Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Rhines at EDPS: masterful marine mise-en-scene
April 17th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena
Overlooking the inky calm of Monterey Bay, the lights of tethered boats in the marina reflecting in the shimmering waters below, Wally Rhines delivered a mesmerizing after-dinner keynote on Thursday night, a gift to an intimate group of EDPS attendees assembled in the low-slung Monterey Bay Yacht Club adjacent to the municipal pier.
It was textbook Rhines: a detailed re-telling of the last 50 years of the semiconductor industry with a log-log analysis of the validity of various versions of Moore’s Law, a dizzying display of data on shrinking feature sizes, and an adamant admonition that the law is, in fact, an economic learning curve with applicability that extends beyond the narrow confines of electronics.
From there, Rhines talked at length about what constitutes a process node, the gulf between Engineering’s obsession with gate length and Marketing’s obsession with world domination, and how reality got so out of whack with message that in recent years the ITRS had to step in and put an end to a war of claim versus counter-claim. Nonetheless, per Rhines, one company’s 16nm today is another company’s 14nm, as the murky physics behind the labels obfuscates to confuse the customer and confound the competition.
But the real core of Rhines’ talk was still to come: He addressed the issue of margins, head-on, across the entire spectrum of the semiconductor food chain, one micro-segment at a time. To do this to completion required many more charts, extensive additional analysis, and a lot more time. Yet, even as the hands of the clock over the bar inched well past 9 pm, no one in the room budged, yawned, or dozed – so complete was Rhines’ mastery of the material and command of the context. It was brilliant.
Through a close examination across the various sectors – wafer manufacturing, lithography, assembly, test, EDA software, and system integration – Rhines showed no single market segment was more than a percentage point or two out of alignment with any other segment in regards to profit margins, and hence no one sector could be seen as holding back additional growth by thwarting monies that might made available for innovation.
If growth through innovation is the goal, Rhines said, and it should be, then let’s stretch our collective imaginations and look at other gleaming opportunities in our future – photonics, spintronics, new materials, and SemiSynBio, to name just a few. Instead of trying to keep pace with an artificial metric of growth, Moore’s Law, through an obsessive harping on gate length, device structures, wavelengths, wafer diameters, EUV or ATE, not to mention business models or sales tactics – why not explore new horizons? Why not try disruptive innovations and the uncharted waters they can lead us into?
Rhines’ talk ended with a detailed Q&A, which might have lasted til dawn by the look and enthusiasm of his audience, but the wait staff needed to close the place down and the Friday morning session at EDPS loomed just hours away. So the group put on their jackets and headed out of the petite yacht club, back up onto the wharf, and out into the night.
Out on the water, the boats bobbed on in the harbor as the silent waves lapped at their sides. Why not, they asked in the darkness, why not try uncharted waters and see where you land? You only live once and the time for adventure is now.
Tags: EDPS, Mentor Graphics, Moore's Law, Wally Rhines