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Cars and Chips— How Automotive Innovation Is Driving Semiconductor Manufacturing

Ali Salehpour

Senior Vice President and General Manager, New Markets and Service Group

Ali Salehpour

Technology trends sometimes have a way of sneaking up on us. For the past few years, chip manufacturers have focused on supplying ICs for the latest smartphones, tablets, PCs, and other consumer electronics. Now, even as that market seems to have leveled off, the automotive segment continues to grow, fueled by a myriad of convenience and safety innovations as well as the pursuit of self-driving cars. As a result, automotive semiconductor revenue is growing at nearly twice the rate of the overall semiconductor market.

That’s why automobiles take center stage in this issue of Nanochip Fab Solutions. Our cover story, "Driving Innovation," discusses the automotive industry in this milestone period, heralding decades of change—change that will directly impact semiconductor manufacturing.

In a recent presentation at imec ITF 2016, in Brussels, Belgium, Audi executive Berthold Hellenthal noted that today 80% of all automotive innovations depend on semiconductors. Everything from sensors and 3D video cameras to night vision and long-range radar relies on ICs. And this dependency touches every aspect of the automotive business, including quality, costs, and supplies.

German consultants PwC (whose figures Hellenthal cited at imec), estimate that electronic components, which currently represent less than 30% of a vehicle’s manufacturing cost, will represent 50% by 2030. Nanochip Fab Solutions examines both technology and market drivers behind this projected growth. Our readers will soon learn why the need to supply ICs for electric vehicles (EVs), self-driving vehicles, and advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features is tightening the relationship between automakers and chip manufacturers more than ever.

We also look at the interesting phenomenon of manufacturing new, highly sophisticated ICs, such as advanced power devices and MEMS for auto sensors, using more cost-effective legacy tools. One article, for example, explores how the MEMS industry is getting a boost from companies interested in using the piezoelectric effect and new materials like scandium to build next-generation microphones and fingerprint sensors—two high-volume products that could have a major impact on 200mm semiconductor manufacturing. While challenges remain, Applied is now working with leading technologists to develop a new class of MEMS devices that leverage this important technology.

Our article on FabVantage 360 introduces a new benchmarking service that gives customers a "big picture" view of their fab operations, enabling them to see how their tool performance compares to the world's best-in-class facilities. This capability touches on an issue that is particularly important to automotive device manufacturers: the ability to ensure the safety of devices they produce for automotive applications through critical analysis of process control (FDC) and detection of deviations early in the production process rather than later at final test.

Finally, two related articles introduce Applied Materials’ redesigned 200mm Centura Epi chamber and Vita controller for 200mm Applied Producer tools. The new Epi chamber delivers the superior quality thick epi required for MEMS and other power device applications without compromising results for thinner layers. The Vita controller, previously available for 200mm Centura and Endura systems, has now been extended to 200mm Producer tools, enabling high resolution and data clarity, with total recipe transparency and backward-compatibility with the original software.

Cars and chips. Less than a decade ago this would not have been the most obvious of pairings, but this will be a key driver of our industry today. And as you’ll read in the following pages, we’d better fasten our seatbelts and gear up: it’s going to be an exciting ride!