In an interview with EE Herald, Alessandro Cremonesi, Group Vice President, General Manager, Central Labs STMicroelectronics answers to queries on latest semiconductor industry trend including 7nm, SoC, power semiconductor, ST's future tech, and safety and security.
Q1. What are your thoughts on continuation of Moore's Law? After 7nm, is there any dependable hope on even going smaller?
Alessandro Cremonesi: Technically we see a path to go below 7nm, but the challenge is not simply the technology. Investments in technology R&D, in manufacturing lines, and product design also need to be made—and these are substantial. We expect few players and industry sectors will be capable of paying that expense.
Q2. SoC is popular among many applications. What are the new trends you're seeing in SoC market other than the mobiles and personal computing?
Alessandro Cremonesi: The IoT and the Cloud are two new markets that are benefitting from extensive usage of SoCs and the capabilities of manufacturers to miniaturize devices, increase performance, and power efficiency while reducing their power consumption and cost.
Q3. These days discrete semiconductors and power semiconductors are growing faster than VLSI chips. What are the technology and market trends pushing sales of discrete and power semiconductors?
Alessandro Cremonesi: Efficiency in power has been, is, and will remain a key factor in Electronics. This is why we see great opportunities for discrete power technologies. New topologies are emerging and the introduction of digital power techniques are pushing higher both efficiency and the required switching frequency. This demand for greater efficiency and higher switching frequency requires more and more sophisticated discrete components and ST is addressing this by introducing new technologies, such as SiCand GaN. In particular, a few top applications include the electrification of the car, power conversion and motor drive for industrial environments. In general, improved power management for Smart-City infrastructure will continue to push this evolution.
Q4. Safety and security are becoming more important in every electronics device not only in aerospace/defense. How is that shaping design of semiconductors for popular markets?
Alessandro Cremonesi: Security in electronics devices is becoming increasingly important, and with the explosion of internet-based applications we need to protect our data, our identity, and our environment. And as the management of “Things” around us is being automated, security becomes even more important. For sure, we do not want an unauthorized user to turn off all the Smart Lights in an entire city or someone to insert false data in a system to damage performance, reputation, or health.
Safety is also key. Consider the autonomous-driving car. While constant, distraction-free threat detection and avoidance can make those cars safer than vehicles driven by humans, safety has to be guaranteed by design in order to assure safety.
Q5. There are many proprietary standards for emerging markets such as IoT, self-driving cars, and cloud. What is your view on the real requirement, and does the world need more common standards as a base? (Like how Linux has become a common platform for new Operating Systems)
Alessandro Cremonesi: Standards can be a double-edge sword. Let’s talk about IoT as an example. The beauty of this sector is that there are currently enough standards to allow the market to start and grow, while not so many as to block its evolution.
This is one reason why IoT is a good opportunity for many small companies that can leverage on creativity and use the state-of-the-art technology to build their applications. Another example is the Cloud, which is an enabler because standardization today allows you to start small and become big without investing directly in IT.
Q6. When it comes to precision, the analog, digital and RF still remain separate pieces of silicon in many applications. Is this trend going to continue for some more time?
Alessandro Cremonesi: Analog, Digital, and RF are simply parts of the same system and the boundaries between the parts will continue to evolve. Power, too, will follow the same route as we have seen in RF, where, like RF, power is moving more and more toward digital.
Q7. What are the areas ST is working as future technologies, and what we can expect from ST in next 4 to 5 years?
Alessandro Cremonesi: In the IoT, for one example, ST is unique in offering a rich portfolio of technologies and products, supported by a powerful and easy-to-use ecosystem that covers all of the IoT scenarios, to simplify and enable faster adoption of IoT. We offer:
· A full range—more than 600 P/Ns of low-power, high-performance, and secure 32-bit microcontrollers, to analyze and process data and control applications;
· A complete portfolio of sensors to monitor motion, the environment, sound and light, and proximity and the sensor hubs and sensor-fusion tools to simplify integration;
· Wired and wireless communication technologies, including one of the industry’s best BLE and outstanding RF technology, to simplify connectivity;
· Ultra-efficient power-conversion, -monitoring and -control technologies that leverage ST’s long history to simplify power design and enable energy conservation)
And for the future, ST will continue to enhance its already-rich product portfolio to meet industry needs by leveraging its wide process-technology portfolio. Among these:
· New 90nm BCD (BiPolar, CMOS, DMOS) with eFlash option and 180nm VIPower technology for automotive applications;
· Next-Generation 28nm Embedded-Flash Microcontrollers to Drive Car Safety and Security to a New Level;
· 28nm FD-SOI for both networking and consumer applications;
· Silicon photonics technology to bring savings in bill of material, production throughput, power consumption; and silicon real estate;
· Thin-film Piezo MEMS actuators;
· MEMS micro-Mirrors for PC applications;
· Advanced connectivity solutions, including for Bluetooth Low Energy(BLE) and Near-Field Communications (NFC);
· SiC and GaN to achieve the best performance for digital power at higher and higher switching frequencies;
· BCD with Galvanic Isolation for automation and motor drive applications.
Q8. The maker community is becoming an important part of industry now, how does ST see the opportunity of working with makers and electronics hobbyists?
Alessandro Cremonesi: We are excited by the growth of the maker community and are serving it well with our STM32 Ecosystem which offers hardware (STM32 Nucleo boards) with associated Software (STM32Cube) that simplifies access to our microcontrollers for the community. Associated with STM32Nucleo expansion boards, ST makes available a range of functionality for sensing, connectivity, power, audio, motor control and more in a unique development environment called STM32 Open Development Environment. All of this simplifies and accelerates development and prototyping.
Q9. Finally what is your view on ST India’s design talent? Is there any achievement you would like to share?
Alessandro Cremonesi: Our Indian group is fantastic. I have been very impressed with the level of competence and professionalism of all our colleagues at ST. We have state-of-the-art knowledge in many dimensions of the electronic industry. I have met many talented people and we’ve had deep discussions covering both short-term business cases and long-term vision. I personally manage two teams in India: Both of them are involved in key programs for ST, with one more focused on short-term applications and the other taking a somewhat longer view. Both of them are technically sharp, extremely productive, and quite capable of connecting local R&D with the global industrial community in which ST operates. More generally I think India has great potential for growth in electronics, leveraging its well-educated engineers and the strong energy and entrepreneurship felt everywhere in the country.
Picture above: Alessandro Cremonesi