fill them with factoids that there is no running theme that ties the information together.  At the end of searching a site or listening to a presentation, the customer may end up with no overall compelling reason to do business with you.

 

The idea of storytelling is to create a common theme and thesis about the company. It may be service, quality, value, knowledge, expertise. Whatever.  It is the last impression a customer should have about you.  And storytelling in a friendly, interesting and compelling way is what makes the company stand out.

 

Information still needs to be catalogued, but every section of a site or presentation should carry a thread from another section with some common concepts.

 

Back to Boring

Much of what happens in marketing and public relations is not about implementation. It is rather about finding the stories to tell.  Every company has them.  Product stories are the easiest to identify. When there are no new products, look around. There are other stories: Applications where products fit. Technologies – new or old – that create or expand markets. Problems that need to be solved. Solutions that may not be widely known.

 

Semiconductor Technology Stories

MEMS technology today is based on older manufacturing process technologies. So is solar. Semiconductor manufacturing process techniques can have rich application in solar manufacturing, especially in the quality and reliability arenas.  3D packaging is giving new life to older process technologies.  Battery power is a constant challenge, whether in handheld devices or the plane taking you to your next meeting. Sensors are finding new applications in food date-stamping as well as security.  And the list goes on! None of these are new technologies. And none have reached their potential. That’s for the scribes to find out and write it down…in a story.

 

~Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR(sm)

 

Maestro PR: The cheapest form of PR

An article in the June 2012 issue of AARP Bulletin (www.aarp.org/bulletin) featured products that are vanishing -- like piggy banks and toilet paper. No, I can't tell you. You have to read it for yourself. Bundled in the "going, going, almost gone" category was the Rolodex. What???

While I can accept the fact that the Rolodex itself may be outmoded for some, surely people won't give up the idea of having business cards. A business card is the cheapest form of personal PR that a person can do to introduce themselves, make a personal connection with, and be remembered by. It allows people to greet you, take your card and keep -- or toss -- your contact information when they arrive home. You may not keep a lot of cards, but I still find that business cards are my quickest reference to people I want to contact now or later. Looking through my card file is faster than looking up someone on the web or trying to remember a name I scrawled on a tablet. Personal connections are still the most important path to a business relationship. The card is the tangible evidence of making that connection and building on it.

~Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR

Maestro PR Blog: R&D, Semiconductors and the Business of Illness

Medicine and the diagnosis, treatment, cure and care of illnesses have long remained outside the realm of the mainstream semiconductor target markets. The small sales volumes just weren’t worth the hassles of rigorous performance standards, lengthy government regulations, lawsuits from potential system malfunction, and long, drawn-out sales cycles imposed by the medical community itself. Now that’s changing, thanks to an impatient aging population that wants self-managed healthcare. But – there’s always a “but” -- change can happen faster. What’s going to make it happen?? Well, how about the industry kicking some real butt to beef-up R&D, awareness and adoption of new technologies?? In short, by 1) adapting innovative technologies to biomedical applications; 2) raising awareness of technologies amongst consumers as well as industry; and 3) building coalitions of companies that will become the infrastructure for ready adoption. Thanks to semiconductors, a 1990s-style mainframe computer fits into your 5-year-old’s hand, and the software lets a 1-year-old “turn” electronic pages and watch Elmo sing and dance on an Apple I-Pad. And don’t forget that we’ve also sent men to the moon. So our industry has the expertise, the semiconductors to do the work, and the knowhow to create future solutions. Other answers came from Imec’s (www.imec.be) technology forum (#ITFUS) – co-hosted by SEMI (www.semi.org) -- on 09 July. Semicon West (www.semi.org) attendees were treated to a look at the future of technology from Imec’s unique R&D vantage point. My take-away for hastening biotech solutions to market is that we need… 1) R&D -- linked to end market requirements. 2) Awareness – among consumer and companies about potential uses of technology for the analysis of disease, as well as the need for speedy diagnosis, treatment, cure, and care. 3) Personal management -- The ability to help consumers manage their own healthcare, especially in the case of chronic conditions. 4) Available technology – to deliver high-quality semiconductor devices 5) Affordability – of products All of these criteria are in place now, but to varying degrees. If we implement these five criteria with more energy, I believe our industry can make the medical market surge into the next massive global market shift since smart phones. During his initial remarks at the ITF, Luc van den Hove, imec president, mentioned that R&D needs to be closer to market commercialization. I’m not putting that remark in quotes because I didn’t write it down when the statement was made. Instead, it was a comment that kept nagging at me as the day progressed. Finally, I hastily scrawled it on a sheet scratch paper as I walked to the parking garage that evening. Of all the notes I made and tweets I tweeted, that remark kept coming back to me as one of the most profound statements during the day. R&D needs a cooperative approach, a new paradigm towards commercialization. The kinds of solutions we need to address diseases are complex and expensive. We need cooperative R&D to make them happen. And going it alone to do the research, development up front and then creating an infrastructure and market environment is too costly for one company. And too vital to wait for new techniques to drizzle down from R&D centers or university labs. We need a new convergence of consumers and industry. The old convergence model blended consumer, communications and computer interests. The new convergence is consumers, technology, and applications. Consumers are an impatient bunch. When we tap a number, we want a phone connection. When we punch a key, we want a letter to pop up instantaneously on the keyboard. The whole idea behind touch screen page turning is because it takes too much time to hit a ‘return’ key. Consumers want technology to make their lives better. And technology can deliver the goods in the world of medical diagnosis, treatment, cure and follow-on care – if there is cooperation between the two fields and if consumers begin to demand more accurate and faster diagnostic tools, holistic treatments leading to cures; and/or at-home, independent follow-up and care. In his ITF presentation, Serge Biesemans of Imec said that life expectancy increases thanks to technology, medical tools for diagnosis, treatment and awareness. The word “awareness” is another of those profound concepts that requires another look. Consumer awareness is what forces change, but, typically, consumers don’t think about pushing for medical advancement until they are ill and need it immediately. By then, they’re in the medical process, and their options and time to research solutions have narrowed. (I know whereof I speak.) The other problem is that technologists I’ve spoken to say that technology should be ‘transparent’. Just as consumers are blissfully unaware of the semiconductors that operate their cars, some believe that technology should be so deeply embedded in a product that it isn’t even considered. To me, this says we need to educate consumers to features they should demand in medical products. Transparent embedded technology can come later. To update new products, consumers have to be the ‘push’ for change today. Biesemans showed a slide featuring the invention of the microscope. (I’m using a date of 1674 and crediting Anton van Leeuwenhoek.) Although the device is nearly 350 years’ old, the new model is like the old model in one important way: It still requires a human to operate it and translate the data. Technology can improve the way this is done. Chris Van Hoof, also Imec, stated today our focus is on managing illness rather than managing our health, making the process slow and costly. If we turn our attention to managing our health, he said, we improve our chances of prevention and reduce the cost of medical treatments when they are needed. New products for measuring stress levels, disease indicators found in our breath, and the health of our skin are all in the works today. The technology is here. The solutions are in place. Many of the technologies needed to bring products to market are available from the semiconductor industry already: nano-sized systems, massive memory, low power, 3D packaging, and so on. Now we need collaboration with consumers and medical systems companies to bring these products to market faster. What are we waiting for? ~Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR.

Maestro PR Blog: Remembering Bob Pease

Peggy Aycinena always has a vivacious commentary in her blog, "EDA Confidential" (www.aycinena.com). Peggy's current edition features her commentary titled, 'Pop Pop and iPop'  and talks about the impact of Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs on the world in the past 60 years.  Interesting reading, but her commentary on the passing of Bob Pease in June struck me the most.  While not a world-famous iconic celebrity, Bob gained his fame within his industry and helped the people within it to think in a different way, including me.

From 1986 - 1989, I was worldwide PR manager at National Semi, so had plenty of meetings with Bob Pease. His 'office'-- at National, that translated to a small cubicle -- was stacked and stuffed with papers, books and magazines, and Bob was always contemplating or hatching some new concept.  He was a consistent author in our article writing program, so some of his ideas were published in the trade press, and others were grabbed by National, or left in Bob's 'cube' for another day. In 1991, about two years after I left National and went to VLSI Technology, my husband and I were backpacking in a remote area of the Eastern Sierra Mountains. We had been out for a week or so when a bad rainstorm washed us out.  We were hiking back to the trailhead along a little-used narrow path that clung to the wall of the mountain on one side with a lake below it. I was completely bedraggled, disheveled, wet, grimy and happy that one I knew could see me.  Just then, I looked down the path and saw what looked like a robotic man marching stiffly toward me. The man wore something suspiciously like an aluminum colander on his head. Wires hung from the colander-cap and linked up with a metal collar around the neck. The wires then extended from the collar to the elbows and wrists, as well as connecting to a metal belt around his waist. The wires dangled down to the man's knees and ankles.  I was so astounded, I just stopped on the trail. As he approached, I recognized him and gasped, "BOB PEASE???!!! What YOU doing HERE? And WHAT are you doing?!" Just as if we had spoken the day before and ignoring the emotion in my greeting, Bob cheerfully returned a hello and answered my last two questions literally.  He had friends who were hiking that trail. Bob decided to follow along (way) behind them to test one of his theories. The theory was that people could generate batteries using their body motion and thus create their own power for a variety of devices.  He then explained that his elaborate wiring captured movements from every part of his body, and that the wires were attached to batteries.  There was a lot more to his explanation that delved into the nitty-gritty of analog signals, but it was lost on me.  I just kept thinking that if the storm started up again, chances were that Bob would be fried to a crisp by a bolt of Mother Nature's much more efficient electricity.Now that the concept of body area networks and energy-creation through movement is commonplace and in the R&D labs under study, Bob's early attempts -- however clumsy -- were visionary.  Bob demonstrated some of the best attributes of some engineers: curiosity about how and why things work, an investigative approach to problems, an open mind about where experiments might lead, and the practical bent to make the results work in real life. To me, this is innovation. 

While some have made money and gained fame for their ideas, others have made their contributions part of their work.  It's the best part of the semiconductor industry. Always has been.

~Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR, 27October 2011  

 

Maestro PR Blog: Semicon West Wrap-Up – Technology Matters

Semicon West still accurately takes the pulse of the semiconductor industry.  For those who were listening and taking notes this week, there were more ideas than any one person can act on. Hot topics: Memory as the industry’s ‘oil’, EUV, 22nm, 3D, power, sensors, materials, smart applications and devices, the cost of innovation.  Engineers wanted. 

Trade shows are an intense experience.  In three or four days, you become immersed in one subject; gather a lot of data; hear a lot of rumors; listen to a lot of opinions; network with everyone who matters to your business; and meet many who pass your consciousness like a dandelion seed in a stiff spring breeze. 

If you play the game right, it’s the most intense week you will spend, the most you can learn about your business, and the fodder for more ideas than you can implement – unless you’re an investor or entrepreneur. Semicon West, SEMI’s (www.semi.org) annual US-based show, offers all of the above.  While not as big – about 30,000 attendance, 711 exhibitors – as in former years, and without as many international visitors – Semicon West still takes an accurate pulse of the industry’s mood and trends better than any event I know of.   

Some of my personal favorite Semicon West highlights, including the some I already tweeted (Twitter: KalkisMaestroPR):

 

DRAMs, and memory in general, are the ‘oil’ of the semiconductor industry.  Those smart devices you want to carry in your pocket, take to the beach loaded with your favorite reads, or use for photo sharing can do more – if they have the memory to support all the news apps the devices will be more indispensable than ever. 

It’s too darn hot.  More functionality in less space equals more heat. Note to Engineering: Lower the product’s power consumption while you are adding the semiconductor content to make my smart phone smarter. 

Battery power.  WiFi is great – as long as my laptop and phone batteries – stay charged.  Batteries need to last longer and, oh yes, weigh less. 

I know what you did. Smart devices will gain new sensing capabilities to make them a tool.  Eventually, the smart ‘phone’ (for want of a better word), will communicate, record, report, catalog, inform proactively. 

Foundation technologies:

EUV.  There’s an old saying that Rome was not built in a day.  Neither will be the infrastructure for this technology. However, the semiconductor industry is moving aggressively to bring EUV production tools to market.  How’s it getting done? Cooperation on an international level that represents a model of how to get a massive task done together.  (Governments, please take note.) 

To the wall of physics:  22nm and beyond.  Not everyone needs it, but the big companies want it.  This year, most everyone knows it will happen. The question is who will be first. 

450mm wafers.  Same comment as 22nm. One additional note:  If you draw a Bell curve, 7.5% of the population is leading edge and 7.5% are early adopters, and 15% on the other side of the bell are laggards of one kind or another. That still gives you a sweet spot of 70% of the population.  This is where most semiconductor companies lie. Do they really need – and can they really afford -- the infrastructure needed to support  22nm or 450mm wafers?  I’m not convinced of it.    

It’s a material world.  Step aside, silicon, but don’t go too far.  Gallium Nitride, Silicon Germanium, tantalum, sapphire, copper, and the list goes on. The industry continues to search for materials that will infuse semiconductor chips with the functional density, speed, performance, and endurance needed for innovative new applications. The challenge is to find materials cheap, plentiful and dependable like good ole silicon. 

Enter 3D.  This was my favorite hot topic of the show, for 3D – stacking and aligning electronic functions on top of each other – holds promise for many semiconductor companies.   

At the Imec Smart Phone Forum, Eric Beyne, Imec’s scientific director advanced packaging and interconnect (www.imec.be), stated that smart phones are a killer app for 3D integration. The phones must have a small form factor, rich functionality, and low power consumption – all the attributes needed to leverage the benefits of 3D.  Produced in high volumes, smart phones also help amortize the cost of implementing 3D.   

That’s one piece of the 3D business model. The other piece is this:  When electronic functions are stacked on top of each other, the resulting device acts like a virtual system-on-chip. That means more functionality in less space and without the cost of 22nm or 450mm wafers, or even multiple chips taking up valuable real estate needed for smart electronics.  

 Applications: Imagine it and they will come.  Speakers at the Imec Smart Phone Technology Forum and Semicon West suggested amazing applications for the next wave of smart phones. The bottom line to each talk was this: Even if you think there are more apps on your smart phone than you can use or pay for now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  

Getting there from here.  We need three things to make the future happen: 

1)     Investment.  Every technology challenge mentioned offers tremendous opportunity for company and/or market growth. But someone’s got to pay for it.

2)   Entrepreneurial thinking.  We need fresh faces, energy, and new ideas to bring solutions to reality.   We need more engineers, maybe not the classical kind, but people who like to tinker, take things apart and put them together again, and see the world in a different way. 

 3)   Collaboration.  In R&D.  Between companies.  In bringing the next generation of technology to commercialization.   

There’s a quote attributed to Albert Einstein in “Three Rules of Work”:

1)    Out of clutter, find simplicity.

2)   From discord, find harmony.

3)   In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. 

There are some who, yes, see a glass half full.  These are the ones who attended Semicon West this year and showed the way for those willing to take a sip of the future.

~ Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR(sm), ©July 2011Note: Maestro PR represents Imec. 

Maestro PR Blog: Kudos to Germany’s Stand on Nuclear Power

Since German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced earlier this week that Germany would close its nuclear power plants by 2022, any number of country representatives and pundits have stepped forward to enumerate all the reasons her plan is not feasible:  Eleven years is too short a timeline to transition to renewable; the plan will burden fossil fuels to meet the energy needs of Germany; nuclear power is “clean” and plants can meet safety requirements if properly managed.  Some comments noted that Merkel’s party may have lost votes in last year’s election because she pushed a nuclear-power agenda when German voters were opposed to it. There was even a question to the universe asking how Germans would heat their homes in winter.

Getting a Government Nudge Spurs Innovation

Interestingly, the announcement was not the first of its kind. Italy rejected nuclear power in 1987 after the meltdown at Chernobyl a year earlier. Was there even a ripple then? Now, just 3 months following the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis, responses to Merkel’s proclamation were quick.  While most articles that I’ve read put forth logical and valid rejections to the plan, they are only part of the story.  By putting the government “foot” down on the growth of nuclear power in Europe’s largest economy, Merkel has signaled companies to speed efforts towards different power and energy solutions.  Imagine the opportunities for R&D centers, universities, and think-tanks to develop new solutions. Consider the creation of new jobs and the manufacturers, suppliers, services, infrastructure that be needed to bring the goal to reality. 

I believe Angela Merkel is indeed correct that Germany can be a global leader in developing the industry, infrastructure, market, and grid needed to adopt renewable for mass consumption. In fact, anyone can be a leader if they choose to be.

When new ideas are voiced, the easiest reaction is to find fault with them.  That’s only natural and, actually, is an important part of brainstorming. By identifying all that’s wrong with an idea, we are prepared to deal with flaws and invent alternative solutions. So ‘frying’ Merkel’s announcement was a reasonable response.  What is not reasonable is closing off all the possibilities that her announcement opens in terms of innovation and new solutions.

Innovation Needed; Investors Wanted

Incentives, tax credits, funding, investment, and plain old money are now needed to make the transition work.  It’s the same for any new industry, technology, or invention --  someone’s got to step forward and pay for development. Tough in this global economy, but it can be done. It’ll be refreshing to see funding spent on something that creates benefits for the good of the people.

Sample sites on Germany’s announcement

To read more about the announcement itself, here are three articles to check out:Energy Biz, article by Ken Silverstein: http://www.energybiz.com/article/11/05/nuclear-momentum-continues. USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2011-05-30-germany-nuclear-power_n.htm. Global Energy Watch: ttp://www.globalenergywatch.com/news/731/German_nuclear_shutdown_sets_global_example:_Merkel.htm

-ends-

The above comments are views of Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR(sm)

Maestro PR Blog: Journalists Jun Takahashi and Shinichi Kato Are Okay

Jun Takahashi, former editor-in-chief of the old Semiconductor International Japan magazine, and his family are all safe.  Shinichi Kato, journalist with Tech-On, is also safe. 

Many thanks to these journalists for letting their colleagues know that they are okay.

Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR (sm), 16 March 2011

Maestro PR Blog: Journalist Kenji Tsuda reports from Japan

Last Friday when the 9.0 earthquake struck Japan, Kenji Tsuda, longtime semiconductor industry journalist and owner of Japan-based Semicon Portal online news (www.semiconportal.com) was at work in Tokyo.  With trains at a standstill, Kenji tried to check into a hotel, but found no rooms were available.  So he started to walk home – 40 km from the city.  He stopped at a McDonald’s and was able to reach his wife and tell her he was safe. 

His son was also away from home when the quake struck, so he purchased a bicycle and biked home.  Despite the traffic, he was able to drive to Kenji’s location.  Fortunately, everyone is safe. 

As of today, there are still scheduled rolling blackouts in five delineated sections of Tokyo.  The blackout includes commuter trains, businesses, and factories in the assigned area, reducing train availability to 20%.  With train stations crowded and people in line at gas stations, Kenji reports that he and others are working from home during these tough days. Many thanks to Kenji for letting us know that he and his family came through this disaster in good order.  

 ~Barbara Kalkis, Maestro Marketing & PR (sm)