FLEX/MSTC Keynotes Confirm: Our Customers Need System-level Solutions

FLEX/MSTC Keynotes Confirm: Our Customers Need System-level Solutions

From February 18 to 21, 2019, Monterey, CA, was again the venue for SEMI’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FLEX) and MEMS & Sensors Technical Congress (MSTC), conference. As in previous years, the joint keynotes, 2-track technical sessions, and more than 50 exhibitors demonstrated the synergies between these two industry segments and their fast pace of innovation. The entire conference focused on how to make the Internet of Things (IoT) truly ubiquitous and the billions of edge nodes cost-effective.

Dave Anderson, President of SEMI Americas, welcomed all attendees and compared our industry with the Indy 500 race: We also sometimes need to apply the brakes aggressively, only to accelerate like crazy, shortly thereafter. Due to recent shoulder surgery,  Anderson would not be able to drive – one-handed – an Indy car at this time, but he and his team did very well in organizing another very informative conference, focused on strategies, design, new materials and manufacturing topics.

Ajit Manocha, CEO of SEMI, emphasized in his brief intro the value of partnerships. He showed how many organizations have joined forces with SEMI to educate each other, leverage synergies, represent our industry’s interests and accelerate the changes needed to meet emerging and new market requirements. Manocha also highlighted that SEMI, founded in 1970, will be 50 years old next year.       

The five following keynotes were – for me – the best part of the conference! They all conveyed different market needs and demonstrated that the semiconductor and electronic systems industry can grow enormously if we listen well to potential customers and manage to meet their requirements for user-friendly, cost-effective, and reliable system-level solutions.

Changing Automotive Sensor Landscape

The first keynoter was Dragos Maciuca, executive technical director at one of Ford’s research and innovation centers. In addition to Maciua’s team in Palo Alto, Ford has such centers in Dearborn, Michigan and Aachen, Germany. Maciuca gave an OEM perspective on the changing automotive sensor landscape.

To emphasize how important Silicon Valley has become as a driver for automotive innovations, he showed two maps, illustrating the growth of automotive-focused development activities here. Figure 1 shows fewer than 20 companies working on automotive-related innovations in 2015. One of Maciuca’s next slides (a real eye-chart) showed more than 300 companies now represented in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, all contributing to automotive innovations. His presentation addressed system-level solutions that Ford needs: artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), lidar, radar, neuromorphic cameras, ultra-sound and optical sensors, software, security, and connectivity but did not use our industry’s component-centric vocabulary: Processors, EPROMs, DRAMs, gigahertz, nanoseconds, nanometers, etc.

Figure 1: Companies with automotive development activities in Silicon Valley, presented by Dragos Maciuca, FORD Palo Alto

Farming Gets Smart

The second keynoter, Jason Jelinek, presenting John Deere’s requirements for electronic solutions, briefly described his company’s evolution from blacksmith to high-tech equipment supplier. Then he spent considerable time explaining why the agriculture industry needs intelligent as well as reliable and high-productivity equipment enabled by electronics: The rural workforce is declining, the harvesting window is very narrow, the world population is growing and likes to consume more meat and high-quality produce, water is scarce in many regions and soil conditions vary widely. Jelinek showed how one person can control several pieces of equipment, either locally or even remotely, during plowing, fertilizing or harvesting. He also showed that John Deere is not only serving the agriculture industry but also road construction and forestry. They even provide engines and electronic system-level solutions for harsh conditions to other equipment manufacturers.

Firgure 2: GPS enabled, autonomous equipment plowing a very large field. Presented by Jason Jelinek, John Deere


The Softer Side of Sensors

John Rogers represented the Rogers Research Group at Northwestern University. He talked about how soft electronic and microfluidic systems, like small and wireless skin patches, can simplify monitoring babies and high-performance athletes alike – instead of the traditional large and wired sensors (Figure 3). He thanked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting his research and several large companies for proliferating it. Rogers mentioned that the 01.2019 edition of National Geographic covers his field of research extensively. See one page of this magazine in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Athlete shows a small skin patch and traditional sensing, by John Rogers, Northwestern. Photo from National Geographic Magazine.

MEMS Sensors are Everywhere

Andrea Onetti, Group VP of STMicroelectronics MEMS and Sensors division, presented how accuracy enables MEMS sensor pervasion. As a well-known pioneer in this field, his team offers sensors for a wide range of applications, from structural monitoring of bridges and tunnels to industrial, automotive and consumer applications. To illustrate the broad range of different success criteria for sensors, Onetti showed the slide (Figure 4) below. He explained that sensors need to be reliable and should be easy to calibrate because accuracy and stability reduce computing needs and power dissipation, especially important for low-power IoT edge nodes.

Figure 4: Significantly different key requirement for IoT edge nodes, presented by Andrea Onetti, STMicro

The fifth keynoter, Nadia Shakoor, is Senior Research Scientist / Project Director TERRA-REF, at the Danforth Plant Science Center. TERRA-REF is focused on improving crop yields and quality on a large scale, with elaborate and highly automated sensing and control systems worldwide. See the contributing organizations in Figure 5 below.

Shakoor explained how this organization captures data about crop and environmental conditions, creates predictive models and helps farmers worldwide to use seeds, fertilizer, water, and other scarce resources wisely and start the harvest exactly on time.

Figure 6: TERRA-REF members, presented by Nadia Shakoor, Danforth Plant Science Center

Why We Need Partnerships

During the following panel discussion with all five keynoters, Melissa Grupen-Shemansky from SEMI, and Stephen Whalley, Strategic World Ventures, asked specific questions about the presented application areas and received several detailed questions from the audience. Then the discussion focused on a disconnect that became obvious between the presenters, who clearly are experts in their fields of electronic systems applications (= large semiconductor opportunities) and the audience, comprised of semiconductor manufacturing experts and their suppliers.

After a lengthy discussion, presenters, moderators, and audience concluded:

  • Current SEMI member companies and organizations span from planning and design to manufacturing and test of semiconductors.
  • They also need to include experts from major applications segments – such as automotive, agriculture, medical, industrial and others – to enable the semiconductor industry to better understand customers’ broad range of requirements these segments need for system-level solutions.

Congratulations to the organizers of this conference. By choosing this group of speakers, you clearly demonstrated that SEMI is expanding the current scope of partnerships to also include applications/systems experts. They can contribute significantly to expanding our current component-focus thinking about targeting high-value (sub)system-level solutions.

Thank you very much…..Herb