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How does obsolescence affect the semiconductor manufacturing process?


What is the semiconductor manufacturing process?

In the realm of modern technology, semiconductor manufacturing stands at the forefront of innovation. From powering our smartphones to enabling space exploration, semiconductors are ubiquitous. However, behind the seamless functionality lies a complex manufacturing process intricately vulnerable to the spectre of obsolescence.

The semiconductor manufacturing process involves a sequence of intricate steps, from designing the semiconductor structure to fabrication and testing. These processes demand cutting-edge equipment, precise calibration, and an array of materials, all of which are subject to rapid evolution and discontinuation. As technology develops at an increasing rate the longevity of semiconductors is being reduced. This isn’t so important with smartphones expected to last a couple of years before replacement but with critical industries like defence and aerospace they need to last a lot longer before becoming obsolete.

In 1970, the typical lifecycle of a semiconductor was expected to be about 30 years. By 2014, this was reduced to ten years—a 60% reduction in less than 50 years.

This is why obsolescence strategies must be considered at the point of manufacture to avoid disruption at a later stage for end users.

What steps are involved in Semiconductor Manufacturing?

The process begins with the design phase, where engineers meticulously craft the blueprint of the semiconductor chip.

Once the design is finalized, it moves to the fabrication stage, where intricate patterns are etched onto silicon wafers.

Testing and quality assurance represent another crucial stage in semiconductor manufacturing, where obsolete components can significantly impact reliability and performance.

Why do parts become obsolete?

There are a multitude of reasons that semiconductors become obsolete reflected by the dynamic nature of technology and demands of the market. These factors include:

  • Advances in Technology – As technology evolves, older components may no longer meet performance requirements or feature advancements offered by newer alternatives. Manufacturers continually innovate to enhance functionality, reduce size, improve efficiency, or integrate additional features, rendering older parts obsolete.
  • End of Life – Manufacturers may decide to discontinue production of specific parts due to a variety of reasons, such as declining demand, component redesigns, or shifts in strategic focus. When a manufacturer declares a component EOL, it typically signifies the end of production and support, leading to obsolescence concerns for users relying on those parts. This is where buyers must keep up to date with news from manufacturers and be aware of goings on the in the wider world that will affect supply and demand.
  • Supply Chain Disruptions – Parts can become obsolete due to disruptions in the global supply chain, such as raw material shortages, manufacturing facility closures, or geopolitical factors. These disruptions can lead to shortages or increased costs, prompting manufacturers to seek alternative solutions or redesign products with more readily available components.
  • Component Lifecycle Management: Lifecycles of components varies and is often  influenced by factors like material degradation, wear and tear, or technological obsolescence. Manufacturers must manage component lifecycles proactively, planning for replacements or redesigns to avoid disruptions caused by component failures or obsolescence. Another area where planning for obsolescence at the manufacturing stage is important.
  • Changes to regulatory Compliance – Factors such as environmental regulations or safety standards, can render certain components obsolete if they no longer meet compliance criteria. Manufacturers must adapt to evolving regulatory landscapes, ensuring that their products comply with current standards to avoid obsolescence risks. This also applies to the manufacture of obsolete components and understanding how new regulations alter the design of new products.
  • Changes to market demand – Industry demands and customer preferences have a role to play in the influence of certain components alongside the affect of new technologies and decline of older products.
  • Manufacturer buyouts and mergers – over the past 10 years there has been a significant increase in the number of semiconductor manufacturers being bought out by other for example AMD was bought by Spansion who were bought by Cypress who were bought by Infineon. At each stage the purchasing company will cherry pick what products they feel they wish to continue manufacturing and make the rest obsolete.

It is important to understand these factors to be able to navigate the challenges created by obsolescence. Employing strategies around lifecycle management, supply chain diversification, and technology foresight to mitigate the impacts of obsolescence and ensure continuity of operations. Other strategies include broadening and monitoring your supply chain, track and stay ahead of any product changes.

What is planned obsolescence in Manufacturing?

Planned obsolescence is a strategy used by manufacturers in the design process to give products a limited lifespan or give them features that become outdated quickly. Governments across the world are trying to reduce planned obsolescence due to its impact on the environment as is evidenced by the Right To Repair.

Planned obsolescence, the practice of designing products to become obsolete after a certain period, has long been a concern for consumers and environmentalists. The right to repair regulations aim to counter this practice by encouraging manufacturers to design products for longevity and repairability.

Source: Legal Documents – Consumer Rights Laws

Why do manufacturers use planned obsolescence?

Manufacturers often employ planned obsolescence strategies into the manufacturing process for several reasons, the majority of which are commercial. Implementing a planned obsolescence strategy can help stimulate demand by intentionally designing products with a limited lifespan or incorporating features that become outdated quickly, manufacturers can encourage consumers to upgrade to newer models more frequently.

Planned obsolescence can generate revenue through the sale of replacement parts, repairs, or newer models. By designing products with components that are difficult or costly to repair or replace, manufacturers can create additional revenue streams from aftermarket services or sales. In fast-paced industries, manufacturers may use planned obsolescence to maintain a competitive edge by continuously introducing newer, more advanced products. By rendering older models obsolete, manufacturers can differentiate themselves in the market and attract consumers seeking the latest technology.

How do you control obsolescence in manufacturing?

There are several strategies that can be undertaken to control obsolescence in the manufacturing process. Implementing robust lifestyle management practices and identifying potential obsolescence risks in the early stages of product development. Stop relying on a single supplier for critical components, manufacturers should diversify their supply chain as we have already suggested. Understand upcoming technological advancements, identify market trends and potential changes to the regulatory space. Manufacturers should also stay up to date with news from suppliers and be aware of end of life announcements or disruptions.

Manufacturers can also look into their designs and create products where critical components can be easily replaced without costly redesigns or complete rebuilds. There are software tools available that can streamline the process of tracking component lifecycles and identify potential risks and shortages. As part of the design process manufacturers could also keep an eye on the regulatory requirements for the area of industry and understand what might be coming in the future.

Controlling obsolescence in the semiconductor manufacturing process requires a proactive approach that encompasses all of our suggestions above. Keeping up to date with events in the supply chain and on a wider geopolitical basis can help mitigate problems in the future. If you need help to understand how obsolescence can be mitigated by forward planning then talk to our sales team here at Force Technologies about our sustainability values.