Are There Enough Cooks In The Kitchen?

Are there enough players in the industry calling the shots?

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We work in a fascinating industry, without a doubt, and I watch with interest to see the new technologies that the industry decides to adopt. finFETs and FD-SOI are some really cool technologies, in particular, with great promises. You might also know that we follow innovations in the world of chip design and manufacturing every week from academia and research institutes on all of our communities: Power/Performance Bits on Low-Power High-Performance Engineering, System Bits on System-Level Design, and Manufacturing Bits on Semiconductor Manufacturing & Design.

What does give me pause at times is to think about how few players – the foundries – are really calling the shots, however.

My friend Cary Chin from Synopsys agrees. “That’s one of the things that I think is a little bit scary given the small number of foundries that still exist today. Really, you are talking about three or four players in the world that are working on these technologies and I think there is less opportunity then to try out crazy ideas that you never know will lead to the next big breakthrough. The practical injection of being able to try a bunch of different things is getting harder and harder. And that’s something to me that’s a little bit scary for the industry.”

Too few players means there isn’t as much room for innovation but also when we start dealing with individual atom kinds of things, there’s always going to be a certain amount of uncertainty. Chin said when you think of genetics and evolution, you depend on a certain population size and a certain amount of trial and error, a certain number of failed experiments for things really to move forward. “That’s what scares me a little bit when there’s only three. We continue obviously; we have to get smarter and smarter – which we are—but in the end, things are not as predictable as they once were. We’re really dealing with feature sizes that are so small; you have to do many, many years of research to figure out what’s going to happen.”

With so much happening at academic and research institutions, it’s sad to think how much of those potentially great ideas will never see the light of day.

“There have been some interesting ideas with regard to some of the whole carbon nanotube technologies that people are working on and other areas of stuff as well…it just makes you wonder there are potential breakthroughs that we don’t as a world have the resources to completely explore. What that means ultimately is maybe some delay…so Moore’s Law starts to slow down a little bit. And maybe that’s ok too. I still don’t believe although it’s been true through our lifetime – that it can continue forever,” Chin added.

Nevertheless, the next few years promise to be interesting with the new technologies that will enable smaller, faster and more capable devices.

~Ann Steffora Mutschler