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Round-up 2013: Best of semiconductors, electronics and solar


Virtex UltraScale device.

Virtex UltraScale device.

Friends, here’s a review of 2013! There have been the usual hits and misses, globally, while in India, the electronics and semiconductor industries really need to do a lot more! Enjoy, and here’s wishing everyone a Very Happy and Prosperous 2014! Be safe and stay safe!!

DEC. 2013
What does it take to create Silicon Valley!

How’s global semicon industry performing in sub-20nm era?

Xilinx announces 20nm All Programmable UltraSCALE portfolio

Dr. Wally Rhines: Watch out for 14/16nm technologies in 2014!

Outlook 2014: Xilinx bets big on 28nm

NOV. 2013
Indian electronics scenario still dull: Leaptech

Connecting intelligence today for connected world: ARM

India poses huge opportunity for DLP: TI

SEMICON Europa 2013: Where does Europe stand in 450mm path?

OCT. 2013
Apple’s done it again, wth iPad Air!

IEF 2013: New markets and opportunities in sub-20nm era!

SEPT. 2013
ST intros STM32F4 series high-performance Cortex-M4 MCUs

Great, India’s having fabs! But, is the tech choice right?

G450C

G450C

Now, India to have two semicon fabs!

Higher levels of abstraction growth area for EDA

AUG. 2013
Moore’s Law could come to an end within next decade: POET

What’s happening with 450mm: G450C update and status

300mm is the new 200mm!

JULY 2013
Xilinx tapes-out first UltraScale ASIC-class programmable architecture

JUNE 2013
EC’s goal: Reach 20 percent share in chip manufacturing by 2020!
Read more…

What does it take to create Silicon Valley!

December 29, 2013 1 comment

I was pointed out to a piece of news on TV, where a ruling chief minister of an Indian state apparently announced that he could make a particular state of India another Silicon Valley! Interesting!!

First, what’s the secret behind Silicon Valley? Well, I am not even qualified enough to state that! However, all I can say is: it is probably a desire to do something very different, and to make the world a better place – that’s possibly the biggest driver in all the entrepreneurs that have come to and out of Silicon Valley in the USA.

If you looked up Wikipedia, it says that the term Silicon Valley originally referred to the region’s large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers, but eventually, came to refer to all high-tech businesses in the area, and is now generally used as a metonym for the American high-technology sector.

So, where exactly is India’s high-tech sector? How many Indian state governments have even tried to foster such a sector? Ok, even if the state governments tried to foster, where are the entrepreneurs? Ok, an even easier one: how many school dropouts from India or even smal-time entrepreneurs have even made a foray into high-tech?

Right, so where are the silicon chip innovators from India? Sorry, I dd not even hear a word that you said? Can you speak out a little louder? It seems there are none! Rather, there has been very little to no development in India, barring the work that is done by the MNCs. Correct?
hsinchuOne friend told me that Bangalore is a place that can be Silicon Valley. Really? How?? With the presence of MNCs, he said! Well, Silicon Valley in the US does not have MNCs from other countries, are there? Let’s see! Some companies with bases in Silicon Valley, listed on Wikipedia, include Adobe, AMD, Apple, Applied Materials, Cisco, Facebook, Google, HP, Intel, Juniper, KLA-Tencor, LSI, Marvell, Maxim, Nvidia, SanDisk, Xilinx, etc.

Now, most of these firms have setups in Bangalore, but isn’t that part of the companies’ expansion plans? Also, I have emails and requests from a whole lot of youngsters asking me: ‘Sir, please advice me which company should I join?’ Very, very few have asked me: ‘Sir, I have this idea. Is it worth exploring?’

Let’s face the truth. We, as a nation, so far, have not been one to take up challenges and do something new. The ones who do, or are inclined to do so, are working in one of the many MNCs – either in India or overseas.

So, how many budding entrepreneurs are there in India, who are willing to take the risk and plunge into serious R&D?

It really takes a lot to even conceive a Silicon Valley. It takes people of great vision to build something of a Silicon Valley, and not the presence of MNCs.

Just look at Hsinchu, in Taiwan, or even Shenzhen, in China. Specifically, look up Shenzhen Hi-Tech Industrial Park and the Hsinchu Science Park to get some ideas.

Obama urges US to ‘keep going’ in clean energy!

February 13, 2013 4 comments

US president Barack Obama.

US president Barack Obama.

I was watching US president Barack Obama deliver the state of the union address. There was lot of positiveness. First, he urged the Congress to get together and pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change. He called for the nation to embrace the need for modest reforms in medical healthcare.

The USA’s first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, the US manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three years. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again. That should great news for the Americans!

Following the first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio, Obama announced the launch of three more manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Department of Defense and Energy to turn regions into global centers of high-tech jobs. He asked the Congress to help create a network of 15 hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made in America.

America, he said, was poised to control its energy future. The US has doubled the amount of renewable energy generated from sources like wind and solar — with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it. He urged the Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. He called to generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year — there’s a need to drive down costs even further! He urged the US to keep going all in on clean energy, like China. Obama added that those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen.

The initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, housing — will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. However, none of it will matter unless the US equips citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs. That has to start as early as possible, he urged!

Obama has signed a new executive order that will strengthen USA’s cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect national security, jobs, and privacy. He called upon the Congress to pass legislation that would give the government a greater capacity to secure USA’s networks and deter attacks.

As Obama said during his speech, “The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next!” Can India, at least, learn?

10 key trends for global PV industry

February 11, 2013 1 comment

Finlay Colville, vice president, NPD Solarbuzz, USA, recently presented the 10 key trends for the PV industry. According to him, the 10 key trends are:

1. PV demand growth. The industry has been characterized by strong growth rates of 25 percent to >100 percent Y/Y for the past decade. Now, the industry needs to plan for growth at more modest levels.

2. Globalization of PV demand. The emerging regions emerged for PV demand in 2012.

3. China end-market demand in 2013. China is forecast to account for approximately 25 percent global demand in 2013. The emerging demand is confined to a select group of countries across the three emerging regions.

4. Capacity imbalance reset. The nameplate capacity levels at the 60-GW level are often cited. However, the the PV industry currently has an ‘effective’ capacity of 41-42 GW. Therefore, demand needs to exceed 40 GW for proper reset.

Top module suppliers.

Top module suppliers.

5. Competitive shakeout. The top-10 module suppliers by MW for 2012 only comprised 50 percent of the year shipments. Also, a similar pattern is seen for c-Si cell production. We can expect another two years of shakeout on the supply side.

6. Cost and price rationalization. Every segment of the supply side is subject to price/cost pressure: from poly to BoS supply. Even reducing the silicon/nonsilicon costs of modules to 53c/W level by the end of 2013 may still result in negative gross margins.

7. Supply and demand rationalization. The poly suppliers have been operating at reduced utilization since 2H’12.

8. Evolution of PV technology roadmaps. Strong marketshare gains from standard c-Si multi ingot/wafers. The end-markets are driving module efficiencies and power ratings. The alternative growth methods have not gained traction and are being phased out.

9. Capital expenditure cyclic patterns. The PV process equipment suppliers have been impacted severely by overcapacity and overinvestments of 2010 and 2011. There is a strong chance that 2014 will end up as low as 2013. Also, technology-buy cycles don’t exist as yet in the PV industry.

10. Domestic protectionism counter measures. The effects of trade wars may yet have a profound effect on the PV industry into 2014. There will be direct effect of global overinvestment into domestic manufacturing. The other countries have an impact, but China and Europe decisions are key.

In summary, the PV industry is a 30-GW end-market today, and is forecast to grow to the 40-GW level in 2015. Europe demand is declining, but greater number of countries/territories expected to provide new PV demand. Demand in China during 2013 is essential for local suppliers.

The PV industry is capable of producing 12-15 GW per quarter. Supply and demand need a 40-GW+ market to balance. The shakeout phase is proceeding slowly, and will continue for the next two years. Reducing costs are not yet keeping up with price declines. ASP and ISP stabilization period is needed badly.

The end-market demand has become dependent on low ISPs. Also, multi c-Si based modules are dominating the industry. PV equipment suppliers are unlikely to see meaningful new order intake until 2014 or beyond. Finally, trade wars and domestic protectionism measures are crucially dependent on the EU and China decisions in 2013.

What’s this EoI got to do with semiconductor fabs in India?


Last week, I was alerted to a news on a local daily, which simply read: Government invites EoI for semiconductor fabs! With all due respect, what is the need for an Expression of Interest (EoI) in the first place? At least, I fail to understand!!

Having spent most of my life in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, I’ve seen plenty of fabs come up in the past decade, and before. Why? In the 1990s, no one used to even give a second look at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), which [I don't know if many are aware] started operations in 1987.

Back in the mid- to late-1990s, I had the pleasure of attending several trade shows at the Taipei World Trade Center (TWTC), Taiwan. In fact, I tracked the rise of the Taiwanese and Chinese companies in telecoms and semiconductors. Back then, no one even noticed TSMC, as well as the Chinese backed Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC). However, the art of manufacturing, which had found its bearings in Taiwan, were steadily shifting to China. I even remember visiting Huawei in the middle of 2000, and later ZTE.

By 2000, many of the Taiwanese firms had moved their operations to China for managing cheaper labor costs. Today, China has assumed gigantic proportions, hasn’t it? Today, even TSMC is in the list of top 10 global semiconductor companies. I had even written a post congratulating TSMC for making it to the top 10 R&D spenders during 2010.

What exactly does this EoI from the government of India set out to achieve? Well, for starters, the EoI should come from the technology companies on whether they are interested to start a fab in India. By the way, do you know what happened to the SIPS or the Indian semiconductor policy announced in 2007? It sank without a trace! A Karnataka Semicon Policy was unveiled with great fanfare last year. The result? No takers!! Read more…

Chinese fabless market set to double! And India’s?


I received a report from IHS iSuppli, which stated that China’s fabless market is likely to double by 2015! Well done, China, and all kudos.

According to the report, there are 3Cs – China, Consumer and Convergence — that China has been focusing on. However, there are three more Cs — Culture, Content and Contribution — that the report urges China to focus on.

The report states: “The companies must accommodate and adjust to the differing cultures of overseas customers. They must learn more about end-content sectors that drive the growth of technology markets. And China’s fabless firms must take advantage of government contributions to the industry, given that Beijing has instituted a range of policies designed to improve the fabless industry in areas including investments, tax rates and capital investments.”

Having taken its own sweet time,  the Chinese fabless industry is coming up well, and fast! However, what is the state of the fabless market in India?

If one goes back to Dec. 2009, Pravin Desale,  VP and MD India operations, LSI Corp., while speaking at Mentor Graphics’ U2U conference, had said that India has only two (2) fabless firms. If this number, or even a number below double digit is considered to be correct, then India surely has a lot of catching up to do!

Now, who are the leaders in the fabless semiconductor business globally? That’s Qualcomm, Broadcom, even AMD (as per 2010 reports), MediaTek and Marvell. Four of these companies are based in the USA, leaving MediaTek as the only Asian (Taiwan) representative.

Do Indian companies have the necessary experience of designing complete chips from scratch? Perhaps, some may have. Can the Indian companies get the silicon manufactured easily (local manufacturing) and later, debugging it? Here comes the first major gray area! Do the Indian companies have easy access to tools? Perhaps, some, most of them, have that access today!

Now, guess what? The last para — I had written about 7 years ago!  ;)

iSuppli raises 2010 foundry forecast; interesting lessons to learn for India from China’s story!


Yesterday, iSuppli raised its revenue forecast in 2010 for pure-play semiconductor foundry revenue, owing to the renewed demand for consumer-oriented electronics products.

Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst for semiconductor manufacturing, iSuppli.

Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst for semiconductor manufacturing, iSuppli.

“During the first three quarters of 2010, foundries were under intense pressure to meet customer demand,” said Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst for semiconductor manufacturing at iSuppli. “The pressure is leading to increased revenue, as consumer spending has come back with a vengeance following a dramatic downturn in the fourth quarter of 2008 and for all of 2009.”

iSuppli has raised its revenue forecast for all semiconductor foundry activity for 2010 to $29.8 billion, up 42.3 percent from 2009’s $22.1 billion. It had previously predicted revenue would rise 39.5 percent this year.

By 2014, total pure-play foundry revenue will reach $45.9 billion, managing a CAGR of 9.4 percent from $26.8 billion in 2008. Pure-play foundries are contract manufacturers whose business consists of producing semiconductors on behalf of other chip companies.

Thanks to my good friend Jon Cassell, I managed to hook up with Len Jelinek to find out more.

Enhancing foundry forecast
I started by asking Jelinek what were the chief reasons for enhancing the foundry forecast. Jelinek said: “The forecast increase is based on the anticipated strength in demand for products in Q2 and beyond. Additionally, it is also simple math. The foundry market had a good Q2, and last year, Q1 and Q2 were quite challenging. So, by having a good first half of the year, the percentage must increase.”

Also, given that there has been renewed demand for consumer electronics products, what are the specific CE products, besides netbooks, mobile phones, that have been seeing renewed demand, and why?

He added that televisions have shown significant growth. “Also, if you look at all of the consumer products that are growing — they are the new products that require advanced chips. The foundry suppliers are the primary suppliers of advanced technology 45nm and below. These are also the most expensive products that a foundry manufactures. This of course means that the revenue will go up. This trend will continue into the future because, with the exception of Intel, Samsung, IBM and Toshiba, there are no IDMs that have large volume production capacities at 45nm.” Read more…

Indian chip industry dead? You’ve got to be kidding me!


I was recently chatting with a friend at LSI, who asked my opinion on the Indian semiconductor industry. Interestingly, in one of my groups on LinkedIn, a member has started a discussion on ‘whether it is ripe for India to get a silicon IC fab’!

Complete contrast — an industry friend recently narrated an incident where this friend was asked by someone else — whether the Indian chip industry was dead! Wow!! Someone’s got to be kidding!

First, I can’t really determine what’s the expectation level among people regarding India’s semiconductor industry. It seems that the interest is starting to build up, at a very slow pace.

However, folks need to understand that the semiconductor industry is extremely complex. You can’t get away by making some sort of statement about this industry! There is much more to semiconductors than someone merely writing a headline — “recovery is in sight” or “recession hits semicon” or 32nm is a great process node”!

Why aren’t more headlines like “overcoming ASIC design productivity roadblocks,” or “What lithography tools are doing for the photoresist market” doing the rounds? Or even: “Are designers as conscious of yield as they should be?” If you can spot the difference, you can make some comment on the semicon industry!

Two, the Indian chip industry CANNOT BE DEAD! It never was, never has been and never will be! Most people would find it tough to answer when Texas Instruments first started operations in India! Why did it choose to start so early? Simply because it backed India as a center! Naturally, the Indian semiconductor goes back that early!

Some folks perhaps relate more to the semiconductor industry with the advent of the India Semiconductor Association. The Association is an industry body, fulfilling its need. However, a lot of work has been going on in semiconductors before ISA came into being. I wonder whether folks have really cared to track this industry in India. I do remember when I first starting covering semiconductors in India, in the early 2000s, there were lot of curious glances from others! :)

Coming back to the Indian semiconductor industry, from ‘Made for India’, it has moved on to ‘Made In India’. Isn’t that a significant shift?

As for silicon IC wafer fabs in India, or for that matter, any fab in India — yes, it is still a good time to have one! Perhaps, the last time around, patience seemed to run out! And that’s a hard lesson to learn for those looking to invest in fabs — there is NO quick turnaround time in semiconductors!

Moshe Gavrielov, Xilinx’s President and CEO, recently said in EE Times that venture capital would not return to the semiconductor industry, even after this recession. If this does happen, it would be very unfair! Where would all the start-ups go?

Again, this statement brings clarity to the subject of semiconductors — this is a very complex industry, and definitely unlike IT/ITeS. We in India are so much into services that we fail to see the wood from the trees!

People love to compare China with India. Friends, do visit China or even Taiwan! Try to find out how they went about building their semiconductor industry, and manufacturing and R&D ecosystems. There are several lessons to learn, numerous role models to follow.

I strongly believe India can very well go the same route! We need some good startups in India as well. If and when those happen, please do not expect fast turnaround times. Please believe in India, and believe in its semiconductor industry. It needs your support.

Nearly 60pc of China chip manufacturing goes unused in Q1: iSuppli


EL SEGUNDO, USA: Once the world’s fastest-growing chip-manufacturing region, China hit an all-time low in the first quarter of 2009, with nearly 60 percent of the nation’s semiconductor manufacturing capacity unused, according to iSuppli Corp.

Semiconductor manufacturing capacity utilization in China fell to 43 percent in the first quarter, the lowest level since iSuppli began tracking the market in 2000, and a massive drop from a recent high of 92 percent in the second quarter of 2004. This rock-bottom utilization rate comes as a direct result of low demand spurred by the global economic downturn. However, the utilization plunge indicates that China’s long-nurtured goal of establishing a vibrant domestic semiconductor production industry is in serious jeopardy.

“During the last 10 years, the Chinese government has worked to develop a domestic economy that would provide the nation with economic independence,” said Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst for semiconductor manufacturing at iSuppli. “The establishment of a technologically strong Chinese semiconductor industry was considered an essential element of China’s long-term domestic economic and technological independence. Unfortunately for China, the plan collapsed as global sales dried up before demand generated from internal sources was able to grow to match demand generated from the rest of the world. Once viewed by China’s government as a pillar of growth, semiconductor manufacturing has turned out to be a financial burden.”

China’s investments in capacity and technology in the semiconductor sector have not provided the financial returns that were forecast for investors, Jelinek added. Adding to China’s dilemma is the overestimation of capacity, which was expected to be shuttered in other regions in favor of lower-cost, more efficient Chinese manufacturing.

“With the addition of the current global economic recession, China’s focus has shifted from establishing semiconductor manufacturing independence to restructuring its entire chip industry before it simply collapses.”

China’s utilization is expected to rise moderately through the rest of the year, but will remain very low at 54 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. Over the longer term, utilization will rebound to 84 and 85 percent in 2012 and 2013. However, when utilization recovers to these levels, China’s semiconductor industry will look very different from how it has in the past, with the number of competitors in the industry likely to be dramatically reduced due to consolidation.

The figure presents iSuppli’s quarterly and annual estimate and forecast of semiconductor utilization in China.
Looking ahead
What will China’s semiconductor industry look like when utilization recovers?

“Since Chinese semiconductor manufacturers do not possess a technological differentiation from their competitors, they are at a disadvantage, since there is simply far too much of the same kind of capacity in the world chasing after the same opportunities,” Jelinek said.

“This will lead to mergers and consolidations. However, even if suppliers with similar technologies merge, will they create anything but larger companies with bigger cash-flow problems?”

At first glance, such a scenario is most likely what will happen. Nonetheless, there will be one ancillary effect that will significantly impact the landscape of companies in China: The bigger company will be viewed as the most likely survivor.

This perception will transform into reality as customers assure themselves of a strong supply source by aligning with the largest, most cost-effective semiconductor maker. In the end, the smaller company simply will be forced out because it is uncompetitive in technology and price.

No recovery until 2012
With iSuppli not forecasting a recovery for Chinese manufacturers until 2012, it is unlikely that weak companies can survive two years in the face of a negative cash flow.

iSuppli anticipates the first merger in China’s semiconductor industry will be finalized in the second quarter of 2009. This will signal that time is of the essence if a company or a group of companies is going to be able to weather the storm. iSuppli anticipates that by the second half of 2010, a smaller—yet stronger—semiconductor industry will emerge in China.

LCD monitor panel prices rising despite downturn: iSuppli


iSuppli Corp.’s LCD PriceTrak Service recently reported that prices for LCD monitor panels are rising, despite the weak economic situation and cuts in consumer spending. Isn’t this quite unusual, and on surface, really spectacular, given the recessionary conditions.

Thanks to my good friend, Jon Cassell, I was able to get into a conversation with Ms. Sweta Dash, director of LCD research at iSuppli. I started by trying to find out the reasons for LCD monitor panel prices to be doing reasonably well in these times.

China’s program driving demand
Sweta Dash said panel demand has been strong due to ‘China’s rural consumer stimulus program’, which increased sales of small-size TVs that uses monitor panels. Also, the panel demand was strong from branded manufacturers due to inventory adjustments.

She added: “Monitor brand manufacturers and retail channel orders mostly stem from the demand for inventory replenishment because they have kept their stockpiles at lower-than-normal levels since the end of 2008. Now, factory demand is strong as they need to buy panels for inventory adjustments.”

The figure here presents iSuppli’s estimate of pricing for various sizes of panels for LCD monitors.

In that case, is China’s rural customer stimulus program the only major factor behind this rise in prices of LCD monitor panels?

According to Dash, the other factor is the inventory adjustment by brand manufacturers. TV sales in the US were also better than expected due to the very aggressive prices by brand manufacturers.

“Some retailers reported that they could not meet their demand due to low inventories level. Now, they are trying to adjust the inventory level. Besides better than expected demand for TV and monitor panel, severe cut in factory utilization rates (severe cut in panel production) also contributed to the tight supply for the monitor panel and small-size TV panel, which resulted in panel price increase,” she noted.

Is there any specific reason behind the retailers placing higher orders during recession? Or is it only due to the very low prices?

Dash clarified that it is mostly inventory adjustments. “In March, the inventory levels for monitors at the brand and channel levels were below three weeks level; and some were at two weeks level, which is considered low for this time of the year. Also, once the panel price starts increasing, buyers try to buy more in order to take advantage of the very low price.”

Situation regarding component shortages
There was also a note in iSuppli’ report regarding component shortages. I was keen to find out the exact situation with component shortages, and which specific ones!

Dash said that there is tight supply for PCBs and driver ICs. The lead time for PCBs is extending from two to three weeks to four to six weeks; and the lead time for certain driver ICs is extending to about six to eight weeks.

No recovery soon!
Interestingly, iSuppli cannot declare that monitor end-market demand is headed for a sustainable recovery at this point.

Dash added: “In the absence of a strong rebound in end-market demand, rush orders are not likely to be sustained in May with component shortages being resolved by then. And, the forecast for panel demand is most likely to remain conservative at that time. Also, panel prices are still below cost level. Therefore, in spite of the increasing panel demand, suppliers are still losing money. Further, panel suppliers are rushing to increase their utilization rates and production.”

Koreans doing better than Taiwanese
Evidently, the Korean suppliers seem to be doing better than the Taiwanese, as of now. What would be the key reasons for this?

According to Dash, the Korean suppliers were able to provide more competitive prices due to weaker Won rates.

She added: “Also, the Korean suppliers have higher generation fabs, and they have more in-house or regional component production, which gives them the cost structure compared to Taiwan suppliers. They also have more internal customers (for example, Samsung LCD’s internal customer is Samsung TV and monitor brand).

Year ahead for LCD monitor panels
Finally, how does the year ahead look like for LCD monitor panels?

Monitor panel demand may face some softness after the inventory adjustment in Q209. That is the reason why panel suppliers have to expand their production cautiously.

“Otherwise, it has the danger of pushing the market back to over supply. We still expect real end-user demand to recover in the second half of 2009 especially by Q4-09. If panel manufacturers act cautiously and expand rationally in the first half of 2009, they can see real demand recovery in the second half of 2009,” noted Dash.

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