The Power of Nanoelectronics – from Connecting to Improving Lives

| Autor / Redakteur: Luc Van den hove* / Sebastian Gerstl

Glimpse into imec's 300 mm Cleanroom: The trend lies in development of wearable technologies.
Glimpse into imec's 300 mm Cleanroom: The trend lies in development of wearable technologies. (Bild: imec)

The semiconductor industry is heading for a bright future. The advantages of scaling, miniaturization and integration can drive innovation and growth beyond its traditional markets. The internet of things, the internet of healthy things and the internet of power are driving the continuous growth of the semiconductor industry if the right ecosystems dynamics are brought into place.

The semiconductor industry has always been a challenging industry. It is a very cyclical industry having huge ups and huge downs. But there has been one consistent trend. It has always battled back. It has experienced a healthy growth rate, a growth rate other industries envy us for.

One of the drivers for growth of our industry has for decades been the continuous reduction of the cost per function, which has enabled the tremendous explosion of increased functionality of the devices at acceptable cost. But for the first time, we seem not to be able to follow the traditional cost reduction per gate.

One of the major contributors to the cost explosion is the need for multiple patterning as from the 20nm node as a result of the late availability of EUV. This explains the tremendous pressure on making EUV ready for prime time. But there will be a continued drive for increased performance which will require more complex processes.

At the same time the cost of R&D, related to advancing process technology, continues to rise with a higher growth rate than the growth rate of the semiconductor industry turnover and hence the overall available R&D spending (which typically scales with the overall turnover). This significantly increases the barriers for companies to remain at the leading edge. So cost effective models to fuel innovation to the semiconductor industry will be extremely critical if we want to ensure further continued growth.

The semiconductor industry is heading for a bright future. There are tremendous opportunities which will pursue this continuous growth of our industry. The exploding mobile data communication market drags along a robust growth in mobile broadband services, creating huge opportunities for semiconductor companies to equip and implement next-generation wireless networks. In many markets, the 3G networks approach the limits of their broadband capacity. 4G is penetrating at rapid pace and 5G is already on the research agenda.

What 5G will bring is still unclear; it will not be an upgrade of the network as we know it today. It'll be a mesh of networks that connects everything and everyone: people, objects, sensors, tools, instruments. We are evolving towards an internet of everyTHING. It is expected that by 2020 100 billion computers, devices and sensors will be wirelessly connected. It’s hard to imagine a market where sensors, connectivity and mobility will not bring any added value.

With the possibility to integrate sensors in systems and new sensor technologies on the horizon, many new applications and services are arising, stimulating many economies.

79 GHz radar transmitter in 28-nm CMOS: on-chip-solutions will revolutionize all sections of our daily lifes
79 GHz radar transmitter in 28-nm CMOS: on-chip-solutions will revolutionize all sections of our daily lifes (Bild: imec)

An industry that is rapidly being revolutionized is packaging and logistics, with new applications like real-time location of products, sophisticated authentication of goods, freshness detection of food, enhancing medication security, ... all enabled by the next wave of smart RFID tags that overcome the limitations of passive tags.

In the automotive sector there is the trend towards smart mobility with applications such as intelligent traffic and safety management, to advanced entertainment and information and sophisticated billing systems. All these applications require extensive connectivity both between vehicles and the smart infrastructures in which they operate. So sensor-based systems-on-chip have a central role to play in delivering the future of driving.

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