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SEMICONDUCTORS 10 Facts About the Semiconductor Industry

From Simon Morrison Reading Time: 6 min

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The evolution of modern technology has been driven by the semiconductor industry. Everything from mobile phones to televisions to computers to sophisticated medical equipment relies on semiconductors. But how much do you really know about the semiconductor industry? We’ve put together 10 interesting facts you might not know about the semiconductor industry.

From lifespan to the number of units produced annually worldwide: this article provides ten interesting facts worth knowing about semicondutors.
From lifespan to the number of units produced annually worldwide: this article provides ten interesting facts worth knowing about semicondutors.
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The semiconductor industry is now one of the world's most important power electronics sectors. Semiconductors are fundamental to modern life. These incredibly complex tiny wafers of silicon and circuitry give our computers and electronic devices the power to process data, allowing us to communicate and collaborate with each other and enabling advances in transport, medicine, consumer goods, and just about every other industry you can imagine.

There is literally no area of our lives today that is not impacted by the miraculous technology of the semiconductor. However, many people don’t know much about semiconductors or the semiconductor industry itself. We’ve collected 10 interesting facts about semiconductors that you might not be aware of.

Fact #1: The history of the semiconductor goes back further than you might think

The first person to use the word ‘semiconductor’ was the Italian physicist, scientist, and inventor Alessandro Volta all the way back in 1782. In 1821, the German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck was the first person to notice a semiconducting effect, although many people also credit the English philosopher Michael Faraday who reported on the resistance of silver sulfides in 1833. The actual semiconductor diode effect was first reported by German electrical engineer Karl Braun in 1874.

Developments in semiconductors continued throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century. The Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose invented what is considered the first semiconductor device in 1901, named ‘cat whiskers’. Other luminaries such as Alexander Graham Bell, Ferdinand Braun, and Russell Ohl were all instrumental in pushing the development of semiconductors and transistors forward.

It wasn’t until 1947, however, that the first modern transistor was invented by the American physicists and scientists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley at Bell Labs. Their research led to a ground-breaking invention in 1958 by American electrical engineer Jack Kilby. While working at Texas Instruments, Kilby came up with the integrated circuit, which we now know as the microchip.

Fact #2: A staggering number of semiconductors are produced each year

ASML estimated that in 2020, 932 billion chips were produced and sold globally. That number climbed to an unprecedented 1.15 trillion chips shipped worldwide in 2021 as companies raised production rates to meet a worldwide microchip shortage caused by supply chain issues and the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Over 80 % of semiconductors are made in Asia. 92 % of the world’s most advanced semiconductors are manufactured in Taiwan. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Limited (TSMC) is the biggest producer of semiconductors in the world and holds 54 % of the global market share. In 2022, TSMC and its subsidiaries produced over 15 million semiconductor wafers.

Fact #3: An equally remarkable number of microchips are sold each year

In January 2019, some 38.22 billion semiconductors were sold worldwide. That figure dipped and fell during the next year hitting a peak of 40.24 billion in November 2020. By December 2021, the worldwide sales of semiconductors reached 50.85 billion, peaking in April of that year with 51.65 billion sold. As of January 2023, worldwide semiconductor sales are sitting at 41.33 billion.

Fact #4: The semiconductor industry is massive – and set to get bigger

Sales of semiconductors were worth US$466 billion in 2020. In 2021, the industry achieved US$555.9 billion in sales worldwide. By the end of 2022, the semiconductor industry was worth US$574.1 billion The semiconductor industry is projected to have an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.2 % between 2022 and 2029. This means that analysts expect the industry to have a worldwide value of US$1,380.79 billion by 2030.

Fact #5: China buys more semiconductors than any other country

The world’s biggest importer of semiconductors is China, with the United States running a close second. China relies on semiconductors to power its massive consumer electronics industry. In 2020, China spent more on semiconductors than it did on oil imports. The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) reported that in 2022 China was responsible for almost one-third of all global semiconductor sales.

Despite being the world’s biggest importer of semiconductors, more than 60 % of China’s imported microchips wind up in products intended for the overseas market.

Fact #6: There are just two types of semiconductors with four uses

You might think that with the trillions of semiconductors in the marketplace that there would be hundreds if not thousands of variations. Not so. In fact, there are only two main types of semiconductors: P-type and N-type.

The two types are categorized based on the elements contained in the semiconductors alongside silicon. The elements are called ‘impurities’ and the process of adding them to silicon is called ‘doping’. N-type semiconductors are doped with one or more impurities such as bismuth, arsenic, or antimony. P-type semiconductors are doped with boron or indium.

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Semiconductors are used as memory chips to store data, as microprocessing units that use basic logic to perform tasks, as standard chips that perform routine processing tasks, and as complex system-on-a-chip (SoC) semiconductors that contain all the electronic circuits needed for a device.

Fact #7: Semiconductors are incredibly small – and getting smaller

Semiconductor microchips are measured in nanometers. Most chips in use today range from 11 to five nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, roughly 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

IBM recently announced that it has developed a two-nanometer-sized microchip that would contain some 50 billion transistors, making it the most powerful as well as the smallest chip to ever be made.

Fact #8: Microchips can last for 50 years

The expected average lifetime of a microchip contained in your average consumer product is about two to five years, but chips can last more than 50 years.

However, with the rise of the electric automotive industry and the increased demand for SoC chips for medical and industrial purposes, manufacturers are now being pushed to significantly extend the lifespan of microchips to meet safety standards. Reliability and longevity as well as reduced size and increased power are now key goals for semiconductor manufacturers.

Fact #9: It can take months to make just one microchip

The average time that it takes to build one semiconductor microchip wafer can take anywhere between 11 to 16 weeks. It takes approximately 500 processes to make just one microchip.

Microchips are constructed in highly sterile fabrication facilities using advanced robotics. The air in chip fabs is 10,000 times cleaner than the air outside. A modern microchip can have billions of transistors and more than 100 layers. Intel is now predicting that microchips will have ten times the number of transistors by 2030.

Fact #10: There is a worldwide race to dominate the semiconductor industry

The world faced a massive semiconductor shortage that began in March 2020 as a result of supply chain issues and factory shutdowns due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the industry is now recovering from the shortage, many countries realized just how reliant they were on major chipmakers such as TSMC. The race is now on to knock Taiwan off the top of the microchip mountain as countries invest heavily in becoming self-sufficient when it comes to their semiconductor supply.

China is planning to invest over US$161 billion to break its semiconductor dependence on Taiwan. The United States has launched the CHIPS and Science Act which will inject US$52.7 billion into their domestic semiconductor industry. The EU has enacted the European Chips Act which allocates US$16 billion to ramp up microchip production levels in Europe.

In 2021, South Korea the K-Belt Semiconductor Strategy which aims to secure its position as a global leader in semiconductor manufacturing by 2030. Japan and India are both also investing billions into their semiconductor industries. The struggle for worldwide dominance of the semiconductor industry seems set to increase dramatically during the next decade.

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