As 2020 begins to unfold, markets the world over are faced with numerous opportunities and challenges posed by the “intelligence revolution” – the emergence and advancement of smart technologies, next-wave communications systems, machine learning, robotics, and others. Every facet of life, from how humans work and consume goods and services, to how we commute and interact with each other, to how our food is produced and distributed, stands to be drastically affected as a result of this transformation.
As with the computer revolution of the 20th century, the semiconductor is an essential component of this looming technological change. From its infancy as a producer of transistors for early computers, to now one of the most integrated, international, and profitable industries in the world, semiconductors power virtually every electronic device and system in existence. Leading the charge in terms of advocacy, education, networking, and workforce development efforts for this dynamic field is the global industry association SEMI, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.
“We are now seeing technological applications, from the traditional PC, server, and mobile phone, to emerging technologies in areas such as mobility, medical, and manufacturing, as well as AI, AR, and 5G, begin to penetrate almost every industry and business,” says Terry Tsao, SEMI’s global chief marketing officer and the president of SEMI Taiwan. “Therefore, we view the semiconductor industry as helping to complete the layout for this whole new infrastructure over the next 5 to 10, or possibly even 20, years.”
To help prepare its membership for the next wave of technological change, SEMI this year is launching a slew of new programs designed to connect its members with businesses and industries engaged in different facets of the intelligence revolution. In addition to its existing sub-level technology communities, SEMI is also launching Smart Manufacturing, Smart Mobility, Smart MedTech, and Smart Data communities.
The association will not only continue to lobby for the semiconductor industry through its multiple government channels, contacts with think tanks, and various partnerships, but will also utilize its new communities to “act as a bridge, connecting businesses across industries,” says Tsao. “For example, we can facilitate exchanges between auto companies and semiconductor companies so that, in the future, these auto companies would be able to source their full supply chains through SEMI’s services.” In this way, SEMI is working to create win-win scenarios for all involved sectors of the economy, not just those that are directly related to semiconductors.
Although SEMI looks on the myriad business opportunities and areas for growth and cooperation with great enthusiasm, Tsao concedes that such a massive sea change is not without its challenges. “One of the primary concerns is that the semiconductor industry will really need to boost its heterogeneous integration capability,” says Tsao, referring to the placement of multiple different components on a single microchip to improve the functionality and operation of a device. “By doing so, we will be able to make devices smaller, thinner, and more highly efficient.”
Another priority issue for the semiconductor industry is talent sustainability, notes Tsao, which is why SEMI and other industry players need to focus on recruiting and retaining high-level talent from among the younger generations. “Nowadays, most young people want to work for Google or Amazon – these large tech companies,” says Tsao. “But semiconductors are the fundamental piece – the core – of all of the technologies we rely on today.”
In order to address possible talent shortages, SEMI is launching several workforce-development programs that target high-potential talent from an early age. These programs also include diversity and inclusion initiatives to attract talent from a broader segment of society.
“In addition, we will continue to make talent sustainability a large part of our public advocacy efforts, getting the government and society involved in these programs as well,” notes Tsao.
While these programs comprise the organization’s plan for the coming few decades and beyond, Tsao says that in the meantime the big development to pay attention to in 2020 will be the expanding reach of 5G.
“Even though 5G systems are not ready for every operator in every country at the moment, most of the handsets that will be launched this year will be 5G-enabled,” Tsao says. “Many market research institutes are forecasting very positive growth of 5% to 7% for the semiconductor industry for the coming year, and 5G will be a major driver of that growth.”