Are you ready for Industry 4.0?

BY PETE SINGER, Editor-in-Chief

The semiconductor industry is sure to benefit by the “digitization” of manufacturing in that it’s an important component of the IoT explosion, along with smart homes, smart cities, smart health, etc. But is the semiconductor manufacturing industry – already one of the most advanced in the world – ready for the Industry 4.0 revolution? Will the cobbler’s children get new shoes?

I believe it will, but there are some major roadblocks that need to be overcome.

New innovation is required for a couple of reasons. First, the path to continued cost reduction through scaling has come to an end. The industry will continue to push to smaller dimensions and pack more functionality on a single chip because the world will always need super- advanced electronics for data servers, cloud computing and networking. But it’s looking to be an increasingly expensive proposition.

At the same time, the industry is looking to the Internet of Things explosion as the “next big thing.” The two most important aspects of IoT devices will be low power and low cost. Speaking at a press conference at Semicon Europa in October, Rutger Wijburg, Senior VP and General Manager Fab Manufacturing for GlobalFoundries said a typical figure of merit in the mobile space is $0.25/mm2. “My estimation is that the massive volume going into the Internet of Things has to be delivered for ASPs (average selling price) between $0.05 and $0.10/mm2,” he said.

Could the Industry 4.0 movement enable a dramatic reduction in costs? Proponents say greater connectivity and information sharing — enabled by new capabilities in data analytics, remote monitoring and mobility — will lead to increased efficiency and reduced costs. There will also be greater efficiency across the supply chain.

Sadly, there’s a long way to go for the semiconductor industry to realize the kind of data sharing and “digitization” embodied in the Industry 4.0 concept. The main challenge is that the semiconductor industry has been so secretive, especially when it comes to process recipes and yield data, that 4.0-type of data sharing is almost impossible. What’s needed? A whole new strategy for looking at IP and deciding what is critical and what can be shared.

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