The winds of change are blowing in the semiconductor industry. And while some cling tightly to the way things have always been, it’s becoming more apparent that for those who can adapt, there are a multitude of opportunities, and for those who think it can stay the same, it will be more challenging going forward. This was the key message of the SEMICON West 2014 keynote address by Mark Adams, President and CEO, Micron. I heard this and thought of all the opportunity that could be enabled through implementation of 3D integration technologies, if we allow it to happen.
“Due to the complexity of system level solutions, it is no longer adequate to just be a semiconductor manufacturer. We have to be able to drive value above the silicon to bring solutions to diversified markets,” said Adams. He went on to describe a changing semiconductor landscape, where a successful partnership doesn’t mean “squeezing every last dime from the negotiation” but rather is necessary to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world where technology influences every day life. We are at an industry technology crossroads, he noted, where we are breaking through technology limits with innovations such as 3D DRAM, 3D NAND flash. “We are coming to the end of planar,” he noted.
“Staggering” is a word Adams used frequently: in reference to what will happen over the next 10-20 years with a connected lifestyle that drives computing requirements; and with regard to the many different applications that affect how we interface with technology. “The roles of computing, automation, intelligence and storage is only going to continue to grow,” he said.
Adams explained that the traditional computing architecture model, where data storage (memory) is separate from compute operations (GPU and CPU) is giving way to an emerging compute model where storage and compute functions are combined onto a homogenous processing architecture, and where memory-intensive applications require very high parallelism.
Added to this, said Adams, is an evolving customer landscape that is going through fragmentation driven by five major technology trends including networking, machine to machine communications, mobile computing, the “cloud” and “big data”. There’s also the challenge of end-market diversification, for example, the automotive computing platform is no longer an industry standard part. There are growth opportunities in designing special parts to enable customer capabilities.
This fragmentation calls for collaboration and partnerships. “Semiconductor companies need equipment companies more than ever,” said Adams. “Partnerships will be critical to success in the new landscape.”
Take the Hybrid Memory Cube, for example, which is the result of collaboration between Altera, ARM, IBM, Micron, Open-Silicon, Sansung, and SK Hynix, and Xilinx; as well as a host of adopter members. “HMC is an innovative high-bandwidth way to solve a problem,” said Adams. “It’s no longer just comfortable enough to be a semiconductor company. We had to figure out how to stack these.” Adams sees this as a new opportunity moving up the value chain. We have to get smarter, engage with customers, add value and enable their solutions, he explained. Customer relationships evolve into strategic partnerships.
“Increased customer complexity requires increased supplier capabilities and tools,” noted Adams. “We can’t do it ourselves organically. We need partnership to help press the limits of technology.” He said climbing the technology stack brings new customers and business. Expanding business generates new demands on suppliers. This expanding business generates new demand on suppliers and complexity in the technology development, tools, changes in materials and broader supplier requirements.
“The future is incredible for all of us,” said Adams, but not if we stay the same. We have to work closer together than we ever have.”
From where I sit, this statement points to what has been happening throughout the development of 3D integration. It’s the partnerships between suppliers, industry and R&D centers that brought us where we are today. And it’s with 3D that we learned, as an industry, the importance of collaboration across the entire ecosystem. ~ F.v.T.