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STMicro intros M24SR dynamic NFC/RFID tag

February 21, 2014 Comments off

Amit Sethi

Amit Sethi

STMicroelectronics recently introduced the M24SR dynamic NFC/RFID tag.

Speaking about the USP of the M24SR, Amit Sethi, Product Marketing manager – Memories and RFID, STMicroelectronics India, said: “The unique selling proposition of the M24SR product is its two interfaces, giving users and applications the ability to program or read its memory using either an RF NFC interface or a wired I2C interface, in an affordable and easy-to-use device for a wide range of applications such as consumer/home appliance, OTP card, healthcare/wellness and industrial/smart meter.”

Let us see how the M24SR is beneficial for smartphone or any other audio device.

The M24SR is a dynamic NFC/RFID tag that manages the data exchange between the NFC phone and the microcontroller. The main use cases for data exchange are updating user settings, downloading data logs, and remote programming and servicing. The dynamic tag also enables seamless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi pairing, which is useful in, for example, audio devices.

How is the M24SR different from other products of the same segment?

Sethi said that the key difference is the dual interface: the M24SR memory can be accessed either by a low-power 2C interface or

M24SR

M24SR

by an ISO14443A RF interface operating at 13.56MHz. It also features RF status (MCU wake-up) and RF disable functions to minimize power consumption. In addition, the devices support the NFC data exchange format (NDEF from NFC forum) and 128-bit password protection mechanism.

The M24SR series is available in EEPROM memory densities from 2 Kbit to 64 Kbit and three package types: SO8, TSSOP8, and UFDFPN8.

What are the contributions of M24SR toward the Internet of Things?

Accotding to him, the M24SR dynamic NFC/RFID tag interactive and zero power capability, simplifies complex communications setups and enables data exchange among the home automation, wearable electronics, home appliances, smart meter, wellness, etc.

Especially with the NFC capability, the M24SR is ideal for applications waiting for something, like a ticket or ID to launch an activity.

Relevance for India
Finally, what’s the relevance of the product for the Indian market?

Sethi added: “Mobile and NFC based application are gaining its popularity in India. M24SR is an easy-to-use and an affordable product for the Implementation of NFC-based applications in transportation, entertainment, and lifestyle areas.

As for the go-to-market strategy, the M24SR mass market launch is planned for end of February 2014. Some M24SR samples have been delivered to key customers during Q4 2013 and design/development is ongoing.

3D remains central theme for Applied in 2014!

February 10, 2014 Comments off

Om Nalamasu

Om Nalamasu

Following a host of forecasts for 2014, it is now the turn of Applied Materials with its forecast for the year. First, I asked Om Nalamasu, senior VP, CTO, Applied Materials regarding the outlook for the global semicon industry in 2014.

Semicon outlook 2014
He said that Gartner expects the semiconductor industry to grow in mid-single digits to over $330 billion in 2014.

“In our industry – the semiconductor wafer fab equipment sector – we are at the beginning of major technology transitions, driven by FinFET and 3D NAND, and based a wide range of analyst projections, wafer fab equipment investment is expected to be up 10-20 percent in 2014. We expect to see a year-over-year increase in foundry, NAND, and DRAM investment, with logic and other spending flat to down.”

Five trends for 2014
Next, what are the top five trends likely to rule the industry in 2014?

Nalamasu said that the key trends continuing to drive technology in 2014 and beyond include 3D transistors, 3D NAND, and 3D packaging. 3D remains a central theme. In logic, foundries will ramp to 20nm production and begin early transition stages to3D finFET transistors.

With respect to 3D NAND, some products will be commercially available, but most memory manufacturers plan to crossover from planar NAND to vertical NAND starting this year. In wafer level packaging, critical mechanical and electrical characterization work is bringing the manufacturability of 3D-integrated stacked chips closer to reality.

These device architecture inflections require significant advances in precision materials engineering. This spans such critical steps as precision film deposition, precision materials removal, materials modification and interface engineering. Smaller features and atomic-level thin films also make interface engineering and process integration more critical than ever.

Driving technology innovations are mobility applications which need high performance, low power semiconductors. Smartphones, smart watches, tablets and wearable gadgets continue to propel industry growth. Our customers are engaged in a fierce battle for mobility leadership as they race to be the first to market with new products that improve the performance, battery-life, form-factor and user experience of mobile devices.

How is the global semiconductor industry managing the move to the sub 20nm era?

He said that extensive R&D work is underway to move the industry into the sub-20nm realm. For the 1x nodes, more complex architectures and structures as well as new higher performance materials will be required.

Some specific areas where changes and technology innovations are needed include new hard mask and channel materials, selective material deposition and removal, patterning, inspection, and advanced interface engineering. For the memory space, different memory architectures like MRAM are being explored.

FinFETs in 20nm!
By the way, have FinFETs gone to 20nm? Are those looking for power reduction now benefiting?

FinFET transistors are in production in the most advanced 2x designs by a leading IDM, while the foundries are in limited R&D production. In addition to the disruptive 3D architecture, finFET transistors in corporate new materials such as high-k metal gate (HKMG) that help to drastically reduce power leakage.

Based on public statements, HKMG FinFET designs are expected to deliver more than a 20 percent improvement in speed and a 30 percent reduction in power consumption compared to28nm devices. These are significant advantages for mobile applications.

Status of 3D ICs
Finally, what’s the status with 3D ICs? How is Applied helping with true 3D stacking integration?

Nalamasu replied that vertically stacked 3D ICs are expected to enter into production first for niche applications. This is due primarily to the higher cost associated with building 3D wafer-level-packaged (WLP) devices. While such applications are limited today, Applied Materials expects greater utilization and demand to grow in the future.

Applied is an industry leader in WLP, having spear-headed the industry’s development of through silicon via (TSV) technology. Applied offers a suite of systems that enable customers to implement a variety of packaging techniques, from bumping to redistribution layer (RDL) to TSV. Because of work in this area, Applied is strongly positioned to support customers as they begin to adopt this technology.

To manufacture a robust integrated 3D stack, several fundamental innovations are needed. These include improving defect density and developing new materials such as low warpage laminates and less hygroscopic dielectrics.

Another essential requirement is supporting finer copper line/spacing. Important considerations here are maintaining good adhesion while watching out for corrosion. Finally, for creating the necessary smaller vias, the industry needs high quality laser etching to replace mechanical drilling techniques.

FinFETs delivering on promise of power reduction: Synopsys

February 1, 2014 Comments off

Here is the concluding part of my conversation with Synopsys’ Rich Goldman on the global semiconductor industry.

Rich Goldman

Rich Goldman

Global semicon in sub 20nm era
How is the global semicon industry performing after entering the sub 20nm era? Rich Goldman, VP, corporate marketing and strategic alliances, Synopsys, said that driving the fastest pace of change in the history of mankind is not for the faint of heart. Keeping up with Moore’s Law has always required significant investment and ingenuity.

“The sub-20nm era brings additional challenges in device structures (namely FinFETs), materials and methodologies. As costs rise, a dwindling number of semiconductor companies can afford to build fabs at the leading edge. Those thriving include foundries, which spread capital expenses over the revenue from many customers, and fabless companies, which leverage foundries’ capital investment rather than risking their own. Thriving, leading-edge IDMs are now the exception.

“Semiconductor companies focused on mobile and the Internet of Things are also thriving as their market quickly expands. Semiconductor companies who dominate their space in such segments as automotive, mil/aero and medical are also doing quite well, while non-leaders find rough waters.”

Performance of FinFETs
Have FinFETs gone to below 20nm? Also, are those looking for power reduction now benefiting?

He added that 20nm was a pivotal point in advanced process development. The 20nm process node’s new set of challenges, including double patterning and very leaky transistors due to short channel effects, negated the benefits of transistor scaling.

To further complicate matters, the migration from 28nm to 20nm lacked the performance and area gains seen with prior generations, making it economically questionable. While planar FET may be nearing the end of its scalable lifespan at 20nm, FinFETs provide a viable alternative for advanced processes at emerging nodes.

The industry’s experience with 20nm paved the way for an easier FinFET transition. FinFET processes are in production today, and many IC design companies are rapidly moving to manufacture their devices on the emerging 16nm and 14nm FinFET-based process geometries due to the compelling power and performance benefits. Numerous test chips have taped out, and results are coming in.

“FinFET is delivering on its promise of power reduction. With 20nm planar FET technologies, leakage current can flow across the channel between the source and the drain, making it very difficult to completely turn the transistor off. FinFETs provide better channel control, allowing very little current to leak when the device is in the “off” state. This enables the use of lower threshold voltages, resulting in better power and performance. FinFET devices also operate at a lower nominal voltage supply, significantly improving dynamic power.”
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Can 2014 be a major year for global semicon industry?


The year 2014 is expected to be a major year for the global semiconductor industry. The industry will and continue to innovate!

Apparently, there are huge expectations from certain segments such as the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable electronics. There will likely be focus on the connected car. Executives have been stating there could be third parties writing apps that can help cars. Intel expects that technology will be inspiring optimism for healthcare in future. As per a survey, 57 percent of people believe traditional hospitals will be obsolete in the future.

Some other entries from 2013 include Qualcomm, who introduced the Snapdragon 410 chipset with integrated 4G LTE world mode for high-volume smartphones. STMicroelectronics joined ARM mbed project that will enable developers to create smart products with ARM-based industry-leading STM32 microcontrollers and accelerate the Internet of Things.

A look at the industry itself is interesting! The World Semiconductor Trade Statistics Inc. (WSTS) is forecasting the global semiconductor market to be $304 billion in 2013, up 4.4 percent from 2012. The market is expected to recover throughout 2013, driven mainly by double digit growth of Memory product category. By region, all regions except Japan will grow from 2012. Japan market is forecasted to decline from 2012 in US dollar basis due to steep Japanese Yen depreciation compared to 2012.

WSTS estimates that the worldwide semiconductor market is predicted to grow further in 2014 and 2015. According to WSTS, the global semiconductor market is forecasted to be up 4.1 percent to $317 billion in 2014, surpassing historical high of $300 billion registered in 2011. For 2015, it is forecasted to be $328 billion, up 3.4 percent.

All product categories and regions are forecasted to grow positively in each year, with the assumption of macro economy recovery throughout the forecast period. By end market, wireless and automotive are expected to grow faster than total market, while consumer and computer are assumed to remain stagnant.

Now, all of this remains to be seen!

Earlier, while speaking with Dr. Wally Rhines of Mentor, and Jaswinder Ahuja of Cadence, both emphasized the industry’s move to 14/16nm. Xilinx estimates that 28nm will have a very long life. It also shipped the 20nm device in early Nov. 2013.

In a 2013 survey, carried out by KPMG, applications markets identified as most important by at least 55 percent of the respondents were: Mobile technology – 69 percent; Consumer – 66 percent; Computing – 63 percent; Alternative/Renewal Energy – 63 percent; Industrial – 62 percent; Automotive – 60 percent; Medical – 55 percent; Wireline Communications – 55 percent.

Do understand that there is always a line between hope and forecasts, and what the end result actually turns out to be! In the meantime, all of us continue to live with the hope that the global semiconductor will carry on flourishing in the years to come. As Brian Fuller, Cadence, says, ‘the future’s in our hands; let’s not blow it!’

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

October 15, 2013 1 comment

Future Horizons hosted the 22nd Annual International Electronics Forum, in association with IDA Ireland, on Oct. 2-4, 2013, at Dublin, Blanchardstown, Ireland. The forum was titled ‘New Markets and Opportunities in the Sub-20nm Era: Business as Usual OR It’s Different This Time.” Here are excerpts from some of the sessions. Those desirous of finding out much more should contact Malcolm Penn, CEO, Future Horizons.

Liam BritnellLiam Britnell, European manager and Research Scientist, Bluestone Global Tech (BGT) Materials spoke on Beyond Graphene: Heterostructures and Other Two-Dimensional Materials.

The global interest in graphene research has facilitated our understanding of this rather unique material. However, the transition from the laboratory to factory has hit some challenging obstacles. In this talk I will review the current state of graphene research, focusing on the techniques which allow large scale production.

I will then discuss various aspects of our research which is based on more complex structures beyond graphene. Firstly, hexagonal boron nitride can be used as a thin dielectric material where electrons can tunnel through. Secondly, graphene-boron nitride stacks can be used as tunnelling transistor devices with promising characteristics. The same devices show interesting physics, for example, negative differential conductivity can be found at higher biases. Finally, graphene stacked with thin semiconducting layers which show promising results in photodetection.

I will conclude by speculating the fields where graphene may realistically find applications and discuss the role of the National Graphene Institute in commercializing graphene.

Jean-Rene Lequepeys, VP Silicon Components, CEA-Leti, spoke on  Advanced Semiconductor Technologies Enabling High-Performance Jean-Rene Lequepeysand Energy Efficient Computing.

The key challenge for future high-end computing chips is energy efficiency in addition to traditional challenges such as yield/cost, static power, data transfer. In 2020, in order to maintain at an acceptable level the overall power consumption of all the computing systems, a gain in term of power efficiency of 1000 will be required.

To reach this objective, we need to work not only at process and technology level, but to propose disruptive multi-processor SoC architecture and to make some major evolutions on software and on the development of
applications. Some key semiconductor technologies will definitely play a key role such as: low power CMOS technologies, 3D stacking, silicon photonics and embedded non-volatile memory.

To reach this goal, the involvement of semiconductor industries will be necessary and a new ecosystem has to be put in place for establishing stronger partnerships between the semiconductor industry (IDM, foundry), IP provider, EDA provider, design house, systems and software industries.

Andile NgcabaAndile Ngcaba, CEO, Convergence Partners, spoke on Semiconductor’s Power and Africa – An African Perspective.

This presentation looks at the development of the semiconductor and electronics industries from an African perspective, both globally and in Africa. Understanding the challenges that are associated with the wide scale adoption of new electronics in the African continent.

Electronics have taken over the world, and it is unthinkable in today’s modern life to operate without utilising some form of electronics on a daily basis. Similarly, in Africa the development and adoption of electronics and utilisation of semiconductors have grown exponentially. This growth on the African continent was due to the rapid uptake of mobile communications. However, this has placed in stark relief the challenges facing increased adoption of electronics in Africa, namely power consumption.

This background is central to the thesis that the industry needs to look at addressing the twin challenges of low powered and low cost devices. In Africa there are limits to the ability to frequently and consistently charge or keep electronics connected to a reliable electricity grid. Therefore, the current advances in electronics has resulted in the power industry being the biggest beneficiary of the growth in the adoption of electronics.

What needs to be done is for the industry to support and foster research on this subject in Africa, working as a global community. The challenge is creating electronics that meet these cost and power challenges. Importantly, the solution needs to be driven by the semiconductor industry not the power industry. Focus is to be placed on operating in an off-grid environment and building sustainable solutions to the continued challenge of the absence of reliable and available power.

It is my contention that Africa, as it has done with the mobile communications industry and adoption of LED lighting, will leapfrog in terms of developing and adopting low powered and cost effective electronics.

Jo De Boeck, senior VP and CTO, IMEC, discussed Game-Changing Technology Roadmaps For Lifescience. Jo De Boeck

Personalized, preventive, predictive and participatory healthcare is on the horizon. Many nano-electronics research groups have entered the quest for more efficient health care in their mission statement. Electronic systems are proposed to assist in ambulatory monitoring of socalled ‘markers’ for wellness and health.

New life science tools deliver the prospect of personal diagnostics and therapy in e.g., the cardiac, neurological and oncology field. Early diagnose, detailed and fast screening technology and companioning devices to deliver the evidence of therapy effectiveness could indeed stir a – desperately needed – healthcare revolution. This talk addresses the exciting trends in ‘PPPP’ health care and relates them to an innovation roadmap in process technology, electronic circuits and system concepts.
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Higher levels of abstraction growth area for EDA

September 1, 2013 2 comments

Dr. Ajoy Bose

Dr. Ajoy Bose

San Jose, USA-based Atrenta’s SpyGlass Predictive Analyzer gives engineers a powerful guidance dashboard that enables efficient verification and optimization of SoC designs early, before expensive and time-consuming traditional EDA tools are deployed. I recently met up with Dr. Ajoy Bose, chairman, president and CEO, Atrenta, to find out more.

I started by asking how Atrenta provides early design analysis for logic designers? He said: “The key ingredient is something we call predictive analysis. That is, we need to analyze a design at a high level of abstraction and predict what will happen when it undergoes detailed implementation. We have a rich library of algorithms that provide highly accurate ‘predictions’, without the time and cost required to actually send a design through detailed implementation.”

There’s a saying: electronic system level (ESL) is where the future of EDA lies. Why? Its because the lower level of abstraction (detailed implementation) of the EDA market is undergoing commoditization and consolidation. There are fewer solutions, and less differentiation between them. At the upper levels of abstraction (ESL), this is not the case. There still exists ample opportunity to provide new and innovative solutions.

Now, how will this help EDA to move up the embedded software space? According to Dr. Bose, the ability to do true hardware/software co-design is still not a solved problem. Once viable solutions are developed, then EDA will be able to sell to the embedded software engineer. This will be a new market, and new revenue for EDA.

How are SpyGlass and GenSys platforms helping the industry? What problems are those solving? Dr. Ajoy Bose said: “SpyGlass is Atrenta’s platform for RTL signoff. It is used by virtually all SoC design teams to ensure the power, performance and cost of their SoC is as good as it can be prior to handoff to detailed implementation.SpyGlass is also used to select and qualify semiconductor IP – a major challenge for all SoC design teams.

“GenSys provides a way to easily assemble and modify designs at the RTL level of abstraction. As a lot of each SoC is re-used design data, the need to modify this data to fit the new design is very prevalent. GenSys provides an easy, correct-by-construction way to get this job done.”

How does the SpyGlass solve RTL design issues, ensuring high quality RTL with fewer design bugs? He added that it’s the predictive analysis technology. SpyGlass provides accurate and relevant information about what will happen when a design is implemented and tested. By fixing these problems early, at RTL, a much higher quality design is handed off to detailed implementation with fewer bugs and associated schedule challenges.

On another note, I asked him why Apple’s choice of chips a factor in influencing the global chip industry? The primary reason is their volume and buying power. Apple is something of a “King Maker” when it comes to who manufactures their chips. Apple is also a thought leader and trend setter, so their decisions affect the decisions of others.

Finally, the global semiconductor industry! How is the global semicon industry doing in H1-2013? As per Dr. Bose: “We see strong growth.  Our customers are undertaking many new designs at advanced process technology nodes. We think that this speaks well for future growth of the industry.  At a macro level, the consumer sector will drive a lot of the growth ahead.  For EDA, the higher levels of abstraction is where the growth will be.”

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

August 28, 2013 1 comment

Dr. Geoff Taylor

Dr. Geoff Taylor

POET Technologies Inc., based in Storrs Mansfield, Connecticut, USA, and formerly, OPEL Technologies Inc., is the developer of an integrated circuit platform that will power the next wave of innovation in integrated circuits, by combining electronics and optics onto a single chip for massive improvements in size, power, speed and cost.

POET’s current IP portfolio includes more than 34 patents and seven pending. POET’s core principles have been in development by director and chief scientist, Dr. Geoff Taylor, and his team at the University of Connecticut for the past 18 years, and are now nearing readiness for commercialization opportunities. It recently managed to successfully integrate optics and electronics onto one monolithic chip.

Elaborating, Dr. Geoff Taylor, said: “POET stands for Planar Opto Electronic Technology. The POET platform is a patented semiconductor fabrication process, which provides integrated circuit devices containing both electronic and optical elements on a single chip. This has significant advantages over today’s solutions in terms of density, reliability and power, at a lower cost.

“POET removes the need for retooling, while providing lower costs, power savings and increased reliability. For example, an optoelectronic device using POET technology can achieve estimated cost savings back to the manufacturer of 80 percent compared to the hybrid silicon devices that are widely used today.

“The POET platform is a flexible one that can be applied to virtually any market, including memory, digital/mobile, sensor/laser and electro-optical, among many others. The platform uses two compounds – gallium and arsenide – that will allow semiconductor manufacturers to make microchips that are faster and more energy efficient than current silicon devices, and less expensive to produce.

“The core POET research and development team has spent more than 20 years on components of the platform, including 32 patents (and six patents pending).”

Moore’s Law to end next decade?
Is silicon dead and how much more there is to Moore’s Law?

According to Dr. Taylor, POET Technologies’ view is that Moore’s Law could come to an end within the next decade, particularly as semiconductor companies have recently highlighted difficulties in transitioning to the next generation of chipsets, or can only see two to three generations ahead.

Transistor density and its impact on product cost has been the traditional guideline for advancing computer technology because density has been accomplished by device shrinkage translating to performance improvement. Moore’s Law begins to fail when performance improvement translates less and less to device shrinkage – and this is occurring now at an increasing rate.

He added: “For POET Technologies, however, the question to answer is not when Moore’s Law will end – but what next. Rather than focus on how many more years we can expect Moore’s Law to last – or pinpoint a specific stumbling block to achieving the next generation of chipsets, POET looks at the opportunities for new developments and solutions to continue advancements in computing.

“So, for POET Technologies, we’re focusing less on existing integrated circuit materials and processes and more towards a different track with significant future runway. Our platform is a patented semiconductor fabrication process, which concentrates on delivering increases in performance at lower cost – and meets ongoing consumer appetites for faster, smaller and more power efficient computing.”
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