SEMI has long promoted the industry collaboration that has contributed to the rise of the smart digital world we live in today. A world where data is being generated continuously by systems, gadgets, and sensors around us – often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). In our personal lives, most of us have smartphones, smart watches, smart TVs and smart cars, and we live in smart homes and smart cities generating huge amounts of data.
In the work world, data and analytics are now influencing almost every industry including healthcare, government, financial services, construction and transportation. This data has the potential to transform our lives and make our world even smarter – if we can communicate and process this data, and use it to come up with actionable recommendations or actions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) techniques have generated much excitement precisely because they offer us ways to realize the full value of data by harnessing it and transforming it into active intelligence.
Data-intensive technologies are required to store, communicate and analyze data. And it all starts with innovation in microelectronics chips and systems spanning processors, memory, sensors, radios and other devices, presenting a huge opportunity to producers of these technologies. However, with Moore's Law beginning to slow, technology paths and innovation options are diverging. Companies must swiftly assess these options in order to develop competitive offerings. But the technological complexity and divergence makes it increasingly expensive or even unaffordable for many companies to track and pursue these options.
The good news is that cost-effective early assessment is possible through pre-competitive collaboration that can produce new and often unexpected cross-disciplinary insights by overcoming traditional silos in industry and academia. Unfortunately, important collaborative industry platforms, such as the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), have folded, opening a collaboration gap in the global microelectronics ecosystem.
As part of its mission to help companies connect, collaborate, and innovate, SEMI has built a collaborative, cross-supply-chain platform – the Strategic Innovation Platform (SIP). The goal is to provide early and comprehensive assessment of future technologies that are five to eight years away from commercialization. The assessment identifies not just technical barriers but also manufacturing and supply-chain constraints to implementing new technologies. SIP brings together the entire microelectronics ecosystem including strategic technology thought leaders, subject matter experts, technology and application developers, academia, researchers, start-ups and government. With more than 2,100-member companies spread across the global electronics manufacturing supply chain, SEMI is uniquely positioned to enable this critical collaboration.
Award-Winning First Project
The inaugural SIP project assessed key drivers of future technologies. A key finding was that fast, efficient interconnects between devices and components are critical to the system performance important to customers and users, implying that system-level optimization is required. For data-intensive applications, interconnects have emerged as a key bottleneck for both performance and power in various circuits and systems in part because the slowing of Moore’s Law has decelerated advances in individual device performance, and in part because systems are becoming more complex, requiring heterogeneous integration.
To address this challenge, SIP brought together industry experts from ASE Inc., Dow Chemical, Lam Research, Qualcomm and Xilinx to assess the future impact of interconnects for data-intensive applications. SEMI also involved Stanford University professors to collaborate on modeling and simulation. Through this unique cross-disciplinary collaboration, SIP developed a realistic model to evaluate the system-level performance of single-chip systems, as well as multi-chip systems – including traditional 2D packages, high-performance 2.5D systems that use interposers, and futuristic 3D systems.
SIP also explored supply chain challenges in business continuity, manufacturability, Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) and the regulatory environment. SEMI worked with a broad range of industry partners to ensure that the model parameters accurately reflected realities on the design and factory floors to ensure usable results. Experimentation has become ever more expensive, with one industry player reporting that “it costs us $100 million to do a good experimental evaluation.” Accurate models can go a long way toward reducing the cost of technology assessment.
The SIP collaboration produced key quantifiable insights including comparisons that highlight the benefits and limitations of various materials being explored for future interconnects, and of architectures under consideration for future data-intensive applications. For example, the current workhorse for artificial intelligence (AI) platforms – 2.5D technology – delivers a 4X improvement over 2D packaging but falls short of providing the orders-of-magnitude improvement that future AI/ML applications may require. These findings enable the industry to begin to identify ways to optimize 2.5D architectures, transition to 3D heterogeneous integration for performance-critical applications in the medium term, and to eventually evaluate new paradigms such as neuromorphic and quantum.
The project findings were presented late last year in the form of two research papers at Electronics System-Integration Technology Conferences (ESTC) and International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society (IMAPS) recently. One received the “Best Paper of the Session” award at IMAPS – a recognition that affirms the power of a collaborative platform such as SIP to produce valuable insights to address the growing technology complexity within the microelectronics industry.
The microelectronics industry is on the cusp of a historic inflection point, where it could fuel the rise of emerging applications in AI/ML and IoT, and can grow into a trillion dollar industry over the next several years. More importantly, the industry is poised to help solve some of society’s most complex problems in areas including healthy living, climate change and transportation. No company can do this alone, and pre-competitive platforms such as SIP are key both to accelerating innovation through cross-disciplinary collaboration, and to reducing costs for individual companies.
Tom Salmon is vice president of Collaborative Technology Platforms. Pushkar Apte is a strategic technology advisor at SEMI.