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Semiconductor leaders talk about industry's future—Part 1

Posted: 11 Jul 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:semiconductor industry  Mass Capitalism  democratised innovation 

The semiconductor industry has continued to change and evolve throughout history, and we have looked to industry pundits to point the way. That conversation is a critical part of forging our new path.

Recently, I read a volume titled Fabless: The Transformation of the Semiconductor Industry, by author Daniel Nenni and contributor Paul McLellan. In the final chapter, the authors polled a variety of industry names with the question: "What's next for the semiconductor industry?" I wanted to engage with these thought leaders with some ideas of my own, taking thoughts I've developed and written about on macro-economic principals based on the theory of mass capitalism.

In today's first virtual sit-down (first in a series), I'll be addressing the thoughts of Simon Segars, CEO of ARM; Aart de Geus, chair and CEO of Synopsys; Lip-Bu Tan, chair and CEO of Cadence Design Systems; and Dr. Ajoy Bose, CEO at Atrenta.

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Segars makes in interesting statement in the book, when he says, "Without the seamless design-to-end-user supply chain that has evolved through the growth in the fabless industry, our vision would remain a dream." He believes that the movement towards fabless semiconductor companies has democratised innovation.

I am in agreement, but would add that the growth of small businesses should be credited with the success of the fabless semiconductor industry. We are still striving for democratised innovation, which will only be achieved when we have a functioning economic democracy.

Meanwhile, de Geus puts forth that semiconductor innovation would be most visible through utilisation. I believe that this utilisation must be of a progressive nature for innovations to benefit the masses. Only by means of benefiting all could it be possible to visualise true benefits of innovation. For this to materialise, a free market economy has to be established.

He also points to the enablement of "better" and "sooner" innovation (rather than simply cheaper) as a desirable means of keeping pace with the speed of innovation in the semiconductor food chain. I would respond that the best, and perhaps only, path to this sort of innovation is a decentralised supply chain.

Cadence's Tan calls for deep collaboration in order to reach higher levels of innovation and financial success in the supply chain. He says that no one in this ecosystem can succeed alone, but we can all succeed together.

This collaboration can be achieved only when all participants in this fabless semiconductor ecosystem have a stake in the success of the entire ecosystem. Hence, there has to be a change in corporate business managerial systems to ensure accountability and success are shared with all participants, which includes every employee that is a part of the fabless semiconductor ecosystem.

Finally, Dr. Bose of Atrenta suggests that low-margin demand may be a simple reality in the semiconductor market, the only possible exceptions those elite few able to move up the chain to offer more total ownership of systems and services. He further says that there would be a continued drive to move design to low-cost regions, and the clock is running out for any suppliers unwilling to adapt.

Bose is right. The cause for low-margin demand is lost consumer purchasing power due to U.S. macro-economic policies. The Fed's monetary policies since 1970 have resulted in Crony Capitalism, which has transformed the U.S. economy from a free-market enterprise system to monopoly capitalism. This has resulted in total ownership by an elite few who, following policies of free trade globalisation, which drive down the costs of design by moving design operations to low-cost regions, would further exacerbate the problem of low marginal demand because of trade deficits that would be added to the U.S. economy.

- Apek Mulay
  CEO / Mulay's Consultancy Services

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