Happy (Belated) IoT Day

By Jim O'Neill

April marked two industry milestones: Global Internet of Things Day and the anniversary of Moore's Law; both highlight the semiconductor industry's ability to achieve things that previously could only be imagined.

The recent anniversaries of Global Internet of Things (IoT) Day and the introduction of Moore's Law reminded us of the significance these events represent for the advanced materials science field and the progress our industry has made in recent years. Both these milestones highlight the semiconductor industry's ability to achieve things that previously could only be imagined. But while these milestones serve to spotlight industry advancements and mark the exciting future that lies ahead, this also serves as a time for reflection about what still needs to be done for further advancements to truly take hold.

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), a digital transformation fueled by the demand for modern technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles and the IoT. This transformation is an opportunity not only for the semiconductor industry, but for manufacturers, transporters, suppliers and consumers. Industry 4.0 will undoubtedly change the way we think, the way we innovate and, ultimately, the way we live.

Although this presents an immense and exciting opportunity for the semiconductor industry, there are many accompanying critical challenges, especially for semiconductor fabs and advanced materials science manufacturers that are racing to keep up with the ever-changing demands IoT devices and related applications require. Industry 4.0 places a greater dependency on the IoT and smart devices that generate more and more data to be processed and stored.

As devices proliferate the market, so does the demand for high-performance and reliable semiconductor chips. According to a study from Seagate and IDC, the volume of global data will increase 10 times to 163 zettabytes (one trillion gigabytes) by 2025. This will lead to a higher demand for integrated chips (ICs) as data storage, analysis and process will play an even more crucial role in IoT infrastructure.

Gartner forecasts that by 2022, automobiles will require nearly 50 percent more semiconductors as cars become cleaner, more automated and more connected. With this increased chip demand, the semiconductor industry must develop advanced sensors, communication modules, high-speed connectivity and powerful data-processing capabilities—all with greater precision and quicker manufacturing times than ever before. Without the ability to create, purify and safely transport specialty materials at high yield, innovation cycles will fall behind, while chip reliability and speed will be compromised.

5G networks are coming to fruition with the promise of the capability to transfer large amounts of data 100 to 200 times faster than with 4G LTE. However, for the true value of 5G to be realized, various components of the IoT infrastructure, such as processors, modems and logic chips, will need increased memory output and higher performance to sustain the next-gen applications of the future.

The advanced materials science required to turn semiconductor materials into high-performance ICs is critically dependent on sophisticated expertise that few companies in the world possess. As we see greater and more rapid technological innovation in the coming years, there will be an even larger demand for semiconductor manufacturers and their advanced materials science vendors to achieve success.

Jim O'Neill is the chief technology officer at Entegris, where he leads global development efforts in new material solutions for the industry's most challenging issues. With more than 23 years of leadership and management experience in semiconductor research, development and manufacturing, Jim has held positions at ATMI, which was acquired by Entegris in 2014, and IBM. Jim earned a Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry at Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Yale University.