Semiconductor Check-Up

Two major semiconductor industry events occurred in July. Those were Semicon West and the Design Automation Conference (DAC). Combined, the two events capture nearly the entire product lifecycle for integrated circuits (IC). DAC focuses on design and the tools, partnerships and standards needed for complex chip design. Semicon focuses less on design and more on the productization, manufacturing, assembly, test and equipment used by the industry. The Semicon show (combined with a sister event Intersolar) was attended by over 17,000 people, up about 4% from last year. That’s pretty encouraging on its own. What I’ve seen on DAC’s attendence is a bit sketchy, but one source had the attendence for just the exhibits at over 3200 and attendence for the technical sessions over 1800 engineers. It may not sound like much, but given the economic climate, it wasn’t too shabby.

Trying to analyze the health of the industry based on these events was sort of like my last trip to the doctor. I actually grew up in the same town as my doctor and graduated high school with his brother. I knew my doctor as a super-bright kid that always seemed to have the answers. As an engineer, I’m always looking for “the right answer”. So my last visit with my doctor was a bit disturbing. As I was talking to my doctor, he told me that without literally going inside to look at things, everything else is just a series eliminations and probabilites towards finding the truth. He can only look at the information available and reduce the set of possible causes. Even x-rays are just a single-point view. Sometimes, there is only so much that you can deduce from that.

I’m the kind of guy that likes answers. My doctor knows that about me. So I’m sure that he was having fun with this conversation. But I think that the “Semiconductor Checkup” from the two recent events can help give us some clues on the health of the industry. My last post had some feedback from the Semicon West event. Here’s an update from DAC.

Frankly, DAC exceeded my expectations. I was in a number of great meetings with customers, prospects and partners. But I think that the tone of the entire event was very positive. I did notice a number of trends that I wanted to pass along.

First, before the show there was a lot of talk on “eco-systems”. I saw where there would be a number of vendors and industry alliances talking about their participation in eco-systems. And, although there were a number of such events at DAC (technology alliances, industry standards partnerships, IP vendor collaborations, …), the eco-system message really wasn’t explored as much as I had thought it would. Dassault Systemes was obviously a key player that could talk about multi-company, product development for Semiconductor. But I think that when pressed for key messages, most of the vendors talked about their niche capabilities.

There were a couple of key technologies that stepped to the front of the line. There were a number of people talking about Electronic System Level (ESL) design and some annoucements working groups around different API drafts. The importance of that being that IC design continues to get more about the product than the low-level details. There is a quote out there coined “Stanley’s Law” by Michael Santarini that says something like “Everything that happens in IC design happened in PC-board design many years ago”. People replace the term “systems” for “PC-board” now. And we can see that it’s true.

There was also buzz around the hardware-software barriers. As the amount of software content has rising over the past few years, integration of the two technologies has become more of an issue to teams in the area of partitioning, interaction and predictability. In one panel discussion of 8 managers, most of the answers on the “like to have” list were in the area of hardware-software functionality.

But the biggest change at DAC this year was the emergence of social networking. Holy smokes! Although not an IC design technololgy, the explosion of bloggers and tweets from so many people was mind-blowing. There was actually a controversy on whether bloggers should be considered journalists and, if so, should they be given media passes to the event. There was a large number of tweets with the tag #46DAC. If anything was happening, if anything was said, if there was any place to be during the show (or at night), Twitter seemed like the medium of choice. This is all interesting, as it really shows how collaboration is permeating the semiconductor industry at so many levels. It’s not just for IP commerce or limited corporate partnerships. I can’t wait to see where this takes us.

Back to the “checkup”. Although nobody came out and proclaimed the industry to be healthy, I think that there were many, many positive signs at DAC that shows an upward trend. Most analysts seems to be looking at the semiconductor industry as a leading indicator for the rest of the economy. Let’s hope so.