In the semiconductor world, integration has been the solution to every problem. Each time semiconductor technology advances we have been able to put more transistors on one die while increasing the performance, reducing the power dissipation and lowering the cost. As an innovative company, how can you work with semiconductor manufacturers to leverage semiconductor integration for your product? If you can answer “yes” to all four of these questions, then a semiconductor integration path could be perfect for you.
Are you a large company?
This might seem like a surprising first question to ask. As semiconductor manufacturers see it, customers are trouble – trouble in the fact that each customer requires resources allocated to support them. In my experience, it takes a staff year of engineering time to support a single customer design, independent of the size of the customer. With limited resources, it is logical that manufacturers would only want to focus on the huge customers. This is where they can rationalize a good return on investment (ROI). If the company is smaller, then the ROI just isn’t there.
What if you are a small company looking for an integration path? Are you out of luck? Nope, there is an option. Just skip to the end for the answer!
Will you need millions of devices?
One of the tools used to keep Moore’s Law moving has been high volume. In order for semiconductor manufacturers to optimize their manufacturing process, they need to build millions of the same devices. They leverage the concept of the “learning curve” to drive lower cost, higher performance, and greater densities out of their processes.
If you have a great idea but can only justify thousands of devices, don’t expect it to ever get built. The only way the semiconductor manufacturing process is profitable is when millions are built. However, you are always welcome to work with distributors to pick from the already available catalog, if that helps.
How can you get thousands of a new integrated system? Is this even possible? Yes, it is. If you want the answer now, just skip to the end!
Does this leverage something already available?
True innovation often requires doing things completely differently from what is done today. This isn’t appreciated on a production line. The semiconductor production line is built to do only one thing over and over again until it is perfected.
Semiconductor companies prefer to make incremental improvements to their existing product rather than create something completely new. This allows them to leverage all of the learning they gathered, significantly increases the chance of success, and lowers the cost.
Your idea, however, is completely new and will change the world. Is there no way for you to get it made? Again, there is a solution. It’s at the end.
Can it use just one type of transistor?
Moore’s Law has done a phenomenal job of driving the semiconductor industry. That is good news. The bad news is that it has driven the industry in multiple incompatible directions. Put simply, a transistor optimized for a digital processor is not optimized for a memory cell. Transistors optimized for analog circuits are neither compatible with digital processor transistors or memory transistors. I could go on with a few other optimized transistors, but will stop with these three transistors as examples.
Therefore, to create a system integration on one die, one or more of the circuits will be created with transistors not optimized for its best operation. If a system integration is to be optimized for each different circuit need, it must be done on different die with different manufacturing processes. Semiconductor manufacturers specialize in creating single die devices, so they aren’t typically able to offer complete solutions.
If your innovative idea requires both low-noise analog and high-speed digital processors all in one, what can you do? Is there a path to success? Again, yes there is! The answer is right around the corner!
Yes, there is a path to success
If you answered “no” to any of those questions, you probably feel a bit hopeless. Whether large or small, if you are trying to take advantage of semiconductor integration and can’t answer “yes” to all of those questions, then the semiconductor manufacturers aren’t going to help you. The good news is that there are companies like Octavo out there who likely can provide the solution you’re looking for by aggregating multiple low-volume innovations into a high-volume manufacturing process.