The international semiconductor business is set for a good 2013 if industry pundits’ projections of between 6% and 9% growth are to be believed. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be, especially considering the latest technological developments and collaborative ventures.

To 14 nm And Beyond

Synopsys and Samsung have achieved a critical milestone on FinFET technology—the successful tapeout of the first test chip on Samsung’s 14LPE process. While the FinFET process offers significant power and performance benefits compared to the traditional planar process, the move from two-dimensional transistors to three-dimensional transistors introduces several new IP and EDA tool challenges such as modeling. The multi-year collaboration delivered the modeling technologies for 3D parasitic extraction, circuit simulation, and physical design-rule support of FinFET devices.

In a further collaboration on FinFET technology, Synopsys has teamed up with research centre Imec to develop FinFET 10-nm geometry. This collaboration hinges on the enhancement of Synopsys’ Sentaurus TCAD models for next-generation FinFET technology.

Molex and Profichip are teaming up to create dedicated solutions to provide PROFINET IRT capability for manufacturers that want to implement automation devices such as controllers, remote I/O, drives, and field instruments. From left to right are Eric Gory (product marketing manager at Molex), Damien Leterier (director of industrial communications at Molex), Wolfgang Seel (CEO of Profichip), and Stefan Rübesam (manager of chip design at Profichip).

The joint venture capitalises on work done at the 14-nm level and several other process geometries. It also will calibrate Synopsys’ Sentaurus TCAD models to support next-generation FinFET devices, including 3D modeling of new architectures and materials that will enable the semiconductor industry to design products with improved performance and lower power consumption.

Imec is also partnering with IC companies on research into advanced CMOS scaling. Device scaling reduction requires research in a variety of technologies, including new materials, device architectures, 3D integration, and photonics.

Intel is also forging ahead with its 14-nm operation and has already indicated that it will progress through to 10, 7, and 5 nm, guaranteeing the continuance of Moore’s law at least until the end of this decade.

Connectivity Collaboration

In Germany, Molex has entered a technology cooperation that focuses on PROFINET technologies. PROFINET, which is the open industrial Ethernet standard of PROFIBUS and PROFINET International, is used in automation applications. Programmable logic controller manufacturers and device makers for PROFINET connectivity use Molex software development kits.

Partnering with Molex is Profichip, a designer and producer of ASIC solutions. Together they plan to create dedicated solutions to provide PROFINET Isochronous Real Time (IRT) capability for manufacturers that want to implement automation devices such as controllers, remote I/O, drives, and field instruments.

PROFINET field devices with IRT have integrated switch ports. They can be based on the Ethernet controllers, and the data exchange cycles usually range from a few hundred microseconds up to a few milliseconds.

Both companies have extensive experience in the development of industrial communication solutions. They also are involved the PROFIBUS/PROFINET International organsisation.

Calibration Collaboration

UK-based wireless device testing specialist Anite and National Instruments (NI) recently decided to extend their  technology partnership to include regional repair services at various international locations. The companies’ current collaboration provides calibration services.

This partnership intends to use NI’s existing customer technical support network in locations near Anite’s customers. Anite already has facilities in 15 countries across Europe, America, Asia, and the Middle East. The joint plan is expected to roll out global repair capability in 2013.

Fabrication Collaboration

Along with semiconductor material specialist Soitec and IC and MEMS prototyping organsisation Circuits Multi Projects (CMP), STMicroelectronics announced at the end of 2012 that its CMOS 28-nm fully depleted silicon-on-insulator (FD-SOI) process, which uses silicon substrates from Soitec, is now available via the silicon brokerage services provided by CMP.

The introduction in CMP’s catalogue of ST’s 28-nm FD-SOI CMOS process builds on the collaboration that has allowed universities and design firms to access previous CMOS generations including 45 nm (introduced in 2008), 65 nm (introduced in 2006), 90 nm (introduced in 2004), and 130 nm (introduced in 2003). CMP’s clients also have access to 65-nm and 130-nm silicon-on-insulator (SOI) processes as well as 130-nm silicon-germanium (SiGe) processes from STMicroelectronics.

Since CMP started offering the ST 28-nm CMOS bulk technology, 60 universities and microelectronics companies have received the design rules and design kits, and 16 ICs have already been manufactured. The cost of the 28-nm FD-SOI CMOS process has been fixed to 18,000 €/mm2, with a minimum of 1 mm2.

Soitec’s products include substrates for microelectronics, notably silicon-on-insulator and concentrator photovoltaic systems and its Smart Cut, Smart Stacking, and Concentrix core technologies.

Finally, Renesas Electronics Europe and Steinbeis Transfer Center Embedded Design and Networking have jointly made available a complete Wireless M-Bus 169/868-MHz solution to address the requirements of sub-metering applications in Europe.

The Wireless M-Bus stack conforms to the EN 13757 specification and supports all specified modes. It’s also compatible with other solutions. On the application layer, it supports Open Metering Specifications (OMS) v3 or Dutch Smart Meter Requirements (DSMR).

Wireless M-Bus is targeted at the remote reading of gas or electricity metres. The protocol’s characteristics are optimised to suit battery operation, low data rate, robust communication, and small stack footprint.

The Wireless M-Bus stack is available on the Renesas RX and RL78 microcontroller. The solution includes the software stack and tools such as a Wireless M-Bus sniffer and a PC-based Web surfer from Steinbeis.

Big Spenders

The final word goes to industry analysts HIS, which expects Sony and Toshiba to increase their semiconductor spending as they invest in a wide range of innovative new products to revitalise their businesses.

Sony is expected to purchase $8.4 billion worth of semiconductors next year, up nearly 5% from $8.0 billion in 2012, and Toshiba’s spending will increase 2.0% to $6.1 billion in 2013, up from $6.0 billion in 2012. It will be interesting to see if this speculate-to-accumulate approach works for them.