The Rise and Fall of the American Chip Industry 1

The Rise and Fall of the American Chip Industry

The semiconductor chip is in the middle of what we assume as technology. Computers, mobile phones, iPods, scientific gadgets, avionics, and so forth. Have most effective been viable because of the chip? The American chip enterprise has been damaged with the aid of the latest monetary slowdown like most industries, however extra importantly, the chip enterprise within the United States has been in a sluggish fall for 30 years.

American Chip Industry

In January, international chip income dropped by almost a 3rd from the preceding yr to $15.3 billion (Semiconductor Industry Association). Overinvestment in chip factories has resulted in steep losses over the past 2 years. The chip business has been as compared to farming. If too many farmers plant cotton, then the cotton rate will drop (supply and call for).

The American chip enterprise, outside of Intel, is an endangered species. AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, and others are already long gone from the field. Others, like Texas Instruments, have set a path for the eventual removal of production. These businesses have long past “fabless,” which means they will maintain designing packages. However, they depart the procedure technology and manufacturing to someone else (most usually to companies in Asia).

The microprocessor marketplace has been the exception, mainly Intel. The microprocessor marketplace has been managed via Intel. It has been a form of monopoly. But Intel, whilst operating outside the microprocessor arena (i.E. DRAM or Flash reminiscence), has observed the overall model.

Intel has currently closed three factories (the enterprise calls them “Fabs,” quick for fabrication): one in Colorado, one in Oregon, and one in California. But Intel is constructing microprocessor fabs while currently building a factory in Phoenix and one in Israel. Intel is doing OK. Intel had over $12 billion of cash available at the end of 2008.

In 1980, one of the pivotal occasions within the history of the chip enterprise, become IBM’s choice of Intel to build the microprocessors for the IBM non-public computers. IBM selected Intel over Motorola and Zilog (Zilog was based using Ex-Intel engineer Frederico Faggin, who invented the MOS method simultaneously as at Fairchild).

IBM insisted that Intel facilitate second assets for the microprocessors by allowing AMD corporations to substitute manufacture the chips. Intel’s wealth has been almost fully received due to their manipulate of the personal computer. IBM ceded the private pc away with this agreement, or more accurately, their failure to execute this agreement.


The Chip Industry has its roots firmly within the United States. Scientists at AT&T Bell Labs invented the transistor in 1947. The chip, or incorporated circuit, changed into invented through Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of Fairchild (later Intel) in 1958. There had been many periods in-between steps among those seminal activities, almost finished with the aid of the groups from Fairchild and RCA.

In 1975, the U.S. Had more than 70% of the world’s marketplace percentage for chips. The chip enterprise titans during the improvement years were IBM, AT&T, Texas Instruments, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard. These have been mounted generation agencies that had a fulfillment in the emerging discipline.

In California, Silicon Valley changed into, in large part, the result of startup companies with ties to Fairchild, who was placed in the vicinity. Fairchild becomes a generation pioneer. However, most of the fulfillment got here from Fairchild alumni, known as the “Fairchildren.” Alumni from Fairchild based Intel, AMD, National Semiconductor, LSI Logic, Altera, Xilinx, and plenty of others. One super Fairchild alumni turned into Eugene Kleiner, who might later discover Kleiner Perkins, a task capital firm that could help Amazon, Google, and Sun Microsystems grow to be billion-dollar corporations.

The Fall of the American Chip Industry

Since the U.S. Had such a commanding marketplace share in the 1970s, it becomes natural that this position would be tough to maintain. The first challenger became Japan, which becomes very a success at capturing the DRAM market and the maximum essential chip marketplace. By the mid-Eighties, 80 percent of the DRAM market belonged to Japan.

Many out of Asia’s doors fail to give the right credit to the emergence of Japan inside the chip enterprise. The not unusual perception is that the sole reason for Japan’s fulfillment was low hard work fees. In reality, the number one motive for Japan’s potential to manufacture at decrease value turned into a superior technical method. American DRAM manufacturers switched to a lithography generation called “steppers,” an era before the Japanese. The Japanese persevered to utilize the preceding era lithography generation referred to as “scanners.” The American organizations falsely believed that scanner technology might be insufficient for the most recent reminiscence devices. Scanners are appreciably faster and less pricey to function than steppers. Because the lithography step is so important to the overall technique, the Japanese had a significant advantage and used that benefit to capture the DRAM marketplace.

In 1987 the US began a research consortium known as Sematech to combat the loss of marketplace share. The plan is known for the chip groups to proportion studies costs with a government subsidy. Member companies contributed $124 million to Sematech’s 1990 finances, and $one hundred million become contributed via the authorities thru the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Japan’s market share did drop within the early 1990s. However, this turned into likely greater due to problems inside the Japanese economic system than with trends in the U.S. Chip enterprise. The Japanese stock market “bubble” burst, just like the dot-com market burst within the United States. Japan’s marketplace proportion of general chip income peaked in 1988 at about forty-nine %. Today, Japan’s world market share of the chip commercial enterprise is about 25%.


Sematech had a positive impact on the U.S. Chip organizations’ circuit reliability. Statistical technique control (SPC) techniques had been led via Sematech and ended in dramatic upgrades. Motorola, a Sematech member, became the primary winner of the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award. The progress in reliability enabled chip customers to forego incoming inspection of chips, huge value savings.

Sematech was very active in helping an immature U.S. Gadget industry enhance its tools. Sematech correctly moved the semiconductor industry’s era center from chip producers to the chip device corporations like Applied Materials and KLA. Before Sematech, the clients were the procedure professionals, but now the process device businesses covered manner understanding with the equipment. This was excellent for the lucky equipment groups, but Sematech becomes very selective. Many device carriers had been close out using Sematech.

Those outside the chip community occasionally fail to understand the diploma to which the chip equipment industry is internationalized. A fab requires loads of various procedure tools for the various specific method steps (some chips require greater than 500 manner steps)—many of the equipment price an extra $1 million. Most fabs will attempt to standardize on a device dealer for a particular process step. However, all fabs have equipment from many distinctive companies.

A few years ago, a chief “Wall Street Analyst” reduce his forecast of Applied Materials’ commercial enterprise possibilities based totally on the boom of the Taiwan semiconductor enterprise. The flaw in this common sense is that a Taiwanese manufacturing unit uses U.S. Equipment at approximately the same charge as a United States-based company. U.S. Businesses additionally normally use equipment fabricated from outdoor the U.S, especially from Japan.

Since the chip gadget enterprise is so globalized, if Sematech makes a development, U.S. Agencies gain little, if any, advantage. Chip production has emerged as highly homogeneous, from business enterprise to employer, and from the USA to u. S. Because the device corporations now controlled the method era, it has become lots easier for international locations like South Korea, Taiwan, and China to go into the marketplace. If an employer had the cash, the technology became on the market.

The result of the paintings performed with the aid of the enterprise, especially through Sematech and its Japanese counterpart, Tohoku University, became that producing chips has become less of an artwork and more of a technology. Chip manufacturing became “paint by using the numbers.” Once the enterprise reached this stage of maturity, the charge of capital and the price of exertions have become the dominant elements in the preference of producing area.

A country of the art fab requires an investment of $three-four billion. Chip manufacture is now a commodity business involving huge production volumes and coffee earnings margins. A current matter of the final forty chip factories built confirmed that 35 had been in Asia, three were within the United States, and 2 had been in Europe.

The reminiscence marketplace, which includes the goods DRAM and Flash Memory, is the maximum aggressive chip arena. South Korean companies presently dominate the reminiscence market. Samsung is the chief, with greater than 30 consistent with cent market share, and Hynix is second, with extra than 18 in step with cent marketplace share. Elpida (Taiwan) with 15 percentage, Micron (U.S.) with 11 percent, and Qimonda (formerly Siemens/Infineon, Germany, presently in financial disaster) with eight percentage, are the alternative vast market, percentage holders.