Monthly Archives: May 2016

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GLOBALFOUNDRIES to Expand Presence in China with 300mm Fab in Chongqing

GLOBALFOUNDRIES today announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to drive its next phase of growth in China. Through a joint venture with the government of Chongqing, the company plans to expand its global manufacturing footprint by establishing a 300mm fab in China. GLOBALFOUNDRIES is also investing in expanding design support capabilities to better serve customers across the country.

 

“China is the fastest growing semiconductor market, with more than half of the world’s semiconductor consumption and a growing ecosystem of fabless companies competing on a global scale,” said GLOBALFOUNDRIES CEO Sanjay Jha. “We are pleased to partner with the Chongqing leadership to expand our investment in support of our growing Chinese customer base.”

 

The initial plan of the project includes upgrading an existing semiconductor fab to accommodate the manufacturing of 300mm wafers using GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ production-proven technologies from its Singapore site. The proposed joint venture will provide immediate access to a state-of-the-art facility, accelerating time-to-market with production planned for 2017.

 

“In recent years, Chongqing has followed the cluster model to vigorously develop the electronic information industry, becoming one of China’s most important locations for intelligent end products manufacturing,” said Huang Qifan, Mayor of Chongqing. “During the period of China’s thirteenth five-year plan, Chongqing will continue to develop the intelligent IC and other strategic emerging industries, and promote sustained and healthy economic development in the region. GLOBALFOUNDRIES is a world-famous IC manufacturing company, and we welcome them to participate through cooperation to achieve mutual benefit and win-win. Cooperation between the two parties will help to enhance the production of intelligent IC technology in Chongqing, further improving the electronic information supply chain in Chongqing and the rest of China.”

 

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GLOBALFOUNDRIES continues to strengthen its sales, support, and design services offerings in China, doubling over the past year with plans for continued growth. The company’s current presence is anchored by world-class design centers in Beijing and Shanghai, which have extensive expertise in custom designs supporting a robust ASIC platform, coupled with foundry design capabilities for a variety of technology nodes. These capabilities are complemented by key regional partners in its design and IP ecosystem.

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Integrated Circuit Packaging Overview

An integrated circuit package has the sole purpose of protecting and maintaining one or more integrated circuits. It is usually in the form of a plastic, glass, metal, or ceramic casing which creates a physical barrier of protection against things like impact and corrosion. Furthermore, it helps to hold contact pins or leads which are used to connect the device from external circuits, and it helps to drive away heat from the actual device. These packages or protection units consist out of a number of individual parts that are all very important to the overall functioning of this integrated circuit.

 

The leads are usually made out of copper with a thin plating of tin with finer wires connected to the package. These are used to create a strong connection between the leads and the integrated circuit. Leads are then bonded with conductive pads on the semiconductor die. On the outside of the package, the leads are then connected to the printed circuit board by means of soldering (oven-reflow soldering).

 

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Earlier integrated circuits made frequent use of sockets which provided better reliability when they were soldered onto the printed circuit boards. It helped to give the package a better immunity against heating and higher temperatures. Today, sockets are not as frequently used, but they still play an important part when it comes to the experimenting and testing of integrated circuit. It is used as a cheaper option where replacement is better than discarding the product, or for application where the chip contains firmware or unique data. Devices that are equipped with hundreds of leads may be accompanied by zero insertion force sockets as well.

 

As already stated, the package material can consist out of a number of different materials. The most common material that is used is any sort of epoxy plastic which can provide adequate protection according to the size of the device and it has the strength to support the leads or handling of the package. In environments where the packaging will be used for aerospace purposes or in radiation cases, a ceramic material is used. Other materials can include metal types which works great for conducting heat and an easy assembly. These are usually preferred when working with high power wattage.

 

Integrated circuit package makes it possible for designers to create hybrid versions of their products. During these processes multiple types of semiconductor dies and components are assembled into a single substrate. The substrate is then connected to an external circuit and is then enveloped in a welded or frit cover. This method is often more expensive than conventional design methods, but it can offer the best cost-size benefits of integrated circuits.

 

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Top 20 Semiconductor Companies 2016

The top-20 worldwide semiconductor companies 2016 (IC and OSD—optoelectronic, sensor, and discrete) sales ranking for 1Q16 is shown in Figure 1.  It includes eight suppliers headquartered in the U.S., three in Japan, three in Taiwan, three in Europe, two in South Korea, and one in Singapore, a relatively broad representation of geographic regions.

 

The top-20 ranking includes three pure-play foundries (TSMC, GlobalFoundries, and UMC) and six fabless companies. If the three pure-play foundries were excluded from the top-20 ranking, U.S.-based IDM ON Semiconductor ($817 million), China-based fabless supplier HiSilicon ($810 million), and Japan-based IDM Sharp ($800 million) would have been ranked in the 18th, 19th, and 20th positions, respectively.

 

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IC Insights includes foundries in the top-20 semiconductor supplier ranking since it has always viewed the ranking as a top supplier list, not a marketshare ranking, and realizes that in some cases the semiconductor sales are double counted.  With many of our clients being vendors to the semiconductor industry (supplying equipment, chemicals, gases, etc.), excluding large IC manufacturers like the foundries would leave significant “holes” in the list of top semiconductor suppliers.  As shown in the listing, the foundries and fabless companies are identified.  In the April Update to The McClean Report, marketshare rankings of IC suppliers by product type were presented and foundries were excluded from these listings.

 

Overall, the top-20 list shown in Figure 1 is provided as a guideline to identify which companies are the leading semiconductor suppliers, whether they are IDMs, fabless companies, or foundries.

 

 

In total, the top-20 semiconductor companies’ sales declined by 6% in 1Q16/1Q15, one point less than the total worldwide semiconductor industry decline of 7%.  Although, in total, the top-20 1Q16 semiconductor companies registered a moderate 6% drop, there were seven companies that displayed a double-digit 1Q16/1Q15 decline and three that registered a ≥25% fall (with memory giants Micron and SK Hynix posting the worst results).  Half of the top-20 companies had sales of at least $2.0 billion in 1Q16.  As shown, it took $832 million in quarterly sales just to make it into the 1Q16 top-20 semiconductor supplier list.

 

There was one new entrant into the top-20 ranking in 1Q16—U.S.-based fabless supplier AMD.  AMD had a particularly rough 1Q16 and saw its sales drop 19% year-over-year to $832 million, which was about half the $1,589 million in sales the company logged just over two years ago in 4Q13.  Although AMD did not have a good 1Q16, Japan-based Sharp, the only company that fell from the top-20 ranking, faired even worse with its 1Q16/1Q15 sales plunging by 30%!

 

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In order to allow for more useful year-over-year comparisons, acquired/merged semiconductor company sales results were combined for both 1Q15 and 1Q16, regardless of when the acquisition or merger occurred.  For example, although Intel’s acquisition of Altera did not close until late December of 2015, Altera’s 1Q15 sales ($435 million) were added to Intel’s 1Q15 sales ($11,632 million) to come up with the $12,067 million shown in Figure 1 for Intel’s 1Q15 sales.  The same method was used to calculate the 1Q15 sales for Broadcom Ltd. (Avago/Broadcom), NXP (NXP/Freescale), and GlobalFoundries (GlobalFoundries/IBM).

 

Apple is an anomaly in the top-20 ranking with regards to major semiconductor suppliers. The company designs and uses its processors only in its own products—there are no sales of the company’s MPUs to other system makers. Apple’s custom ARM-based SoC processors had a “sales value” of $1,390 million in 1Q16, up 10% from $1,260 million in 1Q15.  Apple’s MPUs have been used in 13 iPhone handset designs since 2007 and a dozen iPad tablet models since 2010 as well as in iPod portable media players, smartwatches, and Apple TV units.  Apple’s custom processors—such as the 64-bit A9 used in iPhone 6s and 6s Plus handsets introduced in September 2015 and the new iPhone 6SE launched in March 2016—are made by pure-play foundry TSMC and IDM foundry Samsung.

 

Intel remained firmly in control of the number one spot in 1Q16.  In fact, it increased its lead over Samsung’s semiconductor sales from 29% in 1Q15 to 40% in 1Q16.  The biggest moves in the ranking were made by the new Broadcom Ltd. (Avago/Broadcom) and Nvidia, each of which jumped up three positions in 1Q16 as compared to 1Q15.

 

As would be expected, given the possible acquisitions and mergers that could/will occur this year (e.g., Microchip/Atmel), as well as any new ones that may develop, the top-20 semiconductor ranking is likely to undergo a significant amount of upheaval over the next few years as the semiconductor industry continues along its path to maturity.

 

 

This is a guest post by IC Insights which provides market research for the semiconductor industry.

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ARM Acquires Apical – a Global Leader in Imaging and Embedded Computer Vision

ARM has acquired Apical, a global leader in imaging and embedded computer vision technology that will allow next generation devices to understand and act intelligently on information from their environment. Apical is one of the UK’s fastest-growing technology companies* and its advanced imaging products are used in more than 1.5 billion smartphones and approximately 300 million other consumer/industrial devices including IP cameras, digital stills cameras and tablets.

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The acquisition, closed** for a cash consideration of $350 million, supports ARM’s long term growth strategy by enabling new imaging products for next generation vehicles, security systems, robotics, mobile and any consumer, smart building, industrial or retail application where intelligent image processing is needed. Apical’s technology will complement the ARM® MaliTM graphics, display and video processor roadmap with products including:

 

Spirit™: A power-efficient computer vision technology, Spirit gives ARM and its partners the ability to address opportunities anywhere that advanced image computing can deliver innovation. It comprises dedicated silicon IP blocks that deliver an on-chip computer vision capability by converting raw sensor data or video into a machine-readable representation of an image.

 

Assertive Display®: Based on more than a decade’s research into human vision, Assertive Display enables screens to adapt to changes in light by overcoming brightness limitations while reducing power consumption.

 


Assertive Camera™: Configured as a range of image signal processors (ISPs) and software packages, Assertive Camera delivers advances in performance including high dynamic range, noise reduction and color management.

 

“Computer vision is in the early stages of development and the world of devices powered by this exciting technology can only grow from here,” said Simon Segars, CEO, ARM. “Apical is at the forefront of embedded computer vision technology, building on its leadership in imaging products that already enable intelligent devices to deliver amazing new user experiences. The ARM partnership is solving the technical challenges of next generation products such as driverless cars and sophisticated security systems. These solutions rely on the creation of dedicated image computing solutions and Apical’s technologies will play a crucial role in their delivery.”

 

Apical is a highly successful imaging technology IP business founded in 2002 that employs approximately 100 people, mainly at a research and development centre in Loughborough, UK. Its technology has shipped in more than 1.5 billion smartphones, including top-selling premium handsets.

 

“Apical has led the way with new imaging technologies based on extensive research into human vision and visual processing,” said Michael Tusch, CEO and founder, Apical. “The products developed by Apical already enable cameras to understand their environment and to act on the most relevant information by employing intelligent processing. These technologies will advance as part of ARM, driving value for its partners as they push deeper into markets where visual computing will deliver a transformation in device capabilities and the way humans interact with machines.”

 

ARM evolved from the need to bring flexible and energy-efficient processing to a range of applications. Some 25 years and more than 86 billion ARM-based silicon chips later, the company’s technology now reaches 80 per cent of the global population. Alongside its ARM Cortex® processors, ARM licenses Mali graphics, video and display processors. In 2015 Mali graphics processors became the world’s most shipped IP graphics core.

 

*The Sunday Times’ Tech Track 100 fastest-growing UK technology companies 2015.

**The acquisition closed on 17 May, 2016.

For more information on Apical: http://www.apical.co.uk/

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Broadcom acquired 5G company MagnaCom

Semiconductor chipmaker Broadcom has acquired MagnaCom, which develops 5G wireless communications technology.

 

A MagnaCom patent and trademark, WAM technology can enhance virtually all wired and wireless applications, and most importantly – is backward compatible to all legacy QAM systems, while not requiring any changes to the antennae, radio or RF. The technology is a pure digital modulation scheme, which uses the exact same analog and RF circuits as QAM, requiring no analog or mixed-signal re-design. WAM technology is scalable, and may consume less than 1 square millimeter in modern semiconductor design for even the full 10dB benefit. Scalability means designers may implement a smaller, lower cost solution for a lesser benefit.

 

MagnaCom was founded in 2012 by Yossi Cohen, who serves as CEO. And Amir Elias, who serves as CTO of the company The company has a development center in Petah Tikva, Israel and an office in California. The company’s products have won various awards including at CES 2015. Since its inception the company raised investment estimated at millions of dollars – all by private investors, not by VCs.

 

 

WAM technology is a pure digital new modulation scheme, using spectral compression that improves spectral efficiency. The spectral compression enables an increase of the signaling rate thereby affording the use of lower order alphabet, which reduces complexity. It provides inherent diversity of time and frequency domains and uses nonlinear signal shaping. The nonlinearities are handled digitally at the receiver side, allowing a lower-cost and lower-power transmitter design.

 

 

 

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What is Tapeout?

The term tapeout is seemingly a strange name for the final product considering that no form of tape is used in the process. However, the origins of the name go back to a time before computers or digital storage was invented.  It is important to understand that a tapeout or tape-out is resolution of the cycle of design for integrated circuits (ASICs). This is when the photomask of the circuit has been fully created and is sent to the manufacturer for production. But where does the name come from and why is used?

 

The origin of the term tapeout is not fully clear, but it may have something to do with the use of paper tape and subsequently magnetic tape reels which were used to hold the electronic files of the created photomask. This is how the final design of the tapeout was stored before being sent for production. However, there are other beliefs that the origin of the name came from the beginnings of printed circuit designs. When the circuit designs were enlarged so that it could be better followed, the photomask was “taped out” manually by using black-line tape along with die-cut elements which were found on sheets of PET film.

 

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Whatever the origin of the name, the actual process is in many ways still the same although it has transferred from the physical to the digital world.

 

Today, those who create a photomask for ASICs using an approved electronic CAD file is called a tapeout. This particular stage of the process is sometimes referred to as Pattern Generation (PG) which designers use to describe the final manufacturing database for an ASIC.The semiconductor foundry which accepts the file will still perform additional checks and may modify the design if changes are needed before reaching the tapeout stage.

 

Today’s ICs must undergo a long and quite complex process before it can be ready to go to tapeout. Using a collection of software tools known as Electronic Design Automation (EDA), it will help handle the many steps that are necessary to get a final design completed. This means that the circuit board design will be checked out and verified along the way called “signout” before it can take the final step to the tape-out process.

 

By the time tapeout is reached, there is usually a collective sigh of relief as all the stages in the design and verification process have been completed. However, while that is the end of the initial process, there is still the first article to be released as well as the actual samples of the chip that is produced by the semiconductor foundry.

 

There are only two things that can happen, either the design works or it does not and modifications are needed. This is usually as a result of the first article which will shake out any flaws in the manufacturing process or the functionality of the chip itself. Such setbacks can be minor in nature and only take a relatively short time to resolve or it may lead up to a complete redesign.

 

In any case, the tapeout remains a vital part of the finishing process when it comes to the design of ASICs

 

Read more about the different masksets: MLM, MPW and full maskset