The pre­cious chip

Our en­gi­neer­ing col­leges need to give much more fo­cus on prac­ti­cal rather than the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge, with­out which our al­ready late chip man­u­fac­tur­ing will not get the re­quired im­pe­tus, since we ac­tu­ally need to leapfrog ca­pac­ity build­ing in this sphere


What is usu­ally re­ferred to as chip, IC or microchip or a semi­con­duc­tor is an in­te­grated cir­cuit or mono­lithic elec­tri­cal cir­cuit of a gen­er­ally solid chemical el­e­ment or com­pound (usu­ally Sil­i­con) that can con­duct elec­tric­ity un­der some con­di­tions mak­ing it a good medium for con­trol of elec­tric cur­rent, the con­duc­tance depend­ing on the volt­age ap­plied to the con­trol elec­trode or on the in­ten­sity of the ir­ra­di­a­tion by vis­i­ble light, IR, UV or X-rays. The spe­cific prop­er­ties of a semi­con­duc­tor de­pend on the im­pu­ri­ties added to it.

The name ‘chip’ came be­cause the set of elec­tronic cir­cuits on one small plate (chip) of semi­con­duc­tor ma­te­rial. Chips can be very com­pact, hav­ing up to sev­eral bil­lion ‘tran­sis­tors’ and other elec­tronic com­po­nents in an area the size of a thumb­nail, with fur­ther com­pres­sion pos­si­ble as tech­nol­ogy ad­vances – in range of tens of nanome­ters. The per­for­mance of chips is quite high be­cause their small size al­lows short traces, which in turn al­lows low power logic, like CMOS, to be used at fast switch­ing speeds. Dig­i­tal mem­ory chips and ap­pli­ca­tion spe­cific in­te­grated cir­cuits (ASIC) are ex­am­ples of the chip fam­ily that are im­por­tant to the mod­ern in­for­ma­tion so­ci­ety. The cost of de­sign­ing and de­vel­op­ing a com­plex chip is quite high but when spread across typ­i­cally mil­lions of pro­duc­tion units the in­di­vid­ual chip cost is min­imised.

In terms of ap­pli­ca­tions, the chip has be­come the foun­da­tion of mod­ern elec­tron­ics. They are be­ing used in man­u­fac­tur­ing com­put­ers, space re­search, med­i­cal sci­ences and the like. A tran­sis­tor is one of the most widely used chip, avail­able in mul­ti­ple kinds which can be used in di­verse fields like

for man­u­fac­tur­ing logic gates as ba­sis of the de­sign of dig­i­tal cir­cuits. Tran­sis­tors are also used in ana­log cir­cuits as switches to re­spond to a con­stant range of in­puts with a un­in­ter­rupted range of out­puts since com­mon ana­log cir­cuits in­clude am­pli­fiers and os­cil­la­tors.

Other chip ap­pli­ca­tions are in the form of cir­cuits or mixed-sig­nal cir­cuits, lat­ter act­ing like the trans­la­tor be­tween dig­i­tal cir­cuits and ana­log cir­cuits. Ad­di­tion­ally there are ‘power chips’ con­sist­ing of de­vices which have in­te­grated cir­cuits. Power chips are used in those ap­pli­ca­tions which re­quire very high cur­rent or volt­age re­quire­ments. Semi­con­duc­tors de­vices ap­pli­ca­tion which in­volves com­bi­na­tion of power semi­con­duc­tor tech­nol­ogy and In­te­grated Tech­nol­ogy (IC) are called smart power de­vices. The main use of such de­vices is in the field of space re­search.

Fi­nally, is the use of semi­con­duc­tor de­vices in mak­ing high speed com­puter parts, cal­cu­la­tors, tele­phones, med­i­cal equip­ment etc in ad­di­tion to be­ing ex­ten­sively used in ro­bot­ics. Re­search is on­go­ing to find new av­enues and ar­eas where the ap­pli­ca­tions of chips can help gain bet­ter re­sults in terms of per­for­mance and other pa­ram­e­ters. In cur­rent re­search projects, in­te­grated cir­cuits are also de­vel­oped for sen­sory ap­pli­ca­tions in med­i­cal im­plants and other bio-elec­tronic de­vices.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port by Global In­dus­try An­a­lysts, Inc. re­leased in De­cem­ber 2013 on Semi­con­duc­tor Fab­ri­ca­tion Ma­te­rial mar­kets, global mar­ket for Semi­con­duc­tor Fab­ri­ca­tion Ma­te­rial is pro­jected to reach $33.3 bil­lion by 2018, driven by steady in­crease in IC fab­ri­ca­tion ac­tiv­ity in re­sponse to grow­ing de­mand for elec­tronic de­vices. Grow­ing de­mand for elec­tronic chip fab­ri­ca­tion as a re­sult of in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion of mo­bile com­put­ing de­vices (note­books, smart-phones, tablet PCs) is ben­e­fit­ing growth in the semi­con­duc­tor fab­ri­ca­tion ma­te­rial mar­ket.

While con­sumer elec­tron­ics and ap­pli­ances re­main the pri­mary driver of growth, emerg­ing ap­pli­ca­tions in au­to­mo­tive elec­tron­ics, med­i­cal de­vice elec­tron­ics, de­fence and aero­space elec­tron­ics, in­clud­ing state-of-the-art weaponry, are poised to fuel fu­ture growth in the mar­ket. The shift to­wards minia­tur­i­sa­tion is also driv­ing growth in the mar­ket by re­quir­ing spe­cial­i­sa­tion of back-end fab­ri­ca­tion. In the com­ing years, the per­sis­tent fi­nan­cial chal­lenges and the pres­sure on cap­i­tal will con­tinue to mark the dis­tinct evo­lu­tion of pure-play foundries and fa­b­less sup­pli­ers. The fa­b­less model of microchip pro­duc­tion will con­tinue to gain promi­nence, given its un­ri­valed cost ben­e­fits. To say that the lack of indige­nous chip man­u­fac­ture in In­dia was a strate­gic void would be an un­der­state­ment es­pe­cially with Ja­pan be­ing the largest chip man­u­fac­turer in the re­gion and even China hav­ing 95 fabs way back in 1995 com­pared to none in In­dia.

The In­dian semi­con­duc­tor sec­tor com­prises pre-fab­ri­ca­tion, fab­ri­ca­tion and post-fab­ri­ca­tion ver­ti­cals. De­spite the cur­rent slow­down in global mar­kets, the In­dian semi­con­duc­tor mar­ket has shown sus­tained growth over the years. In 2007, the In­dian Semi­con­duc­tor As­so­ci­a­tion (ISA)-Frost and Sul­li­van es­ti­mated the In­dian semi­con­duc­tor mar­ket to be worth $4.56 bil­lion, which had al­ready risen to $7.59 bil­lion by year 2010. Gart­ner had es­ti­mated In­dia’s semi­con­duc­tor con­sump­tion reached $8 bil­lion in 2012 (7.4 per cent in­crease from 2011) and that this con­sump­tion would reach $9.6 bil­lion in 2013 (20 per cent in­crease over 2012).

Af­ter decades of wait, the Govern­ment of In­dia has fi­nally ac­corded “in prin­ci­ple” ap­proval on Fe­bru­ary 14, 2014, for set­ting up of two Semi­con­duc­tor Wafer Fab­ri­ca­tion (FAB) man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the coun­try. These fabs would en­hance the in­for­ma­tion and eco­nomic se­cu­rity of In­dia, give boost to the Elec­tron­ics Sys­tem De­sign and Man­u­fac­tur­ing (ESDM) ecosys­tem in the coun­try and will pro­vide de­fence off­set obli­ga­tions for elec­tronic pro­cure­ment through ESDM prod­ucts. The two con­sor­tiums that stand ap­proved to set up thr fab fa­cil­i­ties are: one, Jaiprakash As­so­ciates along with IBM (USA) ans Tower Jazz (Is­rael) with an out­lay of about ` 26,300 crore for a fab at Greater Noida pro­duc­ing 30,000 wafer of 300 mm size in the be­gin­ning, tech­nol­ogy nodes ap­proved be­ing 90, 65 and 45 nano me­ter (nm) in Phase I and 28 nm in Phase II, with the op­tion of es­tab­lish­ing a 22 nm in Phase III; and, two, Hindustan Semi­con­duc­tor Man­u­fac­tur­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (HSMC) along with Mi­cro­elec­tron­ics (France/Italy) and Sil­terra (Malaysia) for a fab in Gu­jarat with an out­lay of about ` 25,250 crore of 40,000 wafer starts per 300 mm size, tech­nol­ogy nodes pro­posed be­ing 90, 65 and 45 nm nodes in Phase I and 45, 28 and 22nm nodes in Phase II.

While on one hand In­dia has the gi­gan­tic bur­den of 4.53 crore un­em­ployed (mostly youth), on the other, we also are churn­ing out some 9,60,000 en­gi­neer grad­u­ates ev­ery year; large num­ber of high qual­ity with ad­vanced English skills that fit well with the re­quire­ments of the knowl­edge-in­ten­sive semi­con­duc­tor in­dus­try. Growth of the In­dian semi­con­duc­tor de­sign mar­ket is ex­pected to lead to an in­crease in the num­ber of en­gi­neers em­ployed by this seg­ment. Al­ready job ad­ver­tise­ments from mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies (there are about 150 semi­con­duc­tor de­sign com­pa­nies in Ben­galuru alone) are spread across the web seek­ing qual­i­fied per­sons in semi­con­duc­tor VLSI de­sign, soft- ware and em­bed­ded de­sign, chemical and ma­te­rial sci­ence en­gi­neer­ing, elec­tri­cal and con­trol sys­tems en­gi­neer­ing and the like. Here, the eu­pho­ria needs to be tem­pered with the fact that in In­dia we have the prob­lem of hands on ex­pe­ri­ence plus ex­po­sure to the prod­uct and end ap­pli­ca­tion with the first two fabs just about be­gin­ning to set up.

Prod­uct con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion, man­age­ment and ana­log de­sign skills need to be ad­vanced. To this end, our en­gi­neer­ing col­leges need to give much more fo­cus on prac­ti­cal rather than the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge, with­out which our al­ready late chip man­u­fac­tur­ing will not get the re­quired im­pe­tus, since we ac­tu­ally need to leapfrog ca­pac­ity build­ing in this sphere. For this, our en­gi­neer­ing col­leges could tie up with in­dus­try play­ers and co-lo­cate labs with them to im­part req­ui­site prac­ti­cal train­ing.

The govern­ment and the in­dus­try on the other hand should ex­am­ine in­tro­duc­tion of an in­sti­tu­tion­alised sys­tem of in­tern­ships to pro­vide the right en­gi­neer ma­te­rial in the re­quired num­bers to progress the chip in­dus­try. Even more im­por­tant is the need to aim for the ul­ti­mate – to­tally indige­nous chip de­sign and de­vel­op­ment in place of for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tion, which would be es­sen­tial for our fu­ture weapon sys­tems. This needs to be taken up on pri­or­ity.


In­te­grated cir­cuit from a mem­ory microchip

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