Semiconductors have long been the cornerstone component of modern technology whether it’s powering computers, smartphones, artificial intelligence or the devices and systems we use in our everyday lives. It is an extensive and competitive industry with global semiconductor sales in 2022 reaching $618 billion, a rise of more than 30 percent in just two years. The industry however faces a decline in 2023 with the contracting global economy and weakening demand from consumer-driven markets. This article will explore 3 of the biggest challenges facing the semiconductor industry now and into the near future.
Supply chain disruptions
One of the most significant challenges faced by the semiconductor industry in recent times has been supply chain disruptions. This is caused by a combination of factors including the COVID -19 pandemic, the ongoing geopolitical tensions and significant trade disputes which exacerbate the severe chip shortage globally.
There has been a surge in demand across various sectors, including consumer electronics, automotive, and data centers and this combined with limited manufacturing capacity and a shortage of raw materials, has resulted in significant disruptions and delays in production.
The industry must address these vulnerabilities and diversify supply chains to mitigate future disruptions effectively. Dependence should be reduced on the limited number of manufacturing hubs by strengthening domestic capabilities and production at home and by industry leaders and stakeholders collaborating with each other abroad for the benefit of everyone.
A good example of this in action is the CHIPS and Science Act brought in by Joe Biden last year that has spurred on billions more in investment, boosted American semiconductor research, development, and production and has catalyzed regional economic growth and development.
Technological Complexity and Miniaturization
It’s not a race to the bottom but more of a race to the smallest. The industry is on a relentless pursuit of miniaturization which is considered to be the main driving force behind the industry’s remarkable progress and growth. Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles approximately every two years highlights the pressure to constantly innovate and ensure quality control, yield improvement, and time-to-market. This of course has to be delicately balanced between pushing technological boundaries and ensuring cost-effective and reliable production.
In an effort to combat the challenges, researchers are exploring alternatives to silicon such as graphene and gallium nitride as well as experimental 3D integrations. They are also looking to utilise the advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation to help streamline the complex design and manufacturing processes to reduce costs. This is a positive trend that will hopefully lead to positive outcomes.
Talent Shortage & Skills Gap
Another major challenge for the industry is the widening gap between demand for skilled professionals and the availability of qualified individuals. Advancements of semiconductor technologies have come at sometimes breakneck speed and there is serious competition to attract the right talent within the semiconductor industry and pull from similar high tech and innovative industries. Highly skilled workers with expertise in areas such as materials science, device physics, process engineering and software development are in hot demand worldwide.
To remedy this the semiconductor industry needs to invest in education and training programs that can cultivate a new generation of experts in the field. To help bridge the skills gap, investment should be made in providing internships, apprenticeships and mentorship programs that can give talent the start they need. There is also huge opportunity for collaboration between the industry and education institutes that can work together to create courses that enable graduates to hit the ground running.
The semiconductor industry is a vitally important force driving technological progress, but it faces significant challenges on various fronts. Overcoming supply chain disruptions, navigating the complexities of technological advancements and miniaturization and addressing the talent shortage are key hurdles that demand collective efforts from semiconductor companies, governments, and academia.