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Blogs - The perfect CMOS storm


The perfect CMOS storm

It is an opportune time to sort out the chip manufacturing decline in the Western Democracies. For the first time in my 42 years CMOS career the General Public (GP) starts to understand the importance of the CMOS chips. Not because we have educated our young in the nurseries, primary and secondary schools about the importance of the silicon chips. Not because there are captivating stories on TV, in the newspapers and on Netflix about this fascinating CMOS technology and the people making it happen. And of course not because we have inspired students to study this critical for our society subject and to become the priests of the Silicon future. 


The reason for the GP to hear about the importance of the CMOS chips is rather mundane. The shortage of silicon chips is hurting the king of our economy - the consumer. The most visible impact of the chip shortage, so far, is the reduction of new car production. More than 50% of the new car value is in its electronics. No chips, no cars. Not surprisingly the price of the second hand cars is rocketing. Now the mass media, TV, newspapers, that have been ignoring the silicon chips for decades, are singing from the rooftops.


The second reason is the competition with China. Over the last five years China have increased its chip capacity from 9% to 20% of the global chip supply. The ‘conflict’ from the Trump era was wisely replaced recently with ‘competition’ by Biden. The main battlefield of this competition will be the CMOS chip manufacturing. The US is already taking decisive steps in this direction and EU is following suit. What is happening in the UK is still not very clear. However, it is clear that things should start happening if we would like to keep our position of a leading industrial nation.


The third reason is defence. We need to trust the chips that are in our weapon systems. The only way to truly trust them is to manufacture the chips ourselves. For many years the US had led the Western World in trusted chip certification and manufacturing with Intel and GLOBALFUNDRIES being a critical part of the US strategy now. However modern days warfare is more akin to computer games and those who have the most advanced chips will have a winning advantage. I am talking about chips built on TSMC 3nm CMOS technology for Apple phones. Therefore, it will be very important for the US to reclaim the CMOS technology supremacy.


The catch up will require enormous resources and perhaps public private partnership (or subsidies). In the past, for the democratic governments it has been very difficult to allocate such vast amounts of resources and to consider such partnership (or subsidies). For the first time in history the support for CMOS development may lie in the hands and minds of the electorate (GP). More than this, the GP will hold the politicians responsible if they do not act decisively now.

I am grateful to @Eric Gunn for the critical reading of this post.

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