BALTIMORE While balancing innovation and delivering new products has always been a challenge for the semiconductor industry, the current state of affairs is requiring a major re-examination of these challenges for semiconductor managers. The question becomes how do managers enable innovation to thrive, while managing the innovators.
At an International Electron Devices Meeting evening panel discussion here several executives gave their views on how to get new research ideas into products in a timely manner.
"Technical challenges for shrinking geometries may very well be overcome, but managing new technology innovation under shrinking budgets is a huge challenge in the present environment," said panel organizer Jeff Welser, on assignment from the IBM Corp. to serve as the Director of the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI), a subsidiary of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC).
Welser said that as the size of internal research organizations is shrinking there is pressure to use external organizations for cooperative research. As well, on the product side, demands for reduced time-to-market make it more challenging to get new research ideas implemented into production.
"Fabless and asset-lite business models, as well as increased reliance on R&D alliances and collaborative work with universities, adds more complexity to the entire research/product development landscape," said Rakesh Kumar, president and CEO of semiconductor consulting firm TCX Inc.
Despite these challenges, the semiconductor landscape is not as bleak as one may imagine in this recession. "In 2009 the semiconductor industry will sell 37.9 percent more transistors than the previous year, depsite being in the worst recession since the great depression," said Paolo Gargini, Intel Fellow and Director of Technology Strategy. "As for Intel, our technology model has not changed for 20 years." But Gargini made clear that today working in consortia on research is a must,"it's the Bell Labs way of the 21st century."
"Creative people can be managed, creativity cannot," said Gilbert Declerck, IMEC's Executive Officer and Member of the Board. "We know, we introduced 'open innovation' at IMEC 20 years ago."
Declerck said that there needs to be a 'system-ability' to device design in the future, which can only be achieved in an open collaborative effort: "Real men dare to work together."
James Clifford, senior vice president at Qualcomm agreed. "Qualcomm needs to partner with entities like IMEC to bring our products out faster and work like Intel has for the past 20 years."
"Teamwork and collaboration are overused words," said Suresh Venkatesan, vice president of process technology development at GlobalFoundries. "You need to collaborate with your future competitors because good alliances and good cooperatives know how to build team goals."
TSMC, the world's largest foundry, knows something about keeping ahead of the curvethe company has done the right thing at the right time, said Jack Sun, TSMC voice president of research and development. Sun pointed out TSMC's right moves in supporting the unorthodox notion at the time of using a liquid between the wafer and the lens during lithography exposure.
"It took guts for TSMC management to believe in the idea of immersion lithography but that was the only way we could stay ahead of the curve in chip scaling manufacturing," said Sun.
The internal support and the provision of various tools from many vendors made immersion a standard production methodology, according to Sun. "Today more than ever we need global cooperative researcheverybody needs to chip in, it's almost becoming like levying an internal industry tax on research, a United Nations of chip development that we are after."
Perhaps Steve Hillenius, executive vice president of the Semiconductor Research Corp., summed it up best at the "Managing Innovation: An oxymoron?" panel: "It used to be that we needed our researchers to be smart and we treated them as heroes. Today we don't need heroes, we just need collaborative researchers who can adhere to tight schedules."