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TSMC Readies 7nm Chip Ecosystem, Infrastructure for 2017

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company came to Silicon Valley on Tuesday for a day of presentations on its latest chip technology. The TSMC Technology Symposium for North America drew more than 1,000 attendees at the San Jose Convention Center.

The world’s largest silicon foundry led off the day with a pair of announcements: ARM Holdings and TSMC said they would collaborate on 7-nanometer FinFET process technology for ultra-low-power high-performance computing (HPC) system-on-a-chip devices, building on their previous experience with 16nm and 10nm FinFET process technology, while MediaTek and TSMC extended their partnership to develop Internet of Things and wearable electronics products, using the IC design house’s MT2523 chipset for fitness smartwatches, introduced in January and fabricated with TSMC’s 55nm ULP process.

TSMC’s work with ARM on the 16nm and 10nm nodes employed ARM’s Artisan foundation physical intellectual property, as will their 7nm efforts.

On Tuesday afternoon, the hundreds of attendees heard first from BJ Woo, TSMC’s vice president of business development, on the company’s advanced technology, including its moves toward supporting radio-frequency IC (RFIC) designs for smartphone chips and other areas of wireless communications.

“Cellular RF and WLAN are RF technology drivers,” she said. Looking toward 4G LTE Carrier Aggregation, TSMC began offering its 28HPC RF process to customers in late 2015 and will roll out the 28HPC+ RF process in the second quarter of this year, Woo added.

TSMC has won 75 percent of the business for RFIC applications, she asserted.

The foundry will start making 10nm FinFET chips for flagship smartphones and “phablets” this year, with 7nm FinFET devices for those products in 2017, according to Woo.

The business development executive also touted the company’s “mature 28-nanometer processes,” the 28HPC and 28HPC+, saying they are “rising in both volume and customer tape-outs.”

TSMC has been shipping automotive chips meeting industry standards since 2014, Woo noted, primarily for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and infotainment electronics. The foundry is now working on vehicle control technology, employing microcontrollers.

The company’s 16FF+ process has been used in 50 customer tape-outs, Woo said. “Many have achieved first-silicon success,” she added. TSMC is putting its 16FFC process into volume production during this quarter.

“Automotive will be the [semiconductor] industry focus,” Woo predicted.

She also spoke about the company’s MD2 local interconnect technology, its 1D back-end-of-line process, and its spacer BEOL process.

Regarding 7nm chips, Woo said the company will offer two “tracks” of such chips, for high-performance computing and mobile applications. “Both will be available at the same time,” she said.

Most of the semiconductor production equipment being used for fabrication of 10nm chip will also be used for 7nm manufacturing, according to Woo. Those 7nm chips will be 10 to 15 percent faster than 10nm chips, while reducing power consumption by 35 to 40 percent, she said.

Risk production of 7nm chips will begin one year from now, in March of 2017, she said.

Suk Lee, senior director of TSMC’s Design Infrastructure Marketing Division, reported on development of electronic design automation (EDA) products for the 16nm node and beyond.

“Low-power solutions are ready,” he said of the foundry’s 16FFC process. IP is available to use with 16FFC for automotive, IoT, HPC, and mobile computing applications, he noted.

Lee reviewed what the company’s EDA partners – Mentor Graphics, Synopsys, Cadence Design Systems, ANSYS, and ATopTech – have available for 10nm chip design and verification.

Design and manufacturing of 7nm chips will involve cut-metal handling and multiple patterning, according to Lee. “We’ve used this technology on 16 nanometer and previous generations,” he said of cut-metal handling.

TSMC will support multiple SPICE simulators, having developed hybrid-format netlist support, Lee said. Pre-silicon design kits for 7nm chips will be available in the third quarter of 2016, he added.

The TSMC9000 Program for automotive/IoT products will be “up and running” in Q3 of this year, providing “automotive-grade qualification requirements in planning,” he said.

Lee also spoke about the foundry’s offerings in 3D chips, featuring “full integration of packaging and IC design” with TSMC’s InFO technology. The HBM2 CoWoS design kit will be out in the second quarter of 2016, he said. “We’re very excited about that,” Lee added.

George Liu, senior director of TSMC’s Sensor & Display Business Development, said, “The Internet of Things will drive the next semiconductor growth.” When it comes to the IoT and the Internet of Everything, “forecasts are all over the map,” he noted.

Taking diversification as his theme, Liu said TSMC’s specialty technology will help bridge the connection between the natural world and the computing cloud. First there is the “signal chain” of analog chips and sensors, leading to the “data chain” of connectivity, he said.

Liu reviewed a wide variety of relevant technologies, such as CMOS image sensors, microelectromechanical system (MEMS devices, embedded flash memories, biometrics, touch and display technology, and power management ICs.

At the all-day conference, which included an ecosystem exhibition by partner companies, TSMC emphasized its readiness to take on 28nm, 16nm, 10nm, and 7nm chip designs, along with the more mature process technologies. It’s game on for the foundry business.

Smart Rock Bolt Wins Prize at Designers of Things Conference

Monday, December 7th, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

When it comes to Internet of Things products, most people would think of the Apple Watch or Fitbit fitness-tracking devices. A device aimed at the mining industry has proved to be a popular entry at the Designers of Things conference in San Jose, Calif.

The Smart Rock Bolt designed by Jens Eliasson of Sweden’s Lulea University of Technology and others, along with Eistec, on Wednesday (December 2) received first prize in the IPSO Challenge competition put on by the Internet Protocol for Smart Objects Alliance, an award worth $10,000.

The low-power device can be driven into the rock walls of mines, and its sensors can report on movement within the rock, which can potentially warn of a collapse. Through 6LoWPAN technology, a capability in Internet Protocol version 6, the rebar sensors communicate with a network gateway, relaying information to a central command post.

The sensitivity of the sensors allows for detection of the movements by miners and machinery, according to Professor Eliasson, which can help direct underground traffic and – in the case of a collapse – can pinpoint where people are.

He said the designers and developers of the Smart Rockbolt are in discussions with mining companies on a long-term testbed for the technology.

There is the possibility that other sensors could be integrated into the Smart Rock Bolt, such as smoke sensors and gas sensors, which could warn miners if poisonous gases are building up in the mineshaft and let them know when such gases have subsided to a safer level.

The IPSO Alliance had its own sprawling booth at the DoT exposition to demonstrate the 10 semi-finalist entries in the IPSO Challenge, all of which were aimed at touting the usefulness of Internet Protocol in the Internet of Things.

Nicholas Ashworth, an IPSO Alliance board member and treasurer who also served as co-chairman of this year’s IPSO Challenge, said the organization received dozens of entries from around the world for the competition, which is in its third year and is sponsored by Google, Atmel, and others. He and other judges met on the day before DoT conference opened to pick the winners.

Second place, with a prize of $5,000, went to EISOX’s Intelligent Thermostatic Radiator Valve, while third place (worth $2,500) was claimed by MicroPnP’s IoT platform.

The IPSO Alliance was founded in 2008, according to Ashworth. “We were basically promoting the Internet of Things before the Internet of Things,” he said.

Internet Protocol technology has “35 years of development” behind it, he noted, which offers advantages not currently available through ZigBee, Thread, and other IoT protocols. “It’s a protocol soup,” Ashworth commented.

Eliasson said he has been at LTU since 2003. “We were doing IoT with Bluetooth sensors,” he noted. The university group later moved on to IPv6 and 6LoWPAN. IP offers low-power capabilities and interoperability, he added.

“The mines have adopted IP,” Eliasson said. “They’re using VoIP [voice-over-Internet-Protocol). They jumped on the bandwagon.”

Mine operators are closely watching the development of 5G wireless networks, the professor added, since it can be used on normal mobile phones.

IoT Will Enable ‘Living Services,’ Keynote Speaker Says

Monday, December 7th, 2015

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

“It’s not about the sensors,” Nandini (Nan) Nayak, managing director of design strategy at Fjord, said Thursday morning (December 3) in a keynote address at the Designers of Things conference in San Jose, Calif.

Rather than talk about the Internet of Things, the subject of this two-day conference, Nayak addressed what she termed “Living Services” – the product of all those IoT sensors and processors, data centers, and cloud-based services.

Living services are “responsive to individual needs, contextually aware, and react in real-time,” she said. They “learn and evolve…as if they are alive.”

The “digitization of everything” creates “liquid expectations” among consumers and other users, Nayak asserted. “People’s expectations transcend expected boundaries,” she added.

The IoT involves “a shift of focus from designing for users and things to designing for people’s activities,” Nayak elaborated. “Everything is beginning to connect with each other.”

She added, “Sensors are cheap; they are able to be placed in many places.”

User interfaces are changing, Nayak noted, moving from computer screen-based interfaces to haptics and “touch-based interaction.”

She laid out the key characteristics of living services – the automation of low-maintenance decisions and actions, long-term learning from what people do, powered by data and analytics, collected from sensor-rich objects and interactions of daily life. “Think about environments, not industries,” Nayak advised.

“The IoT or living services will affect all aspects of our lives,” she asserted. “The home will be a key battleground.”

Personal health and shopping will be other areas where living services will have dramatic impacts, Nayak said.

How can businesses address living services? Nayak said the key points are: Know your customer; flex your technology; design in order to know and flex; and design to delight.

“Think about the value of the experience,” she asserted. “People expect the richness of experience, fun.”

Nayak concluded, “Prepare to atomize. Make your brand feel alive.”

Fjord was acquired in 2013 by Accenture, the global management consulting and technical services firm.

Nayak’s keynote was followed with a panel session moderated by Lucio Lanza of Lanza techVentures, a veteran technology investor and one-time executive at Daisy Systems, an early leader in electronic design automation that was acquired by Intergraph in 1990 and later absorbed into Mentor Graphics.

While the Internet connected computers and networks around the world, smartphones and other mobile devices are connecting people, Lanza noted.

Rather than the Internet of things or objects, it’s more correct to speak of “a world of things,” Lanza asserted, adding, “There are a lot of opportunities making this thing happen.”

Jack Hughes, the chairman and founder of TopCoder who also serves as chairman of the Christopher & Dana Reeves Foundation, showed part of a foundation video showing the benefits of epidural stimulation for people with paralysis.

“It’s not a cure,” he said of the technology. “These are early days. But it is extremely promising. Every one of these injuries is individual.” The foundation has supported the work of device designers, turning out the electrodes that can help paralyzed people move their limbs for the first time in years.

While the technology could deliver groundbreaking rehabilitation, “how do we make these things secure?” Hughes asked.

Mark Templeton of Scientific Ventures LLC, the co-founder of Artisan Components (acquired by ARM Holdings in 2004) and now a tech investor, talked about the Learning Thermostat from Nest Labs (now a Google subsidiary) and the business model behind the device, which can deliver data on its use to electrical utility companies to guide how and when they supply power to customers.

He urged IoT startups to “think about the business model more than the device itself.” He added, “The device is just the starting point.”

Ted Vucurevich of Enconcert, who once was the chief technology officer of Cadence Design Systems, said the IoT is bringing about a “transformation” in electronics, semiconductors, computing, and related industries. “It’s not about winning a socket,” he said, but “how you’re going to monetize the things you sell.”

He added, “There is consolidation and exploration. How can we allow these ecosystems to move forward? There’s a complete transformation coming.”

Noting his background in software, Hughes said, “When I hear ‘Internet of Things,’ I think ‘community.’ It’s a community of things. This is sort of a watershed moment.”

The panel, left to right: Ted Vucurevich, Mark Templeton, Jack Hughes, Lucio Lanza.

InvenSense CEO touts the Internet of Sensors

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

InvenSense president and chief executive officer Behrooz Abdi sees the Internet of Things as an Internet of Sensors, a theme he explored Tuesday afternoon (November 17) at the opening of the fourth annual InvenSense Developers Conference.

“To enable the Internet of Things, we need a community,” he told the developers in attendance. “How do we make this a much stronger community?”

InvenSense has a “very selfish” reason for supporting the 30,000 developers in that community, Abdi added. Many InvenSense developers of hardware and software applications spread out to many companies, he noted.

The company reported earlier this year that 78 percent of its fiscal 2015 revenue came from mobile sensors. Optical image stabilization accounted for 12 percent of the year’s revenue, while gaming and other applications represented 10 percent.

For its fiscal second quarter ended September 27, InvenSense’s IoT-related business accounted for 20 percent of revenue, “double what it was,” Abdi said.

In its history, InvenSense has seen many functions incorporated into smartphones, the CEO said. “The phone has become a mobile server,” he observed.

Abdi commented, “The road to the Internet of Sensors is fraught with many challenges. We’re really tackling a lot of things.”

InvenSense has reduced the typical time-to-market for new sensor products, especially with its new fingerprint sensor, Abdi asserted. The company has opened up its InvenSense Fabrication Platform to more parties in the interest of inspiring more designs incorporating InvenSense sensors, he said.

“We’re giving you a platform you can build from,” Abdi said.

Eitan Medina, InvenSense’s vice president of marketing and product development, revealed some of the company’s news on Tuesday, such as the new CoursaSports.com software-as-a-service, with a software development kit for sensor-assisted fitness tracking applications, and improvements in the graphical user interface of the company’s SensorStudio development tool and the InvenSense FireFly development kit, a sensor prototyping and development platform for IoT applications.

“Create your own custom sensors,” Medina urged. “Design your own sensor fusion.”

CoursaSports supports app development for the iOS, Android, and Android Wear operating systems, according to Medina.

InvenSense also announced it is partnering with Intrinsic-ID for the TrustedSensor offering, “enabling secure sensor-based systems,” Medina said.

The conference also heard from Amit Shah of Artiman Ventures. “What is IoT?” Shah asked rhetorically. “It sort of became a buzzword that means nothing.”

As a venture-capital firm, Artiman is interested in startups that can field a product or service within two years, Shah said.

“We’re focused on revenue models” when it comes to the Internet of Things and sensors, Shah said – specifically, health care and industrial uses. Artiman isn’t interested in areas that are “crowded” with startups, namely consumer wearables and robotics, he added.

NFC IGZO TFT for Game Cards

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

By Ed Korczynski, Senior Technical Editor, SemiMD

Thin-film transistors (TFT) made with indium-gallium-zinc-oxide (IGZO) can perform significantly better than TFTs made with low-temperature-poly-silicon (LTPS), and can be made ultra-thin and flexible for integration into a wide variety of devices. Researchers at the Holst Centre—an R&D incubator launched by the Belgian imec and the Dutch TNO in 2005—have been working on flexible TFTs for many years for many applications include flexible displays, intelligent food packaging, and paper identification (ID) documents. Now Holst Center is collaborating with Cartamundi NV, a world leader in production and sales of card and board games, to develop ultra-thin flexible near field communication (NFC) tags for game cards. The goal is an enhanced gaming experience that is interactive and intuitive.

Cartamundi creates specialized game cards such as these, and has been working on cards with embedded silicon NFC chips for many years. (Source: Cartamundi)

Cartamundi has been working on “iCards” that provide a connection between the physical products and the digital world for many years, and has recently claimed traction with games for the “connected generation”. By working with the Holst Centre to create IGZO TFTs on plastic, Cartamundi aims to lower overall costs while also creating both a thinner and a more robust NFC chip. Currently, Cartamundi NV embeds silicon-based NFC chips in their game cards, connecting traditional game play with electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets. The advanced IGZO TFT technology should improve and broaden the applicability of interactive technology for game cards, compared to the currently-used silicon based NFC chips.

Chris Van Doorslaer, chief executive officer of Cartamundi, said, “Cartamundi is committed to creating products that connect families and friends of every generation to enhance the valuable quality time they share during the day. With Holst Centre’s and imec’s thin-film and nano-electronics expertise, we’re connecting the physical with the digital which will enable lightweight smart devices with additional value and content for consumers.”

“Not only will Cartamundi be working on the NFC chip of the future, but it will also reinvent the industry’s standards in assembly process and the conversion into game cards,” says Steven Nietvelt, chief innovation and marketing officer at Cartamundi. “All of this is part of an ongoing process of technological innovation inside Cartamundi. I am glad our innovation engineers will collaborate with the strongest technological researchers and developers in the field at imec and Holst Centre. We are going to need all expertise on board. Because basically what we are creating is game-changing technology.”

The major challenges are two-fold:  low-temperature formation of the IGZO layer, and integration of the IGZO into a complex NFC circuit on plastic. Control of surface states and defect densities is always essential for the production of any working semiconductor device, and defects act as traps for electrons flowing through circuitry. Consequently, for TFT instead of bulk crystal devices the precise control of the many deposited thin-films is essential.

Holst Centre, imec and Cartamundi engineers will look into NFC circuit design and TFT processing options, and will investigate routes for up-scaling of Holst processes to run on large production presses. By keeping the IGZO TFT manufacturing costs low, the flexible chips are intended to be a critical part of Cartamundi’s larger strategy of developing game cards for the connected generation.

“Imec and Holst Centre aim to shape the future and our collaboration with Cartamundi will do so for the future of gaming technology and connected devices,” says Paul Heremans, Department Director Thin Film Electronics at imec and Technology Director at the Holst Centre. “Chip technology has penetrated society’s daily life right down to game cards. We are excited to work with Cartamundi to improve the personal experience that gaming delivers.”

While game cards may not seem as important as healthcare and communications, flexible NFC integration into cards could generate IGZO TFT production volumes that are game changing.

—E.K.

The Week in Review: October 17, 2014

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Driven by rising demand for fitness and health monitoring features as well as by improved user interfaces, shipments of sensors used in wearable electronic devices will rise by a factor of seven from 2013 through 2019, according to IHS Technology.

Intermolecular, Inc. announced this week that Dr. Bruce McWilliams has been appointed president and chief executive officer. David Lazovsky has resigned as president and chief executive officer and from the Board of Directors to pursue other interests.

Qualcomm announced that it has reached agreement with CSR regarding the terms of a recommended cash acquisition of CSR will be acquired by Qualcomm Global Trading Pte. Ltd.

Texas Instruments this week announced it has shipped more than 22 billion units of copper wire bonding technology from its internal assembly sites and is now in production for major high reliability applications including automotive and industrial.

Element Six this week announced the development of a new thermal grade of diamond grown by chemical vapor deposition (CVD), DIAFILM TM130.

Solid State Watch: July 31-August 7, 2014

Friday, August 8th, 2014
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The Week in Review: August 1, 2014

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Semiconductors providing wireless connectivity in health and fitness devices are set for solid double-digit growth in 2014 and beyond, especially as a clutch of wireless technologies make their way into a growing number of wearable devices, according to a new report from IHS Technology.

This week, IBM reported that its NXE3300B scanner, at the EUV Center of Excellence in Albany, recently completed a 40 Watt EUV light source upgrade.  The upgrade resulted in better than projected performance with 44W of EUV light being measured at intermediate focus and confirmed in resist at the wafer level.  In the first 24 hours of operation after the upgrade six hundred thirty seven wafer exposures were completed in normal production lot mode. Vivek Bakshi of EUV Litho, Inc. said that this is a watershed moment for EUV as it establishes the benchmark capability of the EUV source and scanner to support semiconductor technology node development.

Cambridge Nanotherm, a producer of semiconductor heatsink technology, this week announced that it has appointed semiconductor industry veteran Ralph Weir as its CEO. This follows just a few months after news of the initiation of its first production line, allowing the company to roll out its advanced nano-ceramic heat dissipation technology at high volumes to meet the growing needs of LED makers. Cambridge Nanotherm also announces the appointment of a new Business Development Director, Andrew Duncan, as well as ISO 9000 accreditation of its production line.

IHS Technology also reported that the number of smart cities worldwide will quadruple within a 12-year period that started last year, proliferating as local governments work with the private sector to cope with a multitude of challenges confronting urban centers. There will be at least 88 smart cities all over the world by 2025, up from 21 in 2013. While the combined Europe-Middle East-Africa region represented the largest number of smart cities last year, Asia-Pacific will take over the lead in 2025. In all, Asia-Pacific will account for 32 smart cities of the total in nine years’ time, Europe will have 31, and the Americas will contribute 25.

TriQuint Semiconductor, Inc., a RF solutions supplier and technology innovator, announced that it is the first gallium nitride (GaN) RF chip manufacturer to achieve Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) 9. This achievement means TriQuint’s GaN manufacturing processes have met full performance, cost and capacity goals, and that the company has the capability in place to support full rate production.