Women in Tech

Semiconductor manufacturing: Pre-, post-, and future trends with Rupal Jain

26th June 2024
Sheryl Miles

In an industry where the constant push for miniaturisation and enhanced performance shapes the future, the ability for semiconductor manufactures to pivot fast is crucial.

This article originally appeared in the May'24 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

As devices become more compact, the demand on semiconductor manufacturing to continue delivering a higher performance without compromising on size is vital. The semiconductor industry is, after all, at the heart of modern technology.

Here, Rupal Jain, Network Leader (Process, Program, Quality- Semiconductor and chip manufacturing), in an exclusive Q&A with Electronic Specifier’s Sheryl Miles, explores the semiconductor industry’s evolution and responses to the increasing demand for more power with less space, innovations in semiconductor materials and manufacturing, and the effect of the CHIPS Act.

How has the industry responded to the increasing demand for miniaturisation and higher performance in electronic devices?

The industry's response has been transformative. It is not merely about reducing the size of devices but redefining their potential capabilities. Manufacturers have adopted state-of-the-art techniques and materials, facilitating the reduction of electronic component sizes without compromising on performance. This pursuit has yielded devices that are not only more compact but also significantly more powerful.

These advancements impact a broad spectrum of technologies, including smartphones, wearable devices, IoT sensors, and medical implants. Key to this evolution has been the advancements in materials science and manufacturing techniques, such as nanotechnology, which have enabled the production of smaller, more efficient components with functionalities that were previously unimaginable. Additionally, breakthroughs in 3D printing and microfabrication techniques have allowed for the creation of intricate structures with a level of precision that was once deemed impossible.

What innovations in semiconductor materials and manufacturing processes do you believe are most significant for the future of the industry?

Several groundbreaking innovations stand out for their potential to revolutionise the semiconductor industry. Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, utilising light with exceptionally short wavelengths, enables the fabrication of semiconductor devices with unprecedented precision, creating denser integrated circuits. This innovation is pivotal for enhancing the performance of electronic devices across various sectors.

Colour-changing nanoparticles offer another significant advancement, improving the brightness, lifetime, and efficiency of display panels by transforming UV or blue light into a spectrum of precise colours.

Additionally, gallium nitride (GaN) material, known for its superior thermal conductivity and faster switching speeds, is crucial for optimising chip size and reducing power consumption.

These materials and technologies, along with the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and 5G, are shaping the future of the semiconductor industry by driving progress across multiple sectors.

With the semiconductor industry at the core of technology advancement, how do the current trends and challenges you've observed put pressure on manufacturers?

The semiconductor industry, central to technological progress, faces pressures from current trends and challenges, notably talent shortages and the imperative to maintain product quality. The demand for specialised expertise is growing rapidly, leading to a significant talent gap that hampers innovation and competitiveness.

Maintaining product quality amid stringent standards and high consumer expectations is another challenge, requiring consistent manufacturing processes and robust quality control measures.

Addressing these issues involves revising educational curricula to meet the industry's evolving needs and investing in talent development initiatives.

In the context of pre-silicon manufacturing, what are the most pressing challenges that the industry faces today in design and verification?

The pre-silicon phase of semiconductor manufacturing, focusing on design and verification, is marked by challenges arising from the complexity of modern electronic devices. Scaling traditional verification methods to match design complexity often leads to extended verification cycles and a higher risk of errors.

Interoperability issues, especially in systems-on-chip (SoCs) that incorporate components from various vendors, add to the complexity. Accurate simulation and modelling, essential for validating design integrity, present considerable challenges due to computational limitations. Ensuring functional safety in safety-critical applications and balancing power consumption with performance demands sophisticated design and verification processes.

Could you discuss some of the key operational and quality assurance challenges in post-silicon manufacturing?

Post-silicon manufacturing encompasses numerous challenges, including optimising yield and ensuring manufacturability. The complexity of semiconductor designs necessitates careful consideration of manufacturability to avoid design revisions or fabrication delays.

Quality checks and operational validation across various fabrication steps, such as etching and doping, are crucial for maintaining high yield rates and minimising defects. Addressing the intricacies of complex designs and ensuring the proper qualification of tools and equipment are essential for achieving accurate and reliable manufacturing outcomes.

Where do you see the semiconductor industry heading in the next decade, especially with the advent of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and 5G?

The next decade is poised to be transformative for the semiconductor industry, driven by IoT, AI, and 5G. The proliferation of IoT devices will surge demand for semiconductors that can process vast amounts of data. AI's integration into devices necessitates chips capable of handling complex algorithms and data processing. The rollout of 5G networks requires chips that support faster, more reliable communication.

Additionally, edge computing will gain prominence, demanding semiconductors designed for real-time data analysis. Advancements in manufacturing technology will be vital for addressing the complexity of chip designs, ensuring that semiconductors continue to meet the requirements of next-generation technologies.

How effective do you think the CHIPS Act is for the industry in the USA, UK, and India? What challenges and opportunities does it offer?

The CHIPS Act and similar initiatives represent significant steps by governments to advance semiconductor technology and strengthen domestic capabilities. These policies highlight the strategic importance of the semiconductor industry for technological innovation and economic growth.

In the USA, the CHIPS Act aims to revitalise the domestic semiconductor industry by enhancing competitiveness and fostering innovation. India's Semiconductor Mission and the UK's National Semiconductor Strategy similarly aim to develop manufacturing and technological capabilities, creating opportunities for growth and technological advancements. However, challenges such as fund allocation, global competition, and policy implementation remain significant.

What role do leadership and innovation play in navigating the evolving landscape of semiconductor manufacturing?

Leadership and innovation are crucial for navigating the semiconductor manufacturing landscape. Effective leadership involves setting a clear vision, fostering a culture of innovation, and navigating technological changes and market demands.

Innovation drives the industry forward, encompassing new materials, processes, and technologies that enhance semiconductor design and fabrication. Leaders must prioritise investment in research and development, encourage problem-solving, and foster industry-wide collaborations to spur innovation.

The synergy between leadership and innovation is essential for overcoming challenges and ensuring the industry's long-term sustainability and competitiveness.

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