A different approach to corporate social responsibility
For decades the largest industries in the world have deployed corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that, on their surface, are designed to “give back” or “share the wealth” with the communities that have produced the labor force that drive their collective success. We are also told that CSR is good business and can be correlated with improved branding and greater profitability. Based upon the number of corporations that participate in some CSR activity I must conclude it is, in fact, good business to be aware of the needs of your broader community. It’s the ultimate investment: get paid for doing the right thing.
It’s not unlike the ubiquitous hotel room signs that ask you to save the planet by allowing them to not change your sheets or replace your towels. The truth is it does save natural resources to give your favorite Marriott a hall pass and sleep on day-old sheets. But it also saves the hotel in labor, cleaning supplies and utilities costs to do the right thing. These are righteous programs.
Recently, eSilicon has initiated its own CSR program. We have put our creative and useful “eMPW” engineering tool on our website and are offering its capabilities to the world for free. In a nutshell, you can build a multi-project wafer (MPW) spec at GLOBALFOUNDRIES or TSMC in about 5 minutes. The system will provide all the technical information with some intelligence and generate an executable quote in minutes, not weeks. However, and this is the different part, you are also welcome to take all the capability and detail and run over to the foundry directly, ask them for their direct quote and otherwise use everything we have provided you.
So, why are we doing this? Well, we believe that too much waste is cramping semiconductor profitability. Certainly, the sheer costs have all but eliminated startup companies. Our view, in fact our business model, is that more resources should be applied to innovation and far less to rote activities like MPW planning, a function we automated a while back. Further, we believe if all of us participated in a modest way with providing the industry, gratis, with one tool, one block of IP, we could meet the larger goal of increasing the profit pie and share accordingly.
And just like the hotel chain looking to profitably reduce its carbon footprint, we believe that our contributions will, in fact, continually enhance our brand, endear us to hard-working engineers and ultimately increase our bottom line. Several users have already asked us to provide the MPW to them and for that we make a modest profit.
The semiconductor industry is the heart of the internet, the cloud and computing. Yet, we collectively fail to use what we make. By availing the world of valuable tools on our website, increasing the efficiency of our industry’s engineers, and simply saving time and money, we are making a bold first step to demonstrate that a CSR viewpoint is good for our ecosystem and good for eSilicon.
Give it some thought and find a way to launch your own righteous program. And, in the meantime check out ours at www.esilicon.com/mpw.
I attended an outside board meeting this week. During the down time some of the other directors and I were discussing the state of affairs in the industry. Let’s face it, as Rodney Dangerfield said in Back to School, “It’s a jungle out there.” I made the comment that while I am inclined to dissuade young folks from going into the semiconductor industry, for us older guys, it couldn’t be more fun.
I’m not sure either point is right. After all, we continue to face and resolve some of the most challenging technical problems on the globe. What fresh out wouldn’t love to be part of that? Conversely, why do we veterans get so excited about shrinking ASPs and geometrically increasing risk? What’s with that?
I subsequently realized I was on the wrong vector altogether. It’s not about young vs. old, new vs. traditional. Instead, it’s everything about working in a community, a very small community, of innovators that consistently work miracles and place the equivalent of a large city onto a microscopic nay, picoscopic, grid that will perform the functions of a data center from just 20 years ago. That’s why I love it.
Sure, acquisitions are consolidating the landscape at an increasing rate. The big are getting bigger…and they should. It’s their right as the conquering armies. But, let’s not confuse that with the daily conquering of technological challenges that raise their ugly heads with each new, bigger, badder IC. In this sense, the conquering army may be a ten-person company funded with $500K of angel investment. The conquered may not be a company but, rather, an unpredictable physical behavior in a 28nm SOC.
Either way, young or old, we are conquerors and slayers; masters of a universe that transcends the better part of humanity. We are an entire industry, a fraction of the size of Wal-Mart, that delivers wht may be the greatest value in the history of mankind, and we do it with predictability, practicality and enough collective profits to come back and fight another day.
It’s obvious that there is no longer a green field opportunity for our next generation to found Intel or AMD, Broadcom or Qualcomm. But there is an undeniable opportunity to take barely 50 years of head start and leverage it to what might be, finally, the total and ubiquitous deployment of semiconductor technology, not just to every corner of this planet, but, quite literally, to other planets.
So, to those people, of all ages, who want to change the universe, I say welcome to the semiconductor industry. Buckle up…
No technology remains forever. The venerable buggy whip gave way to other forms of vehicular acceleration. Similarly, the very fabric and namesake of Silicon Valley may be under assault.
One of the few technical tenets of the semiconductor industry that has crossed over into mainstream vernacular is Moore’s Law. Not really a law, it’s a profound observation that the density or complexity of chips doubles every 18 months. For decades the notion has guided the strategy and investment of an entire industry. A key attribute of this, to date, inevitable advancement is that the cost per gate of silicon is less with each generation. Many predict now this is no longer the case. As the bleeding edge processes are deployed, it appears that the cost per gate on silicon is actually increasing.
Is this the end of Moore’s Law? Not quite yet. The concept is likely to continue to hold water, uh sand, for at least another generation or two. That said, the relentless march towards lower cost and greater efficiency may have been trumped by the physical limitations of electrons flowing through silicon in the same predictable way the industry has come to expect for over 50 years; transistors are about to cost more for the first time since the first one was built in Bell Labs in the ’50s. Further, the actual cost to design each new chip is growing at near geometric rates. Fewer (albeit larger) are being attempted each year.
So, I guess that means Silicon Valley can close up shop. Well, no. The worldwide appetite for semiconductors increases, seemingly, daily. But the world won’t be so thrilled about paying more money for less area. What will fill the void?
If nothing else, the semiconductor industry is renowned for some of the world’s boldest innovations. It has solved countless problems dating back to its inception with uncanny predictability. One could conclude that it’s the very challenges inherent in the semiconductor development process that have resulted in the breakthroughs that, today, enable a microelectronic revolution that reaches every corner of the globe.
As an example, one solution among several is, so-called, 2.5D packaging. Essentially, this technology allows for the simultaneous use of old and new chips in one complex package. It’s gaining favor because it can facilitate reusability, sharing among developers, lower development costs that match application needs and improved time-to-market. It may or may not be cheaper depending upon the amount of technology it aggregates from the entire system: absorbing memory and IO, and reducing the system footprint. However, it does allow the developer to retreat from the bleeding edge of chip development; the same edge that is challenging the economics of Moore’s Law and otherwise causing the semiconductor industry to pause and reevaluate its R&D investment strategies. It may provide an alternative to developing smaller and smaller transistors at increasing cost.
In any case, innovation is the life force of the semiconductor industry. Moore’s Law is the proxy for the greatest run in the history of modern product advancement, but that run may be showing signs of financial diminishing returns. However, the creativity and tenacity of the engineering community may carry the day one more time as the once-pedestrian chip package, in the form of 2.5D, becomes the enabler of a much better understood and sexier slice of silicon.
Time will tell. But don’t be shocked one day to hear we’ve spent our lives working in Packaging Valley…
For a technical take on 2.5D packaging, please visit our Package Matters blog.