More People Use Phones Than Toothbrushes…

…And other strange facts. Marketing and innovation at SEMICON West 2014: What’s new, what’s changing, and why you should care.

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“Business Has Only Two Functions – Marketing and Innovation” — Milan Kundera

There may be more to running a successful business than marketing and innovation, but these two functions were front-and-center at SEMICON West 2014. This year’s industry gathering was an important, and positive, step forward together. Because of the gravity of the challenges facing our industry – fundamental threats to Moore’s Law; radically shifting IC end-use applications; rising capital intensity – SEMICON West drew together the best of our industry and was the moment to champion individual and collective innovation to together build a bridge across these intense challenges.

The mood at the show was good, semiconductor equipment and materials revenues are projected to rise (that always helps!) double digit percentages in 2014 and 2015. The show floor felt busier and buzzier, and there were many programs – from TechXPOT stages continuously rolling out ideas on hot topics; new technology and EH&S programs; and market and business briefings – that highlighted innovation and were often innovative themselves (first ever Semiconductor Technology Symposium and Sustainable Manufacturing Forum). The anecdotal feedback (SEMI does multi-level follow-up surveys and will have analytical details later) was that this was the best SEMICON West in years and there was a richer range of collaboration and networking opportunities that underpinned the show.

Micron’s president, Mark Adams, kicked things off with his keynote on innovation and partnership. First, he got us hooked with some marketing when he reminded the audience of the ever increasing adoption of technology in our lives: 91% of all cell phone users keep their phone within arm’s reach 24 hours a day; Google hosts 1 billion searches a day; … and the fact that is now burned into my mind …4 billion people use a mobile phone – while only 3.5 billion use toothbrushes …

Mark did a great job of capturing the major industry challenges, a few of which are end-market diversification, changing capital allocation models, and complexity of system level solutions (packaging). He showed a combination of marketing and innovation in presenting new opportunities to move up the value chain from “silicon” to “solutions” in addressing target end markets in data center, networking, mobile, and automotive segments. To move up in the value chain, Mark made the case that the increased customer complexity requires increased supplier capabilities and tools – a larger span of the supply chain needs to be engaged and we must all work together in a much more collaborative fashion … a perfect way to start SEMICON West.

Bob Metcalfe, Professor of Innovation (and much else) at the University of Texas, and credited with inventing Ethernet and founding 3Com, gave insights on innovation and startups at the Silicon Innovation Forum’s keynote. Bob caught the audience’s attention with “Innovation drives this virtuous cycle. Invention is a flower; innovation is a weed. Startups operate the machinery of Free Enterprise.” Bob tied together his experience in developing groundbreaking capabilities and products with the opportunities and importance of innovation today. Bob ended with, “The world’s most important problems will not be solved by yet another website. Thanks for the continuing social-mobile-cloud innovations, but if I had to choose just one thing, and I know this doesn’t narrow things very much, I’d say, it’s now time for semiconductors to bring on: The Internet of Things (IoT).”

From Bob’s final thought and elsewhere throughout the week, it’s clear IoT and the promise of an enormous new market driver, loomed large at this year’s show. There was a lot of focus on IoT and just how big it will get and how soon its demand engine will drive the equipment and materials markets. However, it wasn’t just all IoT, there was something for everybody at SEMICON West this year. Subsequent “best of” SEMICON West blogs were entertaining and highlighted everything from the observation that a transistor gate 5 nm across will be only about 10 atoms wide (Lam Research’s visually arresting Ten Cool Things We Learned at SEMICON West) to Directed Self-Assembly (DSA) may be the means to rescue sub-14nm node production in light of EUV availability delays (EE Times’ 13 Things I heard at SEMICON West) .

VLSI Research’s SEMICON West 2014 wrap-up concluded that “SEMICON West continues to be the only large event where industry leaders can show their products and companies to the world.” VLSI added, “SEMI is successfully demonstrating how to establish a transition from a product-based trade show into a broader corporate communication venue” …“at the end, the show’s about meetings and communications … and SEMI delivers on that value proposition.”

There’s so much more that went on at SEMICON West, but I’ll just add one more in this letter: Standards. 13 Standards committees and 65 task forces met and pushed this vital industry foundation forward. For every hot topic there was a Standards activity meeting to draft the standards that will enable the industry to move on a synchronized and safe path. With 3D-ICs now moving into the mainstream, standards for glass interposers, bonded wafer stacks, and thin wafer handling are all in stages of development. Representatives from these Standards committees also took their key learnings to related programs on the TechXPOT stages and in the new Semiconductor Technology Symposium (STS). Where the industry has found potential safety gaps, such as in the area of energized systems, new task forces are formed and quickly move forward with standard activities such as the Energetic Materials in Semiconductor R&D and Manufacturing Processes Task Force that made significant progress during SEMICON West.

To all that visited and exhibited at this year’s SEMICON West, thank you so much. You made it a great show! We’re working through our systematic survey and feedback analysis, but please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any comments or suggestions. Otherwise we’ll continue to innovate and evolve SEMICON West.

And on the theme of innovation … SEMI is launching its first-ever event in Latin America. The SEMI South America Semiconductor Strategy Summit will be held November 18-20, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina-based Unitec Blue and the Brazil Development Bank BNDES are supporting the event. The three-day event includes a delegation tour of the Unitec Blue facilities in Buenos Aires, and a two-day conference featuring presentations and panel discussions from industry leaders, analysts, and government representatives. The conference will provide overviews of the current industry environment in South America, address the challenges and opportunities for supply chain companies in the region, and explore the next steps in building the region’s microelectronics industry infrastructure. For more information, go to http://www.semi.org/southamerica.