IoT Day 2019: Three Roadblocks for Semis to Overcome on the Road to “Smart Everything”

With the anticipated migration from 4G to 5G networks, and the explosion of “smart” everything, the number of chip-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) devices is expected to grow from 23 billion in 2018 to 75 billion devices by the year 2025. These devices fall into several industries critical to our health and safety, including medical, smart home, smart city and transportation.


The opportunities enabled by these devices are endless. For instance, chip-enabled medical devices and “smart” pharmaceuticals will provide real-time health data to doctors and patients. Law enforcement and tra­ffic regulations will be enhanced with widespread use of internet connected sensors, cameras, and control systems. And in addition to our homes having smart appliances, lighting, and security systems, numerous sensors can be found today in modern vehicles and, eventually, in self-driving cars.

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This explosion of data will also require more highly efficient data centers to collect and process the data from the smart devices, leading to a projected growth in data processors of roughly 350% by the year 2025.


This industry transformation, referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, brings exciting opportunity for the semiconductor industry and related ecosystem. But this next wave of computing also presents many critical challenges, especially for the semiconductor fabs racing to keep up with the demands that IoT devices and related applications require: increases in process complexity, and material quality, stability, and purity from manufacture through to point of use. 


Smart devices also present a host of unique considerations depending on the application. For example, if your smart refrigerator fails, it may feel inconvenient, but the implications aren’t all that significant. If your self-driving car fails, on the other hand, the consequences could be dire. So, it's not enough to simply build out capacity; superior reliability and performance and IC components specific to each application also need to be considered.


Between the device, the edge and the data center — even with advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning — significant innovation will be needed to keep pace with the advancing application space, where so much is at stake if chips fail. 


Some of these critical challenges include:

  • Capacity & Cost -- Fabricators must increase their capacity while also supporting increasingly complex chips. This will require significant capital expenditure to add or upgrade their facilities.  
  • Performance and Complexity -- Chip designs have grown increasingly complex in their geometries and use of materials, requiring more process steps and more care in handling. Perfection is required at every step.  
  • Yield and Reliability -- Put simply, “every chip matters.” Material and environmental purity will be scrutinized at every step to ensure high yield and high reliability, particularly for chips in critical applications.

With the world of smart everything on the horizon, it’s time for our industry to adjust its mindset and proactively address the key challenges that the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents. Rather than addressing these challenges step-by-step and vendor-by-vendor, industry collaboration from across the supply chain is needed to work together to meet capacity, cost, performance, yield and reliability challenges. By working together, higher standards can be achieved as well as lower costs, and greater efficiencies.


Put simply, “every chip matters.” Material and environmental purity will be scrutinized at every step to ensure high yield and high reliability, particularly for chips in critical uses.


Jim O’Neill is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Entegris. For more details, visit Entegris.


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