Memory, auto-specific, and MPUs to drive Semiconductors growth

Imec Semiconductors Technology

Computing has long been the growth engine for the IC industry*, but remarkable emerging applications in communication, consumer, automotive, and industrial/medical systems are fueling development of new complex, high-speed, and/or low-power ICs.  Cloud computing, 5G technology, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, robotics, and many other technologies are rapidly advancing and will change the way consumers live and businesses operate.

According to IC Insights, a strong, we are facing athree-year wave of double-digit growth for the IC industry based on these emerging technologies. Electronic system sales are forecast to rise 8% while the 2021 IC market is forecast to rise 12% and set a new all-time high sales level of $441.5 billion, which would surpass the previous high mark of $421.7 billion set in 2018.  A big 15% surge in semiconductor industry capital spending is forecast for this year as TSMC and Samsung are moving to expand their respective 7nm and 5nm manufacturing capacity.  TSMC also expects to ramp production of 3nm devices by the end of the year.

The researchers identified 10 top-growing IC product categories is expected to see a double-digit increase in sales, but only the top-five segments of them are forecast to grow faster than the total IC market (12% this year). DRAM and NAND flash are expected to be the two fastest-growing product segments in 2021 with 18% and 17% sales growth, respectively.  DRAM was also ranked as the fastest-growing IC segment in 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018.  On the other hand, due to its extreme cyclicality, DRAM has also been among the poorest performing categories in 2019 when collapsing prices resulted in the DRAM market fall of -37%.

An increase in laptop, tablet, and server system sales boosted NAND revenue 24% in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic forced a transformation in the way consumers, schools, businesses, and governments communicated and carried on with their business.  The transition to 5G technology within many of these same computing applications and smartphones is forecast to boost NAND revenue growth 17% in 2021.

Two automotive specific IC product categories, Automotive—Application-Specific Analog and Automotive—Special Purpose Logic are forecast to be among the fastest growing segments in 2021. New car sales took a hit during Covid-plagued 2020, which adversely impacted automotive IC sales. But demand for automobiles picked up in early 2021, leading to shortages of many automotive IC products.  Additional electronic systems/features, onboard connectivity, advances in autonomous driving, and the expansion of electronic vehicle sales around the world are expected to help raise the average semiconductor content per new vehicle to more than $550 in 2021.

With smartphone growth slowing in recent years, many system-on-chip MPU suppliers such as Qualcomm, Samsung, and MediaTek, have turned more of their attention to 64-bit embedded processors that integrate security features and machine-learning AI acceleration along with graphics and video capabilities for automated vehicles, self-flying drones, and IoT applications.  In a growing number of applications, embedded processors are handling machine-learning AI capabilities for autonomous operations without the need of intervention or control by humans.

The 32-bit MCU market has expanded rapidly because of increasing demands for higher levels of precision in embedded systems and the rush to the Internet of Things. Many new 32-bit MCU designs support wireless connections and Internet protocol (IP) communications. In automobiles, 32-bit MCU demand is being driven by “intelligent” onboard systems and increases in real-time sensor functions.  Meanwhile, a growing wave of 32-bit microcontrollers are being used in a wide range of consumer and industrial equipment applications. This is also driven by the fact that the cost new powerful MCUs is nearly the same as 8-bit and 16-bit devices.

*IC industry covers all the semiconductors products beside computer’s microprocessors.