Well, that was interesting. SEMICON West 2018 just wrapped up, and I’m not quite sure what just happened. This year’s event was… for lack of a better word… different. All I could think of as I looked around the Moscone Center upon arrival was “ready or not, SEMICON West 2018 is here, emphasis on ‘or not.’”

While I generally endeavor to paint a rosy picture, I have to remember that as a blogger, my first duty is to my readers. I spoke with exhibitors, attendees, speakers, those who come to town to tap into the captive audience, and even some SEMI folk. They expressed mixed emotions about the “new and improved” SEMICON West. With that in mind, I give you: the good, the bad and the ugly of SEMICON West 2018.

Climate Change
I’m not talking about the weather. Less than two years away from turning 50, SEMII is in the process of reinventing itself to appeal to an evolving industry, and SEMICON West 2018 provided a live testing ground for its new image: an organization that connects the entire electronics supply chain; in its own words: from sand to smartphone.

But the thing is, it’s not really just about the smartphone anymore. The semiconductor industry is booming because the application drivers have gone well beyond the smartphone to encompass pretty much everything we use to get through the day.

Bob Johnson, Gartner, noted during the SEMI market symposium that the market engines are no longer just the consumer, but have extended to commercial and industrial sectors, which he says is a very good sign for continued growth.

SEMICON West 2018
Dave Anderson, president, SEMI Americas, opens SEMICON West 2018.

In his welcome address, Dave Anderson, president of SEMI Americas, quoted Gartner and predicted a $500B semiconductor market by 2020 driven by a plethora of emerging markets including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) deep learning (DL), autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT) – the list goes on.

Just moments later, SEMI president Ajit Manocha, upped the ante, saying SEMI’s purpose is to look towards tomorrow and help the industry grow and prosper to a $1T market by 2030 through collaboration and innovation. SEMICON West 2018 was designed to reflect these important markets and SEMIs commitment to the cause.

Shining Moments
There’s no doubt that SEMICON West 2018 certainly had its shining moments. They sexied-up the production quality of their keynote stage presentations and panel discussions. The Smart Manufacturing, Workforce Development, and Smart Transportation Pavilions were a great effort towards a more interactive show experience.

In particular, the Workforce Development Pavilion got high marks from exhibitors and attendees alike. Since he took the helm in 2017, Manocha has had “increase the semiconductor industry workforce” at the top of his to-do list for SEMI initiatives.

Free passes for college students and recent grads, the new SEMI mentoring programs, talks on topics like the importance of gender diversity and cultivating a culture to attract and retain millennials, were right on the mark. I caught a few minutes of the Mentoring for Success presentation by Christina Chu, Tel Nexx; and Jeff Barnum, KLA-Tencor.

For me, Melissa Schilling’s opening keynote address about breakthrough innovators who change the world was awe-inspiring; truly TED-stage-esque. I was impressed that SEMI ventured away from its standard C-level executive from a semiconductor manufacturing giant to kick off the conference. It lined up well with its dedication to making semiconductors attractive to the younger workforce.

Schilling is John Herzog Chair Professor of Management at New York University Stern School of Business, and author of a book, Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World. She said the four things you need to cultivate to be a successful innovator are a sense of separateness, self-efficacy, an idealistic goal, and access to timing and resources. I found the following segment about consensus and brainstorming to be particularly compelling:

“Get rid of brainstorming teams if what you want is innovation, because brainstorming teams cause people to come to mediocre compromises. You need to let people work separately FIRST…” It was a powerful message that resonated with me.

Not-so-shining moments

The TechXPOT audience ran on the lighter side.

I’m sorry SEMI, but I have to call it as I see it (and as I hear it from others): efforts to improve exhibitor booth traffic were tragically off the mark and misguided on most counts.

Eliminating the free early bird expo pass and replacing it with an early bird rate was the first mistake. Creating a tiered price structure that limited to the TechXPOT Stage was an epic fail.

This elitist approach gave the impression SEMI only really represents its top-tier sponsors and did not demonstrate an overall commitment to its members to collaborate, innovate, grow and prosper.

Granted the Expert Stages in the pavilions were open to all, but TechXPOT speakers who put considerable time and resources into their presentations expressed deep disappointment to playing to an audience of 20-30 people, while many interested in listening were turned away because it wasn’t included in their badge.

Exhibitors expressed frustration about the state of the Moscone Center, as they were assured last year that the construction would be complete. Many chose their booth locations based on those expectations. Clearly, SEMI has no control of the Moscone’s construction timeline, but letting the exhibitors know what they were in for might have gone a long way to smooth ruffled feathers.

Identity crisis
It seems many of the members didn’t receive the memo that SEMI no longer stands for Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International. Exhibitors were confused by the attendees, as many who visited their booths did not represent their customer base.

As a first-time exhibitor myself, I was initially surprised at the number of visitors who were completely unaware of what advanced packaging technology was. One even declared, “OH, you’re from the semiconductor side.” As if there would be any other reason to be exhibiting at SEMICON West.

And then it hit me: I was thinking about the OLD SEMICON West. The NEW SEMICON West is meant to have exhibitors and suppliers from across not only the electronics manufacturing supply chain but also all the end-use applications. Which means pretty much everything.

In its efforts to encompass the entire electronics manufacturing supply chain, SEMI Americas might take a page out of the SEMI Europe playbook for SEMICON Europa. Co-locating with Productronica last year was a stroke of genius that achieved the desired effect of creating an event that extended the scope to include the entire electronics manufacturing supply chain while also providing the increased foot traffic and right attendees to the exhibitors.

The truth about SEMICON West
Here’s the real truth: love it or hate it, people continue to come to SEMICON West year after year for one reason only. It is still one of the best places to connect with industry colleagues from around the world to catch up with old friends, maybe meet some new ones, and engage in new business opportunities. For that reason alone, no matter what SEMI does, the people will come. ~ FvT

Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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