Trends and Challenges in Semiconductor Manufacturing

Date:   Thursday , January 24, 2013

Integrated Device Technology, Inc (NASDAQ: IDTI) designs, manufactures, and markets low-power, high-performance mixed-signal semiconductor solutions for the advanced communications, computing, and consumer industries. Headquartered in San Hose, CA the company has a market cap of $ 982.59 million.

Trends in the semiconductor industry

The demand for small, smart, mobile, powerful and low-power devices that can access data whenever and wherever will drive the semiconductor industry to come up with innovative solutions. The continued advances in lithographic techniques enable the fabrication of devices with finer and finer geometries. Several companies have announced the manufacturing of devices at the 14nm node within the next 12 to 18 months. This coupled with advances in film technology and the use of strained lattices and others, has made a path for very high-speed, low-leakage devices. Advances in packaging technology, including TSVs, WLCSP, HDL, 2.5-D and 3-D packaging, Cu pillars and MCP, are driving integration toward smaller and smaller footprints!

Companies whose products need "bleeding edge" technologies and those in the analog world that are two generations behind in technology but have unique process requirements are driving the requirements, while not necessarily in two different directions, certainly at a different pace.

Flash and its implications

Flash is a proven technology, and now improvements in increasing density can be achieved. Using solid state drives (SSDs) that are based on flash technology is becoming wide-spread in many enterprise applications, with some primary storage systems using only solid state storage for some applications. The benefits of speed, power, compact form factor and more are well known. While the concerns of data corruption and loss are there, I believe the technology exists to improve the reliability. This, coupled with built-in redundancies, will reduce the concerns.
On one hand, everything is mixed-signal as interlock with humans is analog. On the other hand, processing data is best done digitally. So, while processing data storage can all be digital, interaction with the outside world is analog.

Providing customers with system level solutions
Customers are looking for more and more system-level solutions and related expertise from their “chip” suppliers. While that does not always mean a full turnkey solution, it does require our field and marketing engineers to truly understand the customer’s system to provide the necessary solution and support. The primary reasons for this shift are growing complexity, increased global competition, speed of innovation, and product lifecycles. So, to do this right, requires expertise and collaboration across the entire supply chain to bring products and solutions to the market faster.

IDT transforming the future of semiconductors
Our strategy is to defend and grow our leadership in our three core product categories – timing, switching and interfaces. With the technology leadership in analog, power management and timing-synchronization, we are expanding our product portfolios in target applications – wireless infrastructure and cloud computing.

The recently available IDTP9030 and IDTP9020 from IDT are the world’s first single-chip wireless power transmitter and highest-output-power single-chip receiver solution. When used in tandem, they result in reduced energy costs and faster charging time. The IDTP9030 and IDTP9020 are designed to meet the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) Qi standard, which ensures interoperability with any other device meeting the WPC Qi standard. IDT’s recently announced partnerships with Intel and Qualcomm will help catalyze market adoption of this game-changing technology. We also announced a major design win with Primax, a manufacturer of aftermarket wireless charging accessories for tier-one mobile phone OEMs.
The strong endorsements by Intel and Qualcomm validate IDT’s wireless power technology leadership and position us to win on both ends of the system, the mobile device as well as the charging infrastructure. This is also true of wireless power enterprise flash controllers, Rapid IO switches and all other new products designed in at tier-one customers.

We recently announced the industry’s lowest-power DDR3 memory buffer (LRDIMM buffer) for load-reduced dual in-line memory modules that leapfrogs the competition by reducing power and achieving the world’s highest data rate. Additionally, we sampled the world’s first DDR4 register and temperature sensor. IDT also announced the industry’s first NVM Express enterprise/memory controller with a native PCI Express Gen 3 interface. PCI Express breaks the latency in throughput bottlenecks inherent in legacy SAS- and SATA-based SSDs. NVM Express is a standard course controller interface which will expand the customer base for PCI Express-attached SSDs. IDT also leveraged this technology to deliver the industry’s first NVM Express non-volatile DRAM controller.

Roadblocks on the way

Developing and manufacturing at these very advanced digital technology nodes is extremely expensive. Thus, very few companies can afford the huge investments. Consequently, companies with digital designs will be looking toward the huge foundry companies for manufacturing their devices, if they have not already. Also, the percentage of packaging and testing cost within the overall product cost is climbing. The opportunity will be to optimize the total cost of the product right at inception and make the call on the tech node.

On the mixed signal analog designs, the process complexity requires very tight coupling with design. Due to power and signal integrity requirements, typically they are a node or two behind pure digital designs. However, even here the costs are getting higher, as some are on a "specialty process" for which the costs cannot be easily absorbed. There will be a challenge in managing the cost. Again, the packaging and testing cost comments apply here.

With increases in the speed and volume of information globally, the threat of patent infringement – trade secrets – increases. But, most in the industry have programs and policies in place to prevent unauthorized leaks of information.