Thursday, July 30, 2009

Semicon 09: The Show that Was

Semicon West 2009 was my 28th consecutive Semicon West so I've seen it grow from a pretty small show in 1982 when it was held in May in San Mateo in the Hall of Flowers and a few outbuildings (is Pine Hall still there?) to what it is today. It's been a rough year as everyone knows so many of the "big" companies were either not exhibiting or camped out in local hotels. However, almost everyone I talked to was positive about the future of the semiconductor industry and most said they saw "lights on the horizon" or some optimistic words to that effect. A little early to celebrate, but the semiconductor industry turned the corner back in January or February this year, and it's certain the equipment and materials industry will follow.

Aside from the fallout of a devastating recession (good luck with the recovery as Newseek notes in the latest issue), I think there's also some alarm among the exhibiting (and advertising) community that the semiconductor industry is "closed" in that there will not be any new entrants, no new companies popping up to manufacture microprocessors or memories. The same is true albeit to a lesser extent on the equipment and materials side. Process technology has been commoditized (not a real word but you know what I mean). Even if you were to build a better mousetrap, it's quite a long uphill battle to get the likes of Intel to consider putting it through all the qualifications necessary to put it into volume production, and convince them that you'll be able to support it on a worldwide basis with field engineers, spare parts, etc. In short, companies think they know all their customers -- there are no surprise $5 billion fabs (and if there were they'd be in China) -- so what's the point of spending big bucks on a tradeshow booth.

That's true to some extent but it's a bit early to be hoisting the white flag of surrender. The semiconductor industry is still massive and evolving and is still the "oil of the IT industry" as someone once said. "More than Moore" is just a catchphrase at the moment but I think that's where the future lies. Higher levels of integration made possible through 3D chip stacking, and other advanced types of packaging, will be where the action is. Sure, we'll still see shrinking dimensions (is it EUV or imprint?? -- expect the status quo for years imho) and probably lots more talk on 450 mm as the economy improves. BUT there will be new players, new opportunities, lots of room for strong growth which all gets back to the critical importance of a show such as SEMICON West. It will return with gusto, we'll be talking about cool things that have yet to be dreamed up and it will remain a vibrant and dynamic industry. Why? People want to watch movies on their cell phones while sitting on a smart toilet that analyzes how close they are getting to death from the inevitable cancer, heart attack, diabetes, or just old age. The best presentation at SEMICON West? From Proteus on Intelligent Medicine: Helping to Solve the Healthcare Crisis with MEMS and ICs. "First there was the Apple on your desktop, next there was a Blackberry on your belt. Now there will be a raisin inside you," said Andrew Thompson, president and CEO, co-founder, Proteus Biomedical.

Speaking of presentations, huge kudos to the staff of SEMI who did an excellent job of lining up great speakers for a variety of tech sessions running throughout the three days of the show. They were particularly speedy in getting the presentations posted on-line. That's a ton of work that sometimes goes unrecognized. I'd link to them here but I they they should be easy enough to find on the SEMI site. You have Google, don't you? :-)

Pete Singer

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