Competing in the “More than Moore” Era
An interview with Dr. Wei Shaojun, China National Science and Technology Major Projects
The Integrated Circuit (IC) industry is heading towards the “More than Moore” Era, with enhanced basic capability to meet the challenges of the new era. Dr. Wei Shaojun, the leader of the China National Science and Technology Major Project (01), says that the future development of the IC industry will no longer strictly follow the Moore's Law, with a considerable amount of uncertainty. The industry’s roadmap will never be as clear as the era of Moore's Law in terms of the future development and direction.
Wei Shaojun points out that current IC design is very important, and there will be an increase of 39 percent in IC design this year in China, exceeding RMB 60 billion. By 2015, China will surpass Taiwan in IC design and become the world's second largest IC design industry base.
Today, semiconductor process manufacturing has entered the 22nm era. Last May, Intel announced its achievement of the next-generation transistor technology of 22nm FinFET. By the fourth quarter of this year, 25 percent of its chip shipments will adopt the 22nm FinFET technology. Industry giants like Intel and Samsung have invested a huge amount (US$ 6.5 billion) in the European ASML for the research and development of the next-generation lithography. When it comes to an era below 20nm, only a few manufacturers are capable of building “less than 20nm” chip factories, but not all players can afford to play this game.
Wei Shaojun states that the construction of one 18-inch wafer fab now costs $10 billion, so the number of manufacturing OEMs will reduce dramatically on entering the era of the next-generation chip technology. Many IDM companies have already announced that they will transform into Fab-Lite or Fabless companies instead of continuous investment in advanced technology production lines. So far, only three manufacturers — Intel, Samsung and TSMC — have announced the construction of 16/14nm production lines, and the enlistment of SMIC depends on the determination and courage of the Chinese government. Looking on the bright side, with the rapid development of China’s IC design industry over the recent years, some domestic IC design companies, will be capable of research and development at advanced process nodes, and will be participants of designing the next generation of advanced IC chip in the coming future.
Wei Shaojun also explains that the future market demand for chips has changed from the order of “performance, costs and power” to this order “performance, power and costs.” With the development of chip technology, performance shall continue to be the first priority in designing chips, followed by power and then costs; the future chip market will be an era of high-end technology and process competition, so cost will only play a supporting role in the future arena.
In the future, the relationship between IC design and manufacturing OEMs will also be more subtle, a partnership between upstream and downstream will be established, and OEMs will selectively cooperate with specific IC design companies; as far as an IC design company selects an OEM, it will never change easily. In this way, IC design and manufacturing will develop to be a liability of friendship.
Wei Shaojun has also stressed the significance of Intellectual Property (IP). In such a highly competitive IC design industry, the abuse of IP core or the heavy reliance on foreign IP technology — in addition to the shortage of independent R&D of IP — will prevent domestic IC design from developing forward. He believes that IP core is critical but the first priority is to create and maintain “our own IP core.”
In addition, Wei Shaojun proposed the following for the development of China's IC industry:
- Adjust the architecture and architectural innovation
- Enhance the design capability
- Create our own IP core
- Realize low-power design
- Take use of SiP / MCO high-density packaging
- Attach great importance to software
The IC industry has entered a high-cost era and the “More than Moore” era is just around the corner according to Wei Shaojun. With this momentum, only a few companies will survive, and decision-making now impacts whether China's IC industry will be able to take its fair share in the future IC ecosphere.
This article was originally published in SEMI’s Semiconductor Manufacturing.
December 4, 2012