3D-IC holds the promise of building a semiconductor ecosystem in India.
The semiconductor market has never been more significant. Driven by the need for more sophistication, automation and intelligence, the number of chips used in various electronic systems across domains has proliferated. Industries across disciplines are embracing digital transformation, increasing the need for enhanced, complex and specialized semiconductor chips.
Semiconductor chips have become a linchpin for emerging technology trends such as artificial intelligence (AI), industry 4.0, autonomous vehicles, 5G and edge computing. The unprecedented demand for advanced semiconductors drives the semiconductor market growth. Per McKinsey & Company’s prediction, the semiconductor industry will be one trillion by the end of the decade.
The need for advanced packaging
The massive proliferation of emerging technologies requires high-performance, high-bandwidth, pixel-heavy and low-latency computing. The electronic components supporting these technologies necessitate complex and larger chips that work under varied circumstances and are developed in shorter product cycles. But with every advanced process node, the stakes are high. The processes are becoming complex, and costs are skyrocketing. With Moore’s law slowing down, the industry’s current focus is on getting the right balance of density, integration and functionality at the right price.
To strike a balance between density and price factor, the roadmap for semiconductors is charting toward heterogeneous integration. Designing and developing smaller, specialized, or optimized blocks called chiplets and stacking them in a disaggregated system-on-chip (SoC) architecture called heterogeneous integration, or 3D-IC, is the way to reconcile the technology needs and increased expenses. One of the prime benefits of 3D-IC is flexibility. Designers no longer need to move the entire SoC to the latest process. They can keep their analog, full-custom, and memory IP at the older, matured process nodes and move the aggressive CPU/GPU/digital logic to advanced process nodes eliminating the risks, high costs and time-to-market delays. Also, the vertical stacking supports the spirit of Moore’s law, reducing package size with maximum functionality, as more features can be crammed vertically into each block to support high-density designs.
Packaging technologies have come to the forefront rather than just being a protective case for the components. Today’s advanced packaging is all about value addition and differentiation from competitors. 3D-IC is a promise—significant and very real. By 2030, the global 3D-IC market is expected to reach $51.81 billion. Semiconductor companies can leverage the best of both worlds by mitigating the cost, complexity, risk, and development time, producing chips with smaller form factors, faster performance, and lower power.
Despite many advantages, 3D-IC introduces many challenges. While the industry is working towards standardizing the processes and building unified interfaces and toolchains, there is much to accomplish to bring 3D-IC into the mainstream. The 3D-IC floor needs to be ready. The humongous task of shifting the business model to a new heterogeneous integration paradigm and transitioning to a new ecosystem requires significant time and effort.
3D-IC holds the promise of building a semiconductor ecosystem in India
India, a massive domestic consumer market for electronic products with an unmatched pool of skilled workers, has immense opportunities to capitalize on the high demand for semiconductors. It has a significant role to play in creating a local semiconductor ecosystem. The Indian government’s new policies and schemes for developing sustainable semiconductor ecosystems are accelerating India’s dream of a $10 billion chip-making initiative to become a global hub for electronic system design and manufacturing. Per the report by the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) and Counterpoint Research, India’s semiconductor component market is likely to reach $300 billion in cumulative revenues by 2026, as ‘Make in India’, Production Linked Incentive (PLI) and Design Linked Incentive (DLI) schemes will boost local sourcing of semiconductor components in the coming years.
3D-IC holds the promise of building a semiconductor ecosystem in India. Just as commercial third-party IP evolved and a business market was built around it for developing and selling soft and hard IP, the 3D-IC chiplet space also has significant possibilities to grow and create a market space for commercial third-party chiplets. This evolution must happen and play out over the next several years. Standards must be defined and enforced for ease of integration. Instead of working in silos, the industry must collaborate and develop a broader semiconductor ecosystem to work toward standardizing to move 3D-IC to high-volume product applications. The next step is to work towards creating a 3D-IC marketplace and to build commercial infrastructure around it where companies can evaluate various chiplets.
How does India leverage this evolution? Should India be focusing on developing and building expertise in the 3D-IC space? 3D-IC development can move the pressure from the silicon fab to the outsourced semiconductor assembly and test (OSAT) space, giving more packaging, assembly, and testing visibility. India can focus significantly on this space with 3D-IC as the target. The 3D-IC technology is evolving fast, and standards are getting formalized. India should start investing and gaining expertise, building leadership in this space and becoming a key player.
As Wayne Gretzky, the former Canadian ice hockey head coach, said, “I skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.” India should focus its efforts on where the “puck”—3D-IC—is going. The road towards this path has many hurdles, yet it is an opportunity for India, especially when building a new semiconductor ecosystem. It is a shortcut to get directly onto the niche track that holds future promise. Moreover, India can work with the latest standards and packaging innovations the industry is developing. The semiconductor giants have started investing in 3D-IC and building real momentum around it, assuring India that there is enough value in focusing on this space.
Building an ecosystem at such a large-scale needs collaboration. The next step is to create an empowered group of technocrats under the aegis of the India Semiconductor Mission to define the strategy and march towards the future of advanced packaging built in India. Instead of focusing on a lagging-edge packaging technology, India must focus on the real opportunity with designing and developing advanced nodes using heterogeneous integration through 3D-IC, where now, no country, no geography, and no company can claim itself as the leader. Foundries, IP providers, EDA vendors and OSATs must emerge with design kits and reference flows now so that this is not perceived as another missed opportunity for India five years down the line.
About the Author
Jaswinder Ahuja is the Corporate Vice President and India Managing Director for Cadence Design Systems Inc.