The semiconductor industry has grown exponentially in recent decades, as more devices rely on them to function. Everyone carries around semiconductors in their pocket or purse, in the form of a smartphone or laptop. As the industry continues to change, big data is quickly becoming everyone’s favorite buzzword. How are big data and predictive analytics set to improve the superconductor and electronics industries?
The changing digital landscape
The digital landscape is continually changing and evolving, effectively doubling every two years. As of 2018, internet users numbered in the billions, generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. This information isn’t limited to social media posts and Instagram pictures, though — most industries are generating terabytes of data every single day.
The sheer amount of data appearing every day is daunting — more than a single person or even a team could hope to sort through in their lifetime. Big data is the only way companies can keep up with the changing digital landscape. The speed of these changes means companies producing semiconductors and related electronics have no choice but to embrace big data or shut their doors.
How is big data improving this industry?
IoT factories and automation
Traditionally, superconductors and the electronics they support have been produced by human workers in assembly plants. While this does help to support an ever-shrinking workforce, it doesn’t allow the companies to guarantee the quality of their products. Whenever you have human workers, you have the possibility for human error, especially if the employees are tired or rushed.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is beginning to make an appearance in semiconductor and electronics factories. These so-called smart factories rely on sensor-fed automation to decrease downtime, improve quality, increase efficiency and raise safety standards for their workforce. An IoT-enabled facility can help the company save money by reducing waste, lower power usage by controlling device scheduling automatically and much more.
In the grand scheme of things, IoT is a new player in this field, but as more companies start to adopt this technology, it could revolutionize the way we produce electronics and semiconductors.
Data driven design
For decades, electronics have been limited by Moore’s Law — an observation that states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. For a long time, manufacturers used this law to create projections for future projects, but its applications are no longer infinite. We’ve finally reached the end of Moore’s law and can’t make transistors any smaller without making them subatomic, which leaves us reaching for new, faster processors and struggling to find new ways to invent them. Data-driven design could give the industry the edge it needs to continue moving forward.
Machine learning programs can sort through previous designs, both applied and discarded, to come up with new and innovative techniques to improve current technology and practices in a fraction of the time it would take human engineers to do the same. These companies have more than 2.8 zettabytes to sort through, but most are only utilizing about half a percent of that font of information.
This new style of data-driven design won’t just improve the semiconductors and electronics that go out into the world — it could potentially also improve the process of creating them, as well. Creating a new semiconductor requires a lot of testing. High-temperature liquid chromatography helps manufacturers determine the purity of a sample of base materials. Using big data to design new semiconductor equipment and manufacturing processes, could increase test speed and efficiency while reducing the possibility of bringing contaminants into the mix.
The future of semiconductors and electronics
The average consumer uses hundreds of semiconductors every day without realizing it. They’re present in smartphones, televisions, appliances and many other modern advancements we take for granted. Big data isn’t just going to improve the semiconductor industry as a whole — it’s poised to change the way we produce consumer and industrial electronics. IoT automation could give us the tools to provide high-quality products every time, without worrying about human error. Data-driven design could help us create new semiconductors or uses for the technology we might never have thought of otherwise.
We’re saying “could” at this point because while the technology is available, it’s still fairly new, and most companies haven’t taken the steps to adopt these tools as of yet. As Industry 4.0 — the fourth industrial revolution — picks up steam, however, many companies may find that they have only two choices: embrace big data or close their doors because semiconductor manufacturers with a human workforce simply won’t be able to keep up with those that choose automation.
It’s difficult to speculate where the technology might go from here, but one message is clear: semiconductors and their production will continue to change and evolve, and big data is the first step along that road.