What Role Will Semi Play in the Future of Industry 4.0?

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution marches on, how will semiconductors mitigate risks and drive Industry 4.0 forward?

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution - or Industry 4.0 - an age of an unprecedented explosion in data fueled by the demand for new innovations. Robotics; artificial intelligence (AI); nanotechnology; quantum computing; biotechnology; the Internet of Things (IoT); the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT); decentralized consensus; 5G; 3D printing; autonomous vehicles; more efficient, smaller integrated circuits (ICs); and other technologies are becoming further integrated into our daily lives, spurring the demand for greater processing power and data storage. This new digital era will forever alter how we innovate, think, and live.

Just consider the following:

  • Analytists are projecting there will be more than 75 billion installed IoT devices worldwide by 2025.

  • An autonomous car will generate 4,000 GB of data each day.

  • The volume of global data is expected to increase ten-fold to 163 Zettabytes from 2016-2025

  • By 2023, 5G technology is forecasted to reach 1.3 billion subscriptions worldwide

  • Emerging technologies such as electric vehicles, drones, smartphones and tablets, flexible displays, ultra high-speed internet, chemical sales, and more are forecasted to reach $6.9 trillion by 2030

Not only is this new digital era an opportunity for manufacturers, suppliers, transporters, and consumers, but it also has huge implications for the semiconductor industry. The industry is no longer dominated by cyclical sales of PCs and smartphones. More innovation requires a proliferation of chips – both mainstream nodes as well as advanced, leading-edge logic and memory chips – to support applications like AI, cryptocurrency, big data, AR/VR, and more.

Although we are experiencing a time of significant growth, the pace of change for the semiconductor industry in Industry 4.0 is expected to be an evolutionary process. The semiconductor industry is notoriously slow to change, in part due to long-term commitments and the absolute necessity to minimize risk. Additionally, geopolitical conditions and the complexity of the global semiconductor ecosystem are factors that must be taken into account.

However, the industry cannot afford to be slow to evolve in this case. Consumers are putting a greater dependency on IoT and smart devices that generate more and more data to be processed and stored. Processors, modems, and logic chips will need increased memory output and higher performance to sustain the next-gen applications of the future. With the transition to 3D NAND and the adoption of EUV, chipmakers require new advanced materials and processes to support the kind of “never-fail” quality performance these innovative applications demand, while still delivering at exceptionally high volume. In addition, chipmakers are revolutionizing their manufacturing methods to save time and resources, and improve customer satisfaction.

One of the initial implementations of Industry 4.0 has been in semiconductor manufacturing itself as it adopts “smart manufacturing” processes. Chipmakers are digitizing their manufacturing environments in order to remain competitive and efficient. This process involves vertically integrating manufacturing systems and horizontally integrating across the enterprise and value chains, all enabled by implementing next-gen technologies. These revolutionized production practices and technologies significantly reduce cycle times, improve productivity without expanding the fab footprint or adding capacity, increase automation, and minimize energy costs. Benefits to the customer include savings in time, money, and loyalty thanks to usage data analytics and additional revenue streams.

Despite the advantages of digitization, there are many elements to take into consideration. As consumers, we have become accustomed to latent chip defects in our smartphones resulting in frustration, inconvenience, and cost. When you compare a chip defect in a next-gen application such as an autonomous car or a medical device, this has major, even life-threatening consequences. Without the ability to create, purify, and safely transport specialty materials at high yield, innovation cycles will fall behind, and potentially more critically, chip reliability and speed will be compromised.

What Does This Mean for Semi’s Role in Industry 4.0?

It’s clear that the semiconductor and advanced materials science industries play a critical role in the realization of Industry 4.0, as they manufacture the computing devices at the foundation of all these technologies. In addition, by adopting Industry 4.0 manufacturing strategies, the semiconductor industry is set to accelerate the pace of change by enabling greater development of the technologies that are still years away from deployment. Next-gen applications rely on advanced semiconductor and related technologies including microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and sensors, light emitting diode (LED) and flexible display technologies, and more. For example, until the 5G network infrastructure is established, it will not be possible to fully deploy IIoT networks needed for smart cities, factories, and fully autonomous vehicles.

The Economic World Forum has described the advanced chemistry and materials industry as a key enabler in Industry 4.0. Its contributions to society have allowed other sectors to turn ideas into innovative products. The future of next-gen devices and manufacturing hinges on its innovation and expertise, but it will not come easily. The advanced materials science industry is faced with great challenges and opportunity to streamline the manufacturing processes required to turn semiconductor materials into high performance ICs. As the consumer demand for rapid technological advancement grows, so, too, will the success and innovation of semi manufacturers and their advanced materials science vendors.

Dr. Jim O’Neill is the Chief Technology Officer at Entegris, a supplier of specialty chemicals and advanced materials solutions for the microelectronics industry and other high-tech industries. In his current role he responsible for the innovation process within the company including the development of new products and the laboratories that support them around the world.

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