For semiconductors, technological change is a constant. Today, the semiconductor industry is faced with the three major megatrends – Internet of Things (IoT), self-driving cars and the continued push for a reduction in greenhouse gases. These trends are placing pressure on manufacturers to build in additional efficiencies to meet new market demands and to maintain profitability.
One such efficiency opportunity is to reduce unplanned downtime which can cripple operations and increase costs. Critical power solutions for fabrication can minimize the risk of unplanned downtime and reduce costs. These steps to increase efficiencies and reduce costs are even more vital with every chip manufacturing advance because these innovations tend to make semiconductor manufacturing more expensive. An example of one advance is the ongoing shrinking of feature sizes, such as the widespread rollout of the next generation 10- and 7-nm processing nodes. As we examine these trends we quickly see the important and new role critical power solutions play in the development and delivery of products to meet these megatrends.
Regarding the first megatrend, every one of the billions of connected objects that will make-up the IoT in the years to come will have sensor and communication integrated circuits (ICs) on them, at the very least. That translates to $172.8 billion in revenue in 2025, up substantially from today’s $94 billion.
As for self-driving cars, estimates are that a fully automated vehicle will have about $550 more semiconductor content than today’s vehicles. With the autonomous vehicle market compound annual growth rate topping 26 percent, that means many more ICs will be needed for this market.
Finally, reducing greenhouse gases means that sensors, processors and other chips will be called on to make cars, buildings and factories more efficient. Beyond that, though, the chip fabrication process itself will need to be more energy efficient, as will the operation of semiconductors themselves. Such changes and more will be needed to reach the goal agreed upon at Paris in 2015 of keeping total temperature rise well below 2o C above pre-industrial levels.
These megatrends demand greater manufacturing efficiency. Many IoT semiconductors will be sensors, and these must be inexpensive. Automotive applications, including self-driving cars, require semiconductors in high volume, at low cost, and capable of robust operation in challenging environmental conditions. As for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, that will require a more efficient fabrication process.
One way to achieve this is by ensuring the stability and quality of electrical power. The making of a chip involves as many as 300 steps that may have nanometer-scale or equivalently tight tolerances. Get one of those wrong and an entire batch of chips may be scrapped. Discarding even a single wafer full of nearly complete high-end microprocessors may mean a loss of tens of thousands of dollars or more.
Preventing an unplanned loss of power eliminates the chance that in-process chips will be ruined by this type of power mishap. Ensuring that quality power is always available gets rid of this potential chip-spoiling problem. It also means that production doesn’t stop, which keeps manufacturing moving. This helps minimize the cost of equipment and building depreciation, which is as much as 50 percent of the total cost to produce a chip.
Power quality and stability can be enhanced through “mains” and “brains” protection. The former is found in mission critical applications, such as vital process equipment. It consists of circuit breakers, transformers, backup power supplies, controls and the like. It is often used in building and fabrication site infrastructure and is the costlier of the two approaches.
Brains protection, on the other hand, involves process controls, remote manufacturing IT, plant Ethernet and facilities controls, as well as emergency and security systems. The solution here often involves an industrial UPS, which can step in when power fails. A UPS also can ensure that power quality is maintained, even when nearby high-load equipment comes online. The need for this type of protection was one of the reasons behind the development and adoption of the SEMI F47 a standard for Semiconductor Processing Equipment Voltage Sag Immunity .
Whether for mains or brains, critical power solutions are a must in the semiconductor industry. They are one of the ways to respond to the megatrends of the IoT, self-driving cars, and greenhouse gas emission reductions that will dominate the industry in the future.
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