Moore believed that scientific advances affecting semiconductors could be crucial to economic growth, because an extensive range of applications would be found for more powerful devices in industry, government and national defense
He thought that it would depend on a tradeoff between the pace of scientific advance and the costs of producing more powerful devices.
As the IC industry is progressing and many layers on the silicon chips are approaching atomic scale we might be facing a insurmountable wall that might hamper the future development of the chip technology. Many changes took place in the industry as copper replaced aluminum and CMP was introduced. High k hafnium oxide replaced the traditional silicon dioxide as the basic building block of the transistor (gate), mobility enhancement was obtained by stressors (either dielectric film or selective epitaxial growth in the source/drain area) and of course the tri gate process was debuted by Intel just recentlyes. The transistor of advanced processes today (32nm and below) looks dramatically different from the 130nm transistor of 10 years ago.
The end result of all these is: yes we have better, faster and more advanced devices ( as well as manufacturing facilities) but the cost of manufacturing has gone up dramatically.
However, there is a clear bifurcation in the industry with the rebirth of several “sleepy” technologies that for several years didn’t receive the right attention. By that I’m referring to analog, MEMS and power electronics.
Analog companies like TI, ST, Analog Devices, Infineon are the leaders in that field. The use of analog ICs is increasing in wireless applications. Increasing use of hand held devices (smart phones, tablets and laptops) increases the sale of analog chips. Analog IC technology is playing a key role in wireless systems such as 4G cellular phone systems, wireless sensor networking systems and broadband wireless networking systems. Wireless systems need analog ICs mainly in their transceiver chips for signal processing. Other application areas of analog ICs in wireless systems are wireless data access cards, wireless LAN cards, wireless mouse, wireless repeaters, etc.
The use of power electronics including power transistors, power management devices (used in portable devices, they facilitate addition of more functions while minimizing the battery drain) have been increased dramatically during the last few years as we are becoming a mobile society. The use of hybrid or electric cars, smart grids and solar devices also increases the use of power electronics.
The MEMS industry also has grown dramatically with gyros on hand held devices as well as many types of sensors and microphones. These are all new applications that push the industry in new directions.
The common denominator to all these new applications are relatively small wafers and relaxed design rules. Most of the fabs that are running these products are relatively “old” 6” and 200mm fabs. TI is the only company that has the first 300mm analog fab in Richardson TX. The advantage of these fabs is that they are fully depreciated and the cost of running them is relatively low.
Because of that we see a resurgence in the demand for 200mm wafer fab equipment within the last year that caught all the equipment suppliers by surprise.
So in summary we do see the advancement in process development with shrinking of the device per Moore’s law on one hand and on the other hand a totally different section of the industry that is running on more relaxed design rules with relatively old fabs.
Continuing with Moore law is an extremely expensive proposition especially beyond 22nm, so 3D in a monolithic mode could alleviate some of the problems and will bring some relief to the exorbitant cost of new advanced fab.
I think we can start learning from the way the analog fabs are running their business.