It’s time for our roundup of this quarter’s latest news and breakthroughs in the semiconductor industry. As we approach spring, many chip companies are in full productivity mode, unearthing new techniques and inventions as a result. But the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has also created uncertainty about operations in many industries.
Let’s explore what’s happened in the past few months:
Worldwide semiconductor sales down year-over-year in January
The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) announced global sales of semiconductors were $35.4 billion in January 2020. This is a decrease of 0.3 percent from January 2019 and 2.2 percent less than December 2019.
Although the semiconductor market started the decade with promising year-over-year sales growth, the future of the global chip market remains uncertain. As SIA president and CEO John Neuffer said, “The global market faces significant macroeconomic headwinds, including global trade unrest and ongoing concerns about the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, which could limit continued market recovery.”
Learn more about semiconductor sales data and forecasts in this graph here.
COVID-19 virus causes semiconductor operation delays
COVID-19, the novel strain of the coronavirus, has caused widespread disruption throughout the tech industry, with various closures of conferences, shows, and offices. As with every industry, a wider spread of the virus can throw everything into question — including semiconductor operations.
Global electronics manufacturer IPC reports that they expect up to five-week delays on product shipments, hitting manufacturers the hardest. As COVID-19 cases rise, companies in all sectors are expected to experience setbacks. Delays due to quarantines and reduced workforces may slow the design process and prevent employees from resolving issues in other locations.
Despite recent events, manufacturing shutdowns haven’t hit chip companies as hard. Many chip factories are largely automated and fab labs’ safe and heavy sanitation processes can help keep contamination at bay. Additionally, many chip companies have a buildup of inventory from Lunar New Year preparations to keep them in production against other shortfalls.
In any case, the situation is rapidly changing, so make sure to keep a pulse on the latest news by subscribing here.
Scientists design the smallest all-digital circuit
Every revolutionary invention or improved technology needs a circuit that provides precise timing for harmonious operations. For semiconductor electronics, this means smaller digital circuitry is key for next-generation tech.
In February 2020, scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Socionext Inc. have designed the world’s smallest all-digital phase-locked loop (PLL). This new synthesizable circuit requires no bulky analog parts, making it easier to adopt in conventional mini integrated circuits. Additionally, the design of their PLL achieves the best jitter performance with the lowest power consumption in the smallest area.
Read more about this synthesizable PLL here.
A new AI chip processes visual information in nanoseconds
From driverless cars to industrial robots, computer vision is an essential part of artificial intelligence (AI). However, most image recognition needs a lot of computing power to work, and crunching big data slows activities down a lot.
Researchers at the Institute of Photonics in Vienna, Austria tackled this issue by creating a new type of artificial eye that can process visual information in a few nanoseconds. This new AI chip combines light-sending electronics with a neural network to perform faster than existing image sensors. While the chip can perform several standard machine learning tasks, this sensor can drive AI into more hardware and make it faster and more efficient.
Learn more about this new AI chip here.
Researchers find a new technique to measure silicon’s exact conductivity
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have made the most sensitive measurements to date of how silicon performs in untested circumstances. This is the first time researchers compared the new technique against the contact-based method for silicon. The results may suggest ways to improve semiconductor materials and their applications — including solar cells, LEDs, and high-speed cellular networks.
"An unexpected result like this shows us things we didn't know about silicon before," Ted Heilweil, a NIST chemist, said. "And though this is fundamental science, learning more about how silicon works could help device makers use it more effectively."
Read more about this latest study here.