SEMI’s 2020 ITPC, which was held virtually instead of its usual Hawaiian location, offered such robust panel discussions, that it seemed a high-level summary alone couldn’t do it justice. So we decided to also provide a deeper look at each panel. This third installment is based on the Executive Insight Panel discussion that took place. The geopolitical/economic panel discussion can be found here. The conversation on the future of work, business, technology, and innovation can be found here.
Max Mirgoli, Executive Vice President Worldwide Strategic Partnerships imec
- Mitsunobu Koshiba, Director Chairman of the Board JSR Corporation
- Siva Sivaram, President Technology and Strategy Western Digital
- Simon Yang, CEO Yangtze Memory Technologies Co.—YMTC
In the third panel discussion at last month’s ITPC, geopolitical uncertainties, trade tensions, and what would the semiconductor industry’s future look like were discussed.
What Happened to the Semiconductor Industry Cycle?
Siva Sivaram kicked off the discussion about what the industry challenges might be over the next few years. Sivaram reminded us that data is driving the industry and we need to know how to create value from the volume of data that is being produced. The semiconductor industry is at the center of generating and creating value from the data. During these uncertain times, Sivarams said the value of relationships and trust are critical.
During the pandemic, 12 applications have been downloaded over five billion times, and that 30 applications have been downloaded over one billion times. These downloads demonstrate how much electronics are now at the center of our lives. Sivaram explained that the industry used to have a cycle. New cheaper semiconductors were produced, which in turn drove new applications, which drove the need for new capacity, and then the cycle repeated. However, the value chain is getting skewed due to the trillion-dollar companies at the top, and the consolidation that is taking place in both the semiconductor and equipment companies. Sivaram thinks there is a need to get back to the cycle to see the industry continue its success.
The World Order is Changing
Mitsunobu Koshiba brought politics to the front immediately. He pointed out that the good old days of globalization are gone and the industry is witnessing a change in the world order. During the pandemic, the semiconductor industry was able to operate without significant interruption in the supply chain. However, the pandemic escalated the confrontation over the supply chain. Over the next few years, he thought there would be turmoil and societies would struggle as the power of the world order shifted. Koshiba commented that the shift in power not only comes from the military but also from economics and technology. He says he thinks that the geo-economics forces and ge0-technology changes will be as important as the geo-military influences over the next few years. He suggested that over the next few years microelectronics will be used as a tool for survival as that world order shifts. Koshiba stated that it is time to come together and to use global wisdom to ensure we can maintain global partnerships and supply chains.
Simon Yang shared some of his experiences managing to keep operations going while dealing with the pandemic. In China life is slowly returning to normal, but they are prepared for uncertainty. Yang thought the industry future was bright as AI and 5G are just emerging and continued development in these areas would drive demand. Yang commented that the industry needs to be prepared for a different supply chain, one that would likely become fragmented as a result of the current global situation.
Sivaram was asked his thoughts on AI and how it would roll out. Sivaram commented AI is another tool that will be used in the industry, much like when the United States started to use the statistical process control methods that Demming and Juran had taught to the Japanese. Sivaram stated that Moore’s law for logic is starting to slow, but that flash memory is continuing to rapidly scale. Sivaram went on to comment that how we have traditionally processed data will change as compute will happen closer to where the data is being generated. As a result, there will be many different types of computing technology developed for different applications. (Authors note: this transition is rapidly taking place, in the form of heterogeneous compute where systems that use ASIC’s or multiple different types of computing are employed closer to the data to analyze the data but to also develop AI/ML at the edge so as to reduce the amount of data transferred to the cloud.)
The Executive Insight Panel Answers Questions
If the disruption of the supply chain would slow artificial intelligence (AI) development?
Sivaram responded that there will be geopolitical tensions as the standards evolve and systems are implemented. Security and encryption will be critical components of these systems. Companies will need to learn how to work within the system to be successful.
How do you suggest the industry ride out the impacts of the pandemic and continue to innovate and collaborate and focus on the right markets?
Koshiba responded that it used to be a global technology market but it is now more regional. R&D investment is the same as it used to be. Corporations need to be reinvented to meet the current environment. The issue is how do you deal with the divided market?
To manage these changes businesses should digitally transform operations and digitize R&D to help cut lead times to customers. Time is money. It brings value to the customer.
Develop a new business model; this about selling outcomes instead of products. The best use of intangible assets related to R&D is to find new or parallel markets. JSR has found similarities between its semiconductor and biopharma business. JSR’s life science business is driven by its semiconductor experiences and expertise. Another possibility to consider is digital medicine. In the new fragmented semi market, it is difficult to recoup R&D costs so JSR needs to revolutionize the R&D process but also find a neighboring market to help spread R&D costs.
Who owns the lion’s share of 5G and drives it technically is really one of the main drivers behind the rift in the semiconductor market, How should we approach 6G as an industry that is less conducive to division and more to collaboration?
Yang said he has not seen the need to switch to 5G yet and so he has not yet considered the implications of 6G. He said he felt that competition is still needed to help us move or develop technology, but that collaboration was still important to the success of new technology. Yang also stated that for major infrastructure, in the current political situation, such as 5G or GPS systems every major region may want their own version for security reasons.
As a wrap-up question, the moderator asked what we needed to do to collaborate and innovate in the industry?
Sivaram explained that we are a dynamic industry that used to be vertically integrated; companies such as IBM, Motorola, and TI manufactured their own wafers, built their own process equipment, manufactured semiconductors, and built electronic devices. The industry has disaggregated into highly specialized material, process equipment, and semiconductor manufacturing companies that continue to drive innovation.
The fact the industry is extremely global, as Yang pointed out, creates an opportunity to generate multiple supply chains. The industry is still growing in spite of all the tensions. In Sivaram’s view through rose-colored glasses, the solution is human ingenuity. The electronics industry has lifted a majority of the population up from poverty. Sivaram believes we will come out of this and we will continue to provide new solutions to keep this industry growing further.
Koshiba focused on green issues: How green will the United States become and how will China the EU and the US work together towards becoming carbon neutral. As EUV moves into production and manufacturing and data centers become more power hungry, it is not sustainable. To innovate we need some breakthroughs in reducing compute power, such as quantum. The industry needs to pay more attention to sustainability in light of the world-wide drive to reducing the carbon footprint.
Yang would like to return to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible so he can travel more often to see his kids.
Wrapping Up the Executive Insight Panel
The Geopolitical trade issues, tensions, and what the industry might look like in the future covered a great deal of ground. Due to the geopolitical geotechnical climate, the supply chain could become extremely fragmented and companies will need to be very agile to deal with the changes. The geopolitical trade shifts are creating a more regionalized market that is more difficult to serve as potentially each region will have different requirements and standards. This creates challenges for companies and they will need to be able to look for ways to leverage their R&D and final products.
Koshiba suggested selling outcomes instead of products, somewhat akin to selling software or products as a service, as well as looking for parallel markets for your products to maximize your operations return on investment. All three panelists predicted that the industry is in a good place due to the growth of AI and 5G, as heterogeneous compute moves to where the data is generated. However, the growth of EUV and data centers has a downside as they are consuming considerably more power than in the past. The industry needs to look at how to reduce its carbon footprint and continue to become more sustainable in the future. The panelists also reminded the audience that relationships and the trust developed in those relationships were critical factors in helping the industry in the current geopolitical technical climate.
In 3 hours, ITPC did a great job of defining some of the issues facing the semiconductor industry. The current geopolitical environment, tensions, and the resulting trade laws are resulting in a fragmented supply chain and in some cases tension between former trade partners. The pandemic is forcing the industry to new ways of looking at how to work. The new normal may include both remote works as well as face-to-face. Many of the participants commented that face-to-face interaction is critical to innovation that keeps the industry rapidly moving forward. However, even with all of the challenges, the outlook was very positive. Participants stated that 5G and AI implementations were key drivers for growth, However, the semiconductor industry does need to pay close attention to sustainability as technology continues to move forward.