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April - 2016 - issue > In My Opinion
Foundation of A Connected World-Silicon Adding Value
Dr.Srikanth Kommu
SVP & CTO-SunEdison Semiconductor (SSL)
Friday, April 1, 2016
In the past three decades, we have experienced key technological waves driving market trends in the semiconductor and electronics industry. Personal computers in the late 80s, cell phones in the late90s, and smart phones and tablets in the late 2000sare examples of key technological innovations. The innovative nature of this industry is responsible for the creation of the current highly connected world, with technological innovation and growth opportunities as bright as ever. Some of the key market segments driving the business today are:

Internet of Things (IoT): IoT involves more things being connected and interacting through the Internet. IoT requires advanced semiconductors including MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) sensors, RF (Radio Frequency) connectivity, low power micro controllers, cloud storage and computing, leading to attractive business growth opportunities. Specifically, in the sensors market, there is a need ranging from large area MEMS based accelerators and gyroscopes to miniaturized, low power wearable health and lifestyle monitoring semiconductor devices.

Smartphones and Tablets: The smartphone and tablet market continues to drive the need for better RF semiconductor devices to support the increasing number of communication bands and standards. This market segment is also further driving the need for smaller, higher performance and power efficient semiconductor chips.

Medical Imaging and Instrumentation: This market segment is driving the need for advanced semiconductors for enhancing the imaging capabilities of medical instruments such a CT (Computed Tomography) scanners and ultrasound systems, as well as for creating smaller, light-weight medical tools such as disposable diagnostic cameras and endoscopic tools. To develop cutting edge imaging products for this industry, there is a need for advanced CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) image sensors, which in turn is leading to advancements in technologies such as BSI (Back Side Illumination) and 3D stacking.

Power and Automotive: In this segment, the demand and need for power semiconductor devices is continually evolving. The applications range from higher power transportation and grid level energy; to medium power electric vehicles, motor drives and solar inverters; to lower power automotive infotainment and laptop computer adapters. One of the key focus areas driving technological innovation in device design and materials selection for power switching semiconductor devices is saving electrical power through the reduction of conduction and switching losses.

Silicon adding Value

The current wave of technological innovations is an exciting time not only for semiconductor design and manufacturing companies, but also for several players in the semiconductor industry value chain. Specifically, it is true for the silicon wafer manufacturers. Silicon continues to add more value to the semiconductor device makers by enabling scaling, as well as by introducing new functionalities to increase the value of the foundation material on which semiconductor devices are built.

Moore's law continues to guide the silicon wafer platform development to meet the needed mechanical and electrical requirements for building the leading edge semiconductor devices. For example, the More-of-Moore wafer platforms such as Epitaxial and Polished silicon are enabling the creation of high speed microprocessor devices and large capacity memory devices catering to the needs of the aforementioned market segments. For building the next generation semiconductor devices, there is also a huge opportunity to use other novel materials in conjunction with silicon, making it a very challenging yet exciting time for technological innovation.

In addition to the More-of-Moore silicon wafer platforms, there are several More-than-Moore wafer platforms such as high/low resistivity substrates and SOI(Silicon-On-Insulator) substrates that are also highly needed for addressing the needs of the markets. High frequency RF applications with low cross-talk and low harmonic distortion losses, low power and high speed applications are a few key benefits of using these wafer platforms.

Although there are numerous business and technology innovation opportunities in this industry, one must keep in mind that the industry is highly capital intensive. Moreover, R&D (Research and Development) is becoming very expensive for both semiconductor and silicon wafer manufacturers, and it is taking longer now to develop and launch the new products into the market. There are several examples of companies who were once big names in this industry that either no longer exist or have consolidated with other companies. This happened mainly because technology innovation at these companies did not keep up with the pace dictated by the market and/or the technology platforms were not robust enough to be scaled into high volume manufacturing quickly and cost effectively.

SunEdison Semiconductor Limited (SSL) - R&D adding value

For developing robust leading edge semiconductors, the top semiconductor companies are designing products only on the best available wafer platforms. SunEdison Semiconductor Limited (SSL) is one of those companies designing high quality wafer platforms through close interaction with semiconductor device manufacturers, meeting the specific needs of the semiconductor industry.

The technological complexity is increasing with time while the profit margins are shrinking with time. In order to minimize the technological complexity and widen the profit margins, there is a need for a very strong R&D team, which companies like SunEdison Semiconductor Limited (SSL) are heavily investing in. To improve the wafer platform robustness, there is an urgent need for technological innovation in several areas of science and engineering. Specifically, precise model predictive control, reliable equipment automation, detailed process engineering, advanced metrology, predictive full scale numerical simulation models, and smart equipment design are highly needed. Moreover, all these modes of science and engineering have to be integrated effectively and asset efficiently to create profitable wafer platform solutions. It takes an inter-disciplinary yet focused approach where people with advanced education in fields such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, materials science, computer science, chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering are needed to design and create these wafer platforms.

SunEdison Semiconductor Limited with a diverse and highly talented R&D team is continuing to design and create robust wafer platform solutions that are becoming the foundations of the connected world.
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