Semiconductor: Escape the Trap or Die

The semiconductor industry is moving into a new era, and must escape old traps to grasp IoT and Industry 4.0 opportunity.

The semiconductor industry is moving into a new era, and must escape old traps to grasp IoT and Industry 4.0 opportunity.

The semiconductor industry is caught in a trap made of its own success. It’s called the whole-economy disruptor of Internet of Things (IoT). It’s alluring – huge growth potential, new applications an use cases… And yet, semiconductor makers can easily die in the trap of IoT’s need for higher mix and lower costs, faster ramp to yield, and perfect quality.

Old Systems Trap

Many fabs’ equipment and manufacturing IT systems are not very agile. The manufacturing execution systems (MES) in many facilities are over 10 years old. The equipment is amazing, but not designed for Industry 4.0. Even the equipment layer (EES) with fault detection and correction and run-to-run control cannot fully compensate. These older systems cannot effectively streamline and orchestrate an Industry 4.0 environment.

Yet, customers expect the semiconductor suppliers to be ready to support their futuristic Industry 4.0 transformation. Already, demands for edge and fog analytics inside the products is in place for call-home. What they really want is all of that during fabrication, assembly, and test as well as the customer’s production. This is Industry 4.0 smart supply chain.

Lack of Understanding Trap

As sophisticated as the semiconductor industry is, many of the practitioners – even in manufacturing IT – are not well educated about key aspects of Industry 4.0. One example is they don’t fully grasp what’s needed in MES today. Fortunately, capable systems are available, and the papers I’ve written about that explain more. The most recent is: The New MES, Backbone of Industry 4.0.

I’ve also seen that many in semiconductor don’t understand big data. It’s different than the vast volumes of test data semiconductor companies process now. What the industry does today is critical, but cannot parse a variety of data into full context for business insights. This is particularly true across the supply chain.

Moving from Data to Wisdom

It’s not about data, but about business wisdom. This nugget comes from Scott Van Etten, Program Manager of the High Performance NAND Test Laboratory at ITT Chip Semiconductor Institute at UNISINOS in Brazil. I had the pleasure recently to speak about this on a webinar with him. He sees the future unknowns pushing companies to get beyond data, information and knowledge: to wisdom.

He pointed out that most semiconductor companies can’t get a quick understanding of how to consistently drive improvements across the supply chain. As a result new product introduction (NPI) is slow. He also pointed to an inability to optimize the product lifecycle and make strategic decisions.

To learn about the very complex process of semiconductor manufacturing, you can dive in deep with The Semiconductor Manufacturing Handbook, Second Edition. I wrote the chapter on MES fundamentals, and the book is now available from McGraw Hill. A glance into this brand new textbook makes it clear that the amount of data already in use is just a fraction of what it can, must and will be.

Out of the Traps, Into the Future

With all of the amazing advances in the semiconductor industry as we move into 7 nm and 5nm and entirely new architectures, the IT infrastructure for production holds the key. In the past, modernizing semiconductor manufacturing IT was so risky that companies did not dare. Now, it may finally be apparent that the risks of missing the opportunity of rapid volume growth and IoT leadership is greater than the risk of switching systems.

Companies across the industry have already replaced MES and EES in the past several years. They are finding new ways to leverage production data. Companies must set themselves on a path to rapid innovation not just in the fabs, but across the supply chain. To get the cheese and still escape the jaws of the trap, companies must extract wisdom from their data and share it securely. Our economy depends on it.

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