Semiconductors are drivers of modern electronics, and they are the main enablers of our communications, computing, energy, transport, IoT systems and many more. Almost each and every device we have around us has a semiconductor in it, so no one can overestimate their importance in the world of technology. Today we’re trying to break down the notion of semiconductors, discover what’s inside this vital element and what trends are driving its development today.
A semiconductor as the name implies is a material that has electrical behavior between conductors and insulation. Conductors are substances that easily transmit electricity, while insulators poorly transmit electricity.
The semiconductor industry uses silicon as its primary material. Silicon is a good conductor, but it does not have the necessary characteristics to make a useful transistor. To change this, manufacturers add impurities to the silicon crystal structure. Impurities are atoms that do not belong to the regular arrangement of the crystal lattice. By adding these impurities, manufacturers can control how easily the electrons and holes move through the silicon.
Silicon is the basis for all modern electronic devices. Transistor technology was first developed using germanium, a semiconductor with similar properties to silicon. Germanium is still used today, but silicon is much easier to work with. Because of this, silicon is still the dominant semiconductor material.
Semiconductors are classified based on whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic means that there are no impurities present in the material. Extrinsic means that the material requires doping to become conductive and therefore is considered a semiconductor.
Intrinsic semiconductors have no additional doping elements added to them. These materials do not need to be externally charged before they conduct electricity. Intrinsic semiconducting materials are often referred to as bulk materials. Examples of intrinsic semiconductors are silicon (Si) and germanium (Ge).
Extrinsic semiconductors are those that require doping to make them conductive. An example of an extrinsic semiconductor would be gallium arsenide, which is commonly used in transistors. Here, arsenic atoms have been added to the crystal structure of gallium to create positive charges called acceptor states. These states act as electron traps, causing the semiconductor to become electrically conductive.
The IT industry cannot be separated from the development of the semiconductor industry. Semiconductors examples are transistors, MOSFETs, ICs, and diodes. One of the semiconductor materials commonly used in a digital device (logic-based circuit) technology development is a transistor.
The invention of the transistor in 1947 helped in the development of second-generation computers into smaller, faster, more reliable, and more energy efficient than their predecessors. It was the era that transistors began their massive deployment which was started by Shockley until the birth of Fairchild Semiconductor which is considered as a pioneer in IC and transistor manufacturers.
In the early 1960s, successful second-generation computers began to emerge in business, universities, and in government. These second-generation computers are computers that use full transistors. From here was born the next generation of computers that use hardware-based LSI, VLSI, ULSI to supercomputers. The birth of computer networking technology as well as the Internet, which is also supported by semiconductor-based devices, brought IT technology into the modern state as we know it today.
Semiconductor has revolutionized electronic hardware, especially since the invention of the transistor. Semiconductors make hardware more compact and have better computing-related capabilities. The effect is that electronic components are now easier to obtain at affordable prices in the marketplace. This makes it easy for new developers to conduct research and innovation.
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The semiconductor, commonly known as the chipset, is the most important component. Despite their small size, semiconductor chips are the brains of an electronic system. In digital devices, the presence of semiconductors is needed to increase the speed of digital signal processing, including memory for data storage.
As we are now in the industrial era 4.0, the need for semiconductor chips continues to grow. The semiconductor industry is also considered the lifeblood that is essential in accelerating digital transformation. The development of computers, the telecommunication industry, automotive equipment, especially electric vehicles (EVs), as well as digitalization in many sectors require the readiness of the semiconductor industry to prepare the required resources.
In the midst of increasing demand for semiconductors, the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 hit almost the entire industry with a lockdown policy. This also has an impact on the supply of semiconductors, resulting in reduced supply, which has an impact on other industries. The affected industries include computers, Smart-TVs, smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and various electronic gadgets to the automotive industry.
On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the need for computers and gadgets in line with the school-from-home or work-from-home policies. This condition causes the semiconductor price trend to rise from the 2020 period to the present time. The implication results in 2021 the major players of semiconductor chipsets such as TSMC actually reap profits caused by the shortage of global chipset supply.
According to a report from research firm TrendForce, if the top 10 chipset manufacturers combined, they will get a total revenue of US$127.4 billion in 2021. This figure is an increase of 48% compared to the previous year. As for 2022 itself, as reported by Deloitte, some observers say that semiconductor sales are expected to grow back by 10%, and could exceed US$ 600 billion for the first time in 2022. In the future, semiconductor trends will continue to be needed by various industries, although there is economic uncertainty is predicted, chipset availability is also expected to recover in 2023.
Moore's Law predicts that the number of transistors in integrated circuits (IC) will double every year, is used as a reference by the semiconductor industry to set their research and development targets. This is evidenced by the birth of microprocessor capabilities that are increasing every year. But even Moore's law will eventually meet an impenetrable limit, increasing computer performance by adding transistors has so far been done by reducing the size of the transistor so that it can fit more in the same area. A few years ago, physicist Michio Kaku noted that there was a point where the silicon material used to make the transistor — or any substitute for it — could not be reduced any further.
Several studies have initiated the use of other materials for the development of semiconductors. Third-generation semiconductor materials, such as gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC), promise high-temperature resistance, high breakdown voltage, high frequency, high power, and high radiation resistance.
However, for a long time, the use of these materials was limited to a narrow range of fields due to their complex processing methods and high cost.
In recent years, breakthroughs in material growth and device fabrication have helped reduce the cost of third-generation semiconductor materials, enabling a wider range of applications. For example, SiC-based devices used for car inverters and GaN-based fast chargers appeared on the market.
Semiconductor technology trends that have also been widely discussed to improve chip capabilities include parallel computing, quantum computing, to protein computers that work with DNA.
Semiconductor is a material that has electrical properties between conductors and insulators. Semiconductors bring drastic changes in the technological development of mankind. From Shockley and Fairchild who make transistors to large manufacturers of chipset makers to giants like Intel that use semiconductors to create technology that plays a very important role in the development of computers, gadgets, household appliances, automation, telecommunications, and so on.
The technological trend proclaimed by Moore’s Law has already occurred, and it is predicted that the number of transistor densities in a wafer will also be achieved. Therefore, there are various developments carried out to maximize semiconductors such as the use of third-generation materials, quantum computing, etc. semiconductor trends will continue to be needed by various industries, although economic uncertainty is predicted, chipset or semiconductors availability is also expected to recover in 2023.