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A Letter from Ali Salehpour—Breaking The Cycle: The Golden Age of Chip Manufacturing Has Begun

Senior Vice President and General Manager, New Markets and Service Group

Ali Salehpour

The cycles of nature constantly go on around us, even as we go about our busy lives. Every 24 hours the earth completes another spin on its axis. Every 365 days it finishes another orbit around the sun. We watch as day becomes night and winter becomes spring, and shape our activities accordingly.

Industries have cycles, too—and some of them are almost as familiar as natural ones. Over the last few decades, for example, semiconductor manufacturing has been largely driven by the computer industry, with predictable upturns to support new PC launches, and then equally predictable downturns later.

But while the cycles of nature are fixed, the manufacturing and financial cycles of our industry have been spectacularly altered. Silicon-rich devices that enable artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), self-driving cars, OLED displays and other new technologies are now driving constant ramp-ups and continuous growth. We’re entering what Applied Materials CEO Gary Dickerson calls “a period of incredible innovation in logic, memory and display,” in which a number of companies are "making very large investments to advance semiconductor and display technology."

This issue of Nanochip Fab Solutions celebrates the chip industry’s new Golden Age, with a special focus on how Applied tools and service offerings are helping customers meet ever-growing market demand. An article on "wireless everywhere" introduces connectivity as the core driver behind the new era, and explains why connected content from IoT, robotics, augmented reality, connected cars, and more will add $126B to the semiconductor industry over the next four years.[1] Another article explores how high-density OLED displays are turning ordinary smartphones into the single most important device in virtual reality (VR) systems—and allowing VR to reach mass adoption because smartphones are so ubiquitous.

Continuing our look at new technology drivers, "What’s New in MEMS?" surveys the proliferation of fingerprint sensor (FPS) and light detection and ranging (lidar) devices, many of which are manufactured on our legacy 200mm and 300mm platforms. This issue’s centerpiece article on big data and neural networks builds on all these themes, beginning with NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang’s bold prediction that “AI will revolutionize every industry” before examining how neural networks and AI applications will likely drive the next generation of semiconductor devices—and add to the arsenal of data analysis techniques being deployed in semiconductor fabs.

New Applied services designed to enhance our customers’ productivity also feature prominently in this issue of Nanochip. The Applied FabVantage™ Consulting team can now help reduce defects during production of highly complex ICs with a specialized methodology, process expertise, data analytic techniques, and diagnostic instruments that streamline identification of root causes. An additional productivity solution, Implant Applied Managed Service,™ can offer a 3–5% increase in tool uptime and a corresponding increase in productive hours for Applied Materials VIISta implanters.

Finally, this issue features in-depth profiles of X-FAB, a rapidly growing specialty foundry whose overall revenues have doubled over the past five years, and its legacy 6-inch wafer fab in Lubbock, Texas, which has reinvented itself by moving to the forefront of silicon carbide (SiC) power ICs.

What does all this unprecedented growth ultimately mean for our industry? It means we now must meet the demands of an expanding market that is substantially less cyclical than we’re used to. That’s a pretty great problem to have, and I bet many of you agree. Read on to see how breaking the cycle of upturns and downturns has put the future in our hands.

[1] GLOBALFOUNDRIES Internet of Things Marketing Director Nitin Kulkarni.