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7 major trends shaping the future of the semiconductor industry

Dec 18, 2023

The global semiconductor industry is in the throes of change. The last several years have welcomed a new set of challenges that have impacted the industry and propelled it towards innovation.  

In this article, we’ve identified seven major trends that will define the future of the semiconductor industry. These include supply chain volatility, sustainability, government investments, generative AI, geopolitical tensions, equality, and the tremendous opportunities in automotive. 

We’ve also mapped out Capgemini’s role as an intermediary in building trust and understanding and helping to welcome new players to the market.

1 – Ensuring semiconductor supply chain resiliency  

Semiconductors are the brain of digitization and are among the most traded goods in the world. Any disruption in the semiconductor supply chain can significantly impact the global economy.

The first big trend centers around building resilience to the volatility of the semiconductors’ supply chain and ensuring end-to-end transparency to predict forecasts better and manage demand. Issues caused by supply chain fragility and the incompatibility of production cycles have cost semiconductor company customers billions of dollars in lost sales and profits. 

For semiconductor companies, it is imperative to build resilience and process maturity that will enable them to switch easily between industries and increase inter-industry cooperation through strategic relationships. 

2 – Harnessing the transformational power of sustainability

Another major trend that’s rising in prominence is a clear focus on sustainability and producing the products that drive it. As the earth’s ability to provide what we need decreases, the need to act on sustainability is increasing. Semiconductor companies have come out with their strategy and goals to become sustainable. Companies are launching initiatives focused on producing sustainable products that enable low-power consumption or reduce the carbon footprint of their customers.

“Semiconductor companies need to embrace sustainability and aim to make technology sustainable. Sustainability is everyone’s responsibility,” says Sanjiv Agarwal, vice president, global semiconductor industry leader, Capgemini.

With the semiconductor industry projected to double by 2030, and carbon emissions projected to quadruple by 2030, sustainability and government investments are becoming major talking points as well. Five key, emerging messages are:

  1. AI is high-computing and power intensive. For example, a ChatGPT search consumes thirteen times as much energy as a Google search.
  2. Companies should design for sustainability. There is a need for dedicated engineering teams to support sustainability goals (equipment, sub-fab, process recipes, and operations). Companies like Intel and Applied Materials have engineers dedicated to sustainability.
  3. Semiconductor companies have thousands of suppliers. However, most suppliers have yet to set their sustainability goals. There is an urgent need to establish metrics and develop a measurable roadmap to achieve net zero, and sustainable procurement is gaining attraction in the market.
  4. Digital technologies can help reduce the carbon footprint and make FABSmore sustainable. This can be achieved by optimizing efficiency through advanced analytics (machine learning, analytics, and AI); improving digital lifecycle collaboration within FABS (a digital twin platform across the lifecycle of a fab can reduce production loss and energy waste); and ensuring enterprise-level collaboration across FABS.
  5. Companies have made more progress on their US sites than in other regions. For example, Intel and STMicro are net positive water in the US, but not in other regions.

3 – The rise of Generative AI  

GenAI is probably our generation’s most disruptive innovation, and it can potentially shape humanity’s future. From simple task automation, to writing code, to drug discovery, the scope of areas where it can find use is practically limitless.

The semiconductor industry is right at the forefront to enable this transformation journey. With technologies that have the potential to impact so many different industries, there are always the early adopters, the ones who need a plan, the late risers, the ones with the FOMO, and the ones who choose to be in their state of inertia unless the market forces apply.

Surprisingly with Gen AI, no one wants to maintain the status quo. There is a clear indication that almost every industry is looking for ways to adopt Gen AI in its day-to-day operations – and the high-tech segment is leading the pack in terms of adoption.

Gen AI-based applications and use cases for design and manufacturing support will transform how the current automation in factories functions. This will create a major shift in how the industry adapts to this new reality. According to Vignesh Natarajan, hi-tech segment leader of Europe, Capgemini:

“As generative AI becomes mainstream, the transformation of the data center space will be driven by semiconductor players, who will be the crucial building blocks in the power chain competence.”

At Capgemini, the biggest trends we see are generative AI-based use cases, AI-based development use cases, AI-based joint design use cases, and foundry solutions. This will be the big wave as demand for consumer electronics continues to grow, albeit slower than during the COVID era.  Government funding of large-scale projects will provide a floor for demand to produce the next “boom” cycle for semis.

“Our ambition is to support the semiconductor ecosystem companies in scaling up to meet their market opportunity with solutions in Intelligent Industry and Enterprise Management,” says Shiv Tasker, global industry vice president, semiconductor and electronics, Capgemini.

4 – Fast scalability with Digital Twin technology

Digital Twin showcases huge potential in the semiconductor industry through its ability to simulate the entire fab, manufacturing processes, and various use cases and models to improve efficiency and productivity. Companies are looking to transform various aspects of the manufacturing process.

Some examples of where semiconductor companies are focusing are:

  1.  Device-scale twin: detailed visualization of a device to reduce cycles of silicon learning, thus reducing waste and resources.
  2. Process-scale twin: using simulation to streamline process development thus reducing chemicals and electricity usage.
  3. Equipment-scale twin: improving the first time right from design through installation by finding issues before physical build or building equipment expertise faster and more effectively.

Digital twin, or the digital omniverse, coupled with Generative AI, provides an incredible opportunity by providing millions of variations to the model, and through reinforcement learning, can change models for best-performing output or model. When implemented well, it can escalate product output at speed and scale.

5 – Meeting OEMs’ growing needs, especially in automotive

Automotive is a huge driver for many of the changes facing the semiconductor industry. In fact, there’s even a palpable tension between the semiconductor representatives and auto manufacturers. The auto market is hard to resist for any semi-manufacturer due to its size, but the auto manufacturers will never forget the chip shortages of the COVID era and the tremendous damage that did to their business.

“At Capgemini, we work both sides of the equation, helping chip manufacturers get to market and fit into the automotive ecosystem, working with the automotive manufacturers to create their chip strategy, working with foundries to manufacture those chips, and integrating chips into their designs,” says Agarwal. “We bring in the promise to create an affordable, ever-smarter, software-driven mobility ecosystem that’s centered around customer needs and protects them from both physical and digital threats.

6 – Navigating geo-political tensions

 Geopolitical tensions are a shared concern rather than a trend, but they will have a large impact on the way semiconductor companies work, since 60-70 percent of all chips are manufactured in Taiwan or South Korea, which are both relatively volatile. Divergent national approaches exacerbate these concerns. The US, for example, has shifted from outsourcing production to encouraging chip producers to transfer operations stateside. In general, the US CHIPS Act and the European Chips Act will “onshore” more production and drive diversification of production geography.

“Through the two CHIPS acts, semiconductor companies see that governments understand the criticality of the industry,” says Brett Bonthron, executive vice president and global high-tech industry leader, Capgemini.

The US Chips Act is a true public-private partnership model and probably the first proactive federal program where the program will be executed along with the states, which would manage permits, labor, land, and other logistics.

Statements of interest are currently being accepted for all direct funding opportunities and over 400 have already been received. The US CHIPS Act envisions success in four areas:

  1. Leading-edge logic. At least two new large-scale clusters of leading-edge logic FABS wherein US-based engineers will develop the process technologies underlying the next-generation logic chips.
  2. Memory. US-based FABS will produce high-volume memory chips on economically competitive terms and R&D for next-gen memory technologies critical to supercomputing and other advanced computing applications will be conducted in the US.
  3. Advanced packaging. The US will be home to multiple advanced packaging facilities and a global leader in commercial-scale advanced packaging technology.
  4. Current generation and mature chip production. The US will have strategically increased its production capacity for current-gen and mature chips. Chipmakers will also be able to respond quickly to supply and demand shocks.

The European Chips Act enables the EU to address semiconductor shortages and strengthen Europe’s technological leadership. It will mobilize more than €43 billion of public and private investments through the Member states through five key areas:

  1.  Strengthen Europe’s research and technology leadership towards smaller and faster chips
  2.  Put in place a framework to increase production capacity to 20 percent of the global market by 2030
  3. Build and reinforce capacity to innovate in the design, manufacturing, and packaging of advanced chips
  4. Develop an in-depth understanding of the global semiconductor supply chains
  5. Address the skills shortage, attract new talent, and support the emergence of a skilled workforce

7 – Developing a diverse workforce

Diversity, workforce development, and talent are also major topics, with the consensus being that inclusion must start at a much earlier age and that more women and minorities must be allowed to enter leadership positions. Considering the existing workforce, many companies are partnering with universities, granting scholarships, and launching apprenticeship programs so that when these FABS are ready, the new, more diverse talent will also be ready.

 The future of the semiconductor industry 

The semiconductor industry is in a state of flux, with seven major trends — including supply chain resiliency, generative AI, geopolitical tensions, the impact of the automotive industry, and sustainability — emerging from this transition.

There are, of course, numerous other factors at play, including issues around inclusion and reducing barriers to entry within the industry, shifting relationships between automotive OEMs and tier-one suppliers, and evolution of the semiconductor company value chain.  

At the end of the day, semiconductors are fundamentally about propelling civilization forward and enabling the creation of better societies.  Capgemini has substantial know-how and near-tech vision to drive this goal forward.