By Vivek Jain, SVP, Technology and Manufacturing Group (TMG), Maxim Integrated
New technology drives change, and semiconductors have been at the forefront of these changes since the integrated circuit was invented in 1958. Now, through the proliferation of technology throughout the world, we are on the cusp of a new wave of change-one driven by the Internet of Things (IoT).
This means it's an exciting time to be a semiconductor company. Technology has gone mobile and sensors are appearing everywhere. These sensors collect and distribute information about the environment they are in-temperature, motion, color, and more-that enable people to change the world in profound ways.
Integrating Sensors-the Next Manufacturing Challenge
Silicon-based semiconductors have a very good platform for integration of CMOS and Bipolar-based technologies. However, sensors are very different, and each one requires a unique solution. A microphone requires an etched cavity to collect sound. Movement is measured through special micro-machines called MEMS devices. Optical sensors that measure light have lenses and LEDs in addition to silicon. The trend is to integrate these diverse technologies into single packages. And as the packages get smaller and smaller, we invent new ways to integrate them. What the industry really needs is a common sensor platform that we can build from similar to the one semiconductors have. Once this is in place, we will see multi-function sensors proliferate in the world around us.
Low Power Devices-An Exciting Trend
In the near future, micro-medical devices embedded in the fabric of your shirt and powered by your body heat will be able to listen to your heart 24 hours a day. And if there is any sort of irregularity, the sensor will send a message to your doctor. The Fit 2 Shirt, one of Maxim Integrated's designs, is an example of this concept. Just think about the lives these intelligent devices will save and the healthcare costs, too. All these parts the micro, EKG and pulse sensors, and secure wireless communications are the result of recent advances in semiconductor design and manufacturing. They are driving the IoT and making their way into markets such as medical, energy, autonomous driving, and the list goes on.
Another important area of focus is low power. As devices become more mobile, where they get power and how much they consume becomes critical. It is important to continue developing solutions that run on low power. Always-on devices like the heart monitoring shirt will be commonplace in the years to come, but only if they operate on ultra-low power. As a result, designing and building products that use less and less power will always be a priority for semiconductor companies.
IoT Will Change Industries
The IoT trend is definitely making its way across markets, even into manufacturing. We are seeing the emergence of "Smart Factories," a movement also called "Industry 4.0." Electronic controllers that provide instructions to the equipment are being distributed throughout the factory. This allows equipment to both monitor itself for service and quickly reconfigure itself to perform new tasks. This improves manufacturing uptime and reduces total costs. Maxim's products provide the technology needed to make this possible. In fact, our teams in Maxim's Bangalore Design Center create many of them. Maxim also has a facility in Bangalore that's focused on chip design, and a very capable team in Gandhinagar, Gujrat that provides unique manufacturing support to its U.S. wafer fabs.
In IoT, getting sensors to talk to each other is key. Using a medical example, a pulse oximeter sensor placed on the back of your watch will shine a beam of light through your skin into your blood vessels. The amount of light reflected back off of the platelets tells the sensor how much oxygen is in your blood. At the same time, a MEMS device in the watch is also measuring your movement. When the two sensors work together, say in an application that tracks your running, your watch will tell you whether you need to speed up or slow down to reach your fitness goals.
The IoT will change the world for CIOs. All these intelligent sensors create data. This data needs to be moved, stored, and analyzed most likely in some type of cloud environment. For the leading CIOs, the "I" in their title will stand for "Intelligence" because they will be responsible for revealing insights hidden in all that data, which will in turn help address global issues like hunger, poverty, insufficient healthcare, and the need for clean energy.
India's Role in Semiconductors
From my perspective, the next frontier will be semiconductor manufacturing. The changes in the world I've described will require new technologies, which will require new approaches to manufacturing. Today, many new fabs are being built in China because of its ability to provide robust transportation, reliable energy, and clean water. However, many of us are eagerly waiting for the day when India's infrastructure enables companies like Maxim to build fabs in India and take full advantage of all the talents this great country has to offer.
Maxim is a leader in analog and mixed-signal semiconductors. The company is headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley and has 29 design centers around the world. It also operates internal fabs in the U.S. and test sites in Thailand and the Philippines. Maxim does a significant amount of work with foundry and assembly partners in Japan and Taiwan. The company also has a strong presence in India.