Navigating the Path to a Trillion-Dollar Semiconductor Industry

July 15, 2023 / Ben Bajarin

This is a highlight overview of Episode. 25 of The Circuit with Ben Bajarin and Jay Goldberg


The semiconductor sector has set its sights on reaching $1 trillion in annual sales by 2030, more than doubling its current market size. However, industry experts warn this ambitious goal faces no shortage of competitive, resource, and design challenges that could constrain the pace of growth.

Central to the industry’s expansion is the competitive dynamics taking shape in the foundry business. For years, TSMC has dominated cutting-edge manufacturing with over 70% market share. But Intel aims to rejoin the leading edge after delays, while Samsung continues honing its advanced nodes. This should provide chip designers more manufacturing options, but TSMC retains significant advantages in packaging technology, overall process quality, scale, and customer partnerships that will be difficult for rivals to replicate quickly.

Scarcity of key resources could also hamper growth. Advanced fabs consume tremendous electricity, yet power grid capacity remains limited. Water was a concern in the past, though conservation efforts have eased deficits. However, emerging restrictions on chemicals critical to semiconductor manufacturing currently lack alternatives. Additionally, geopolitical tensions have pinched access to rare raw materials like gallium and germanium. While engineering solutions may emerge, materials shortages could disrupt near-term expansion plans.

Demand for next-generation semiconductors appears robust, led by AI-driven workloads. But supporting a trillion-dollar industry amid capacity limits will require strategic trade-offs. Some chip designers may need to rely more on multi-die chiplet architectures, mixing and matching foundry processes and packaging options to maximize output. This presents complex technical hurdles, however, perhaps delaying the trend’s adoption.

Sustaining growth further necessitates cultivating a new generation of engineering talent. RISC-V could gain traction as the open-source instruction set of choice for universities and semiconductor startups. Larger design automation firms must also modernize, as aging industry conferences suffer from weak attendance and outdated programming.

In truth, no single company or country can resolve these multifaceted tensions alone. But through sufficient collaboration and sustained innovation, the semiconductor industry seems poised for several more years of healthy expansion, even if the most optimistic forecasts prove elusive. What appears more certain is the need for creative new paradigms and custom solutions to shape the industry’s landscape for the next decade and beyond.

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