scorecardresearch
The complex ecosystem of chip manufacturing

The complex ecosystem of chip manufacturing

From computing devices to smart appliances, automotive to healthcare equipment, data centres to satellites in space, semiconductors are the driving force behind every electronic device and every innovation.

While you may not connect with the term semiconductors, you might have heard of chips, microchips, or ICs - after all, they are the brain of every modern electronic. While you may not connect with the term semiconductors, you might have heard of chips, microchips, or ICs - after all, they are the brain of every modern electronic.

Ubiquitous, semiconductors power everything, not only on this earth but also in space where the human civilization has managed to mark its footprint. 

From computing devices to smart appliances, automotive to healthcare equipment, data centres to satellites in space, semiconductors are the driving force behind every electronic device and every innovation. 

While you may not connect with the term semiconductors, you might have heard of chips, microchips, or ICs - after all, they are the brain of every modern electronic. 

Also Read: 'Nobody saying no to India': MoS Rajeev Chandrasekhar on semiconductor manufacturing 

Krishna Moorthy, President & CEO, IESA explains it in simple language. "The semiconductor is a small electronic device in different forms that is used to either power an equipment that we use, or control an equipment in its function, or process the information and data in such a way that our eyes and ears can use that information," he says. 

And there is no rule as to the number of chips that go into a single product. Neither is there any cap on what kind of chips go into a device. All this varies given the nature of the product. 

For instance, a simple electric toothbrush has one chip in it to control the speed of the motor, so has an electric shaver or a toy. A smartphone can have over a dozen of different chips. 

But when it comes to a mid-size car, we have as many as 10 processor chips and about 30-40 semiconductor chips in that, and technologically advanced cars can have over a hundred chips - the ignition uses power devices, LED panel in front of the driver uses semiconductor for audio and video signal processing and present it in a usable manner, and there are many processor chips in the car that control the engine and other internal systems function and thereby ensure its optimum performance. 

If you consider a very high-end defense communication system, it may have hundreds if not thousands of parts. And a spacecraft may have many more. Their complexity and technologies are vastly different.  

But given the number of processes, countries and companies involved, manufacturing semiconductors is a time consuming, tedious task. "It depends on the complexity of the chips. From conceptualising to actual production, it can take anything between 15 months to 18 months. For other less complex chips, it takes around 8-12 months for the final resulting product," says Balajee Sowrirajan, MD, SSRI. 

Also Read: How the Semiconductor Chip Stopped the World
 
Made from pure elements, typically silicon or germanium, or compounds such as gallium arsenide, small amounts of impurities are added to these pure elements during the process called doping, causing large changes in the conductivity of the material. 

And these chips have an electric circuit with many components such as transistors and wiring on a semiconductor wafer. Also, there isn't just one semiconductor that fits in every product. 

With countless types of chips going into diverse devices, these are primarily categorised into memory chips, microprocessors, standard chips and complex systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), and when organised by types of integrated circuitry, these are digital, analogue and mixed. 

And to help understand the magnitude, read this - a single semiconductor chip has as many transistors as all of the stones in the Great Pyramid in Giza, and today there are more than 100 billion integrated circuits in daily use around the world-that's equal to the number of stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy, writes SIA. 
 
Once these wafers are printed, the chips are shipped across testing facilities such as Amkor Technology Philippines, Inc. in the Philippines and Unisem Group in Malaysia for testing and packing. 

Here chips on the wafer that are not functioning are discarded and the ones operational are further sorted, cut, and packaged. 

Post packaging, there is another round of testing, and the final chips are shipped back to the companies such as Intel, Micron, MediaTek, Saankhya Labs to name a few, who then ship them to their clients (OEMs) who put them in the final product. 

While you might think India is missing from this global ecosystem, it isn't really the case. Leading chip companies like Intel, Micron, NXP, SSRI amongst others have their R&D setup in India, leveraging our country's engineering talent pool.