Semicon Korea 2019 Keynote speech
“The sales revenue of the memory industry will grow again from 2021”
Dr. Walden C. Rhines, Mentor, and the Honorary President of Siemens Business (Previously the CEO of Mentor Graphics) made a keynote speech ‘Domain Specific Processors will change the prospect of memory semiconductors’ in the opening day (January 23) of 2019 Semicon Korea. In his speech, Rhines stated that ‘if the Gompertz Model is applied to the semiconductor industry, the transistor unit volume will peak its growth rate in 2038. It will keep on increasing every year to the degree where it reaches its peak growth, 36%.”
The Gompertz Model refers to a growth model where the growth rate enters a period of rapid growth after an early stage of modest growth, then slowly enters the maturity stage after passing the inflection point. It is used as a model for explaining and predicting phenomena in a variety of fields such as population increase and tumor growth. After confirming the validity of the model by applying it to mobile telecommunication user growth and the number of accumulated laptops, Dr. Walden pointed the year 2038 as the inflection point for the growth rate of the unit volume of transistors.
If Dr. Walden’s prediction is correct, the growth of the semiconductor industry since the 1990s will look like a child’s play, since the unit volume of transistors will face an explosive growth after the 2030s.
Dr. Walden said that he had ‘carefully watched the history of semiconductor for a long time.” During his 23 years as a CEO of Mentor Graphics, sales have increased by 4 times and the corporate value had increased by 10 times. In 2017, he was named as a fellow of the American Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). He had also worked at Texas Instruments for 21 years before he went to Mentor Graphics.
Mentor Graphics, which is well-known as an EDA company, was acquired by Siemens in 2017 and has been included under their PLM Software Business Department ever since. At Mentor, which is one of the PLM software business brands led by CEO Tony Hemmelgarn, Dr. Walden is in charge of external communication as CEO Emeritus. Cho Hyun-dai, the president of SEMI Korea, which hosted Semicon Korea, introduced him as a ‘very famous speaker.’ In other countries, Dr. Walden is also called ‘Wally.’
“Currently, memory accounts for more than 99% of transistors, and a replacement will be required in response to the explosive growth of transistor volume, and Domain Specific semiconductors will play that role. In recent years, large-scale investment has been made in the fabless field.” said Dr. Walden.
According to his report, the average annual investments in fabless startups was $2.4 billion USD in 2000~2001, $1.7 billion USD in 2002~2008, $0.9 billion USD in 2009~2012, and $0.4 billion USD in 2013~2016, showing a continuous decrease. However, it suddenly increased to $1.4 billion USD in 2017, and even reached the 3 billion USD mark by recording $3.1 billion USD in 2018. In particular, investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning had reached $1.8 billion USD during 2012~2018, which is an overwhelming amount compared to other areas.
The domain specific processor, which Dr. Walden had mentioned, is a processor which has specialized designed architectures such as DSL (Domain Specific Language), in contrast to the GPL (General Purpose Language). Walden added that “We can solve the bottleneck issues that often led to delayed processor performance by utilizing the specialized processors that are suitable for specific fields.”
According to his macro predictions on semiconductor, after the huge growth of sales in the memory field in 2017 and 2018, contraction in 2019 and 2020 is inevitable.
He stated that “sales can be calculated by multiplying the number of shipped goods with ASP. In 2017 and 2018, the reason why the sales increased was that of the increase in price due the lack of supply. At the same time period, the actual number of shipments were even lower than the predictions made based on macro trends.” He also added that after adjusting shipments based on macro trends, it is predicted that the sales of memories will increase again starting from 2021.
To sum it all up, assuming that the number of transistors skyrockets after 2030, there are questions whether the memory field, which currently accounts for 99% of the transistor production, will follow the production or other replacements will take up the number of transistors. On this topic, Walden’s speech is replying that “Domain-specific processors, which have been applied in different fields such as AI, can take up some of the transistors tasks”