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Archive for June, 2016

Broadening Scope of SEMICON

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Once upon a time, SEMICONs were essentially just for semiconductor manufacturing business and technology, and predominantly CMOS ICs. Back when we followed public roadmaps for technology to maintain the cadence of new manufacturing nodes in support of Moore’s Law, it was sufficient to focus on faster transistors connected with tighter wires. Now in an era that is at least partially “More-than-Moore”—as we like to refer to heterogeneous integration of non-CMOS technologies into commercial ICs—SEMICON West 2016 will focus on technologies beyond silicon CMOS such as MEMS and flexible organic semiconductors.

Alissa Fitzgerald, founder and managing member of AM Fitzgerald & Associates, will present on some of these themes Wednesday afternoon during the “What’s Next in MEMS and Sensors: Innovations to Drive the Next Generation of Growth” session (Track 2) of SEMICON’s Advanced Manufacturing Forum. Much of that growth is expected to be in sensors, microprocessors, ultra-low-power supplies, and communications chips to support the Internet of Things (IoT) connected by high-speed 5G data networks.

Flexible/Hybrid Electronics Forum at SEMICON West this year includes two full days of excellent presentations on new technologies that include thinned device processing, device/sensor integrated printing and packaging, and reliability testing and modeling. The following is the full list of forums this year:

  • Advanced Manufacturing,
  • Advanced Packaging,
  • Extended Supply-Chain,
  • Flexible/Hybrid Electronics,
  • Silicon Innovation,
  • Sustainable Manufacturing,
  • Test, and
  • World of IoT.

Partner programs include focused forums discussing trends in technology, markets, and the business of commercial IC fabrication. The industry’s default center of “More Moore” R&D is now imec in Belgium, and invited attendees of the imec technology forum (ITF) in San Francisco happening on July 11th the day before the start of SEMICON West will learn about the latest results in CMOS device shrinking from finFETs to nanowires. The next evening, French R&D and pilot manufacturing center CEA-Leti will lead a workshop detailing how to partner with the organization to bring sensor-based “More-than-Moore” technologies to market. Thursday morning will feature the Entegris Yield Breakfast Forum discussing the need for new materials handling solutions due to “Yield Enhancement Challenges in Today’s Memory IC Production.”

As the official event website summarizes:  We’ve deepened our reach across the full electronics manufacturing supply chain to connect you with more key players — including major industry leaders like Cisco, Samsung, Intel, Audi, Micron, and more. New players, demand generators, systems integrators, and emerging industry segments — all connecting in one place. Keynote presentations will be provided by Cisco Systems, Kateeva, and Oracle.

—E.K.

Dow Kills CIGS Solar Shingles

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

The mega-merger between Dow and DuPont has already shaken out an under-performing product line:  Powerhouse(TM) solar singles. As reported at PVTech, over 100 jobs in Milpitas, California and in Midland, Michigan will be lost along with the production line that assembles the copper-indium-gallium-sulfide (CIGS) cells into thin-film Building-Integrated PhotoVoltaic (BIPV) rooftop shingles. BIPV markets are very slow to grow due to inherent risk-aversion in considering new building materials, and it has been difficult to cobble together sufficient consumer demand for upgrades to existing roofs to support a profitable business. Dow had offered a 20-year product warranty and optional financing to try to move the market.

(Source: Dow) (Source: Dow)

“We’re looking at this one product that could generate $5 billion in revenue by 2015 and $10 billion by 2020,” Jane Palmieri, managing director of Dow Solar Solutions, told Reuters in a 2009 interview. Dow had used CIGS cells from Global Solar for a first-generation of the product line, and then acquired NuvoSun in 2013 to own it’s own thin-film CIGS manufacturing technology in anticipation of booming demand for large solar shingles with integrated internal electronics and easy rooftop installation.

When comparing the benefits of different PV product offerings, one factor dominates the decision:  all PV installations are area-constrained, and rooftops are extreme examples. The cost of the panel hardware is typically only ~25% of the complete installed system, with Balance Of System (BOS) costs for electronics and installation and financing and permits and non-recurring engineering (NRE). CIGS BIPV may cost less than silicon BIPV, but reduced conversion efficiency means less power can be produced from the roof and when you “do the math” it is always more profitable to use the most efficient PV possible.

Eric Wesoff at GreenTechMedia reported on the status of the thin-film CIGS PV segment of the industry last August when TSMC finally decided to cut losses and shutdown it’s CIGS pilot line. Wesoff reports that over US$2B in Venture Capital investments in CIGS companies has been written-off in the last decade, and that Solar Frontier is the only company selling market competitive CIGS panels with profit.

It is worth noting that the market for solar shingles had been poisoned by pathetic products from UniSolar leaving a severely negative impression on consumers. UniSolar was part of the Energy Conversion Devices portfolio of shell-companies that went bankrupt in 2012, and the UniSolar solar shingles had 6-8% cell efficiency using amorphous-silicon (a-Si) and no integration with electronics such that a hole had to be drilled through the roof for each shingle to connect to a micro-inverter (leading to extreme installation costs and an inherently leaky roof). So unfortunately, Dow faced a severe up-hill-battle in the roofing market to fight against a negative impression of all solar shingles.

—E.K.