Well, we’ve heard that phrase a few times over the years but that does not diminish the relevance to the integrated circuit (IC) industry and its associated process, metrology and inspection capital equipment tooling industry. The next wafer size transition to 450mm is best case pushed out years, most likely decades. The mixture of Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDM) and foundry fabs is shifting like the tectonic plates did when the supercontinent Pangaea broke up. Where there was once only foundries we’re seeing IDM’s, and where once exclusively IDM’s we’re seeing foundries. (Look out for my piece on the difference between the two)
While this industrial infrastructure was shifting about, the basic production unit, the IC, has changed radically in the past few years. We can die stack from three different substrates, dies from three different wafer sizes, into one stacked IC that is then assembled into a lead frame. This mixed manufacturing model is built upon leading edge capital equipment that enables us to shrink device size and mature capital equipment that enables profitable production yields of these devices.
Thus, the landscape is shifting about us more than ever. We were promised by elders when we came to semi that chaos at the leading edge of the most complex manufacturing industry was our bread and butter. And it certainly has been and will be. The one difference we do face is that we do not need to populate a new fab with all new process, metrology and inspection tools. The chaos of introducing new leading edge process tools and then introducing the associated metrology/inspection tools for them has slowed down significantly. Like other tooling industries, we in semi capex have developed a solid infrastructure of mature tooling that enable us to better attack the leading edge with improved returns to our stakeholders.
In the early years of the industry, it was quite common for developing nations to directly invest in the semiconductor industry to help drive their local economies. This type of public-private partnership has expanded throughout the industry such that many developed nations are now incentivizing new growth in semiconductor to secure better domestic supply chains. In the United States, the CHIPs act (read more: CHIPS for America Act Would Strengthen U.S. Semiconductor Manufacturing, Innovation – Semiconductor Industry Association (semiconductors.org)) in part, provides for manufacturing incentives which have been lacking in the past that will allow for fabs to be built and operated domestically.
This increased focus on localized semiconductor supply chains throughout the world and the dawning global realization of how important the semiconductor industry is to the way we live all signal good signs for our industry. So, while yes, the times are a changing, and the chaos will be magnificent, we will persevere by utilizing our knowns to attack the unknown. Together!