What is a semiconductor

This is an interesting question.

In April 2018, the US Department of Commerce placed ZTE on the “Entity List,” prohibiting US companies from selling semiconductor products to ZTE. As a result, ZTE was in a state of shock. In May 2019, the US Department of Commerce once again placed Huawei on the “Entity List,” prohibiting US companies from selling semiconductor products to Huawei. Although ZTE was banned first, Huawei had a year to prepare for the ban, and was relatively more prepared to deal with the US ban, but the company still predicted a $30 billion reduction in future revenue. As a result, concepts such as semiconductors and integrated circuits, which were originally only common in the technology field, are now well-known even to Chinese street vendors and taxi drivers.

What are semiconductors

Are semiconductors just in between conductors and insulators? Yes.

A conductor is a material that conducts electricity, such as metals like copper, aluminum, and iron. An insulator is a material that does not conduct electricity, such as plastics, rubber, and ceramics. As the name suggests, a material that conducts electricity at a level between that of a conductor and an insulator at room temperature is called a semiconductor.

A semiconductor is a switch

A semiconductor is a switch that conducts when it is turned on and does not conduct when it is turned off. This is really simple. However, when many switches are combined and operated in a predetermined order, complex logical operations can be performed, like those of the human brain. The human brain has 86 billion neurons, and a single neuron is like a switch, which is not very useful, but when these neurons are connected in an orderly manner and controlled, complex logical operations can be completed, making it the most important part of the human body. So far, the human brain is still the most intelligent organization in the world. A computer made up of semiconductors is actually simulating the human brain and realizing its functions. When certain devices or systems have some “intelligence” of the human brain, since this intelligence is artificially created and not “innate” to these devices or systems, it is called “artificial intelligence.”

Because semiconductors are controllable, simple switches can be connected in a certain order to achieve complex functions.

Classification of semiconductors

Semiconductors can be classified using inductive reasoning.

Semiconductors can be categorized by function, including integrated circuits, discrete devices, optoelectronic devices, and sensors. Integrated circuits are the most numerous and can be further divided into microprocessors, logic circuits, memory, and analog circuits.

From a different perspective, the invention of semiconductors by humans was to simulate and implement various functions of the human body. Therefore, you can correspond chips to various organs of the human body. The correspondence between semiconductors and human body functions is as follows:

1、Microprocessors (CPU, DSP, MCU), logic chips (ASIC, logic circuits) correspond to the brain of the human body and their function is “thinking.”

2、Memory (RAM, ROM, FLASH) corresponds to the cerebral cortex of the human body and their function is “memory.”

3、Sensor chips (MEMS, fingerprint chips, MEMS microphones, cameras) correspond to the hands, mouth, and eyes of humans, and their function is “perception.”

4、Wireless communication (Bluetooth chips, WiFi chips, NB-IOT), wired communication (broadband ADSL) correspond to the human nervous system, and their function is “transmission.”

5、Power chips (AC/DC, LDO) correspond to the heart of the human body and their function is “power supply.”

What is the difference between semiconductors and integrated circuits

The scope of semiconductors is slightly larger than that of integrated circuits. Semiconductors other than sensors, optoelectronic devices, and discrete devices are collectively referred to as integrated circuits. Since integrated circuits account for more than 80% of the total amount of semiconductors, semiconductors are sometimes also referred to as integrated circuits. Little-known fact is that when semiconductors were first manufactured, the first product that humans made that had the greatest and most widespread impact on life was the radio. Nowadays, in college electronic courses, professors sometimes even let students design and assemble a radio themselves.

How big is the semiconductor market

Taking 2018 as an example, the total output value of semiconductors worldwide was $437.3 billion, and the world’s population was 7.5 billion, which is equivalent to a per capita consumption of $58.

The market size of semiconductors: In 2018, the global total output value was $85 trillion, and the output value of semiconductors accounted for 0.51% of the total output value. Although the proportion of semiconductors is small, they have a huge impact as they are at the top of the industrial chain. Without semiconductors, industries such as computers, mobile phones, and automobiles would be paralyzed. Just as oil is the “blood” of the industrial industry, semiconductors are the “blood” of the information industry and are equally important for a country. They are a fundamental industry.

How are semiconductors made

Using the analogy of automobile manufacturing, the production of semiconductors can be simplified into five core processes: materials, design, manufacturing, equipment, and packaging and testing.

Materials: The raw material for making chips is polysilicon, a very fine powder. The powder is processed into a uniform cylinder through a process called “pulling,” and then “cut” into small circular wafers. The wafers cut from the cylinder have uneven surfaces and are very rough. They need to be “polished” and “cleaned” to remove impurities, resulting in the completed semiconductor wafers.

Design: Design is the most valuable process in the semiconductor industry. Designers convert design concepts into circuit diagrams using EDA simulation tools, based on the working principle of semiconductors. The circuit diagrams are then processed into “masks” according to the “manufacturing” process and sent to the factory for processing.

Manufacturing: Manufacturing is also a relatively high-tech process. As shown in Figure 10, the process is quite professional. Simply put, using a photolithography machine, the circuit on the mask is etched onto the wafer, forming a semiconductor chip that implements the predetermined function.

Equipment: Refers to the processing equipment, such as photolithography machines and etching machines, needed in the manufacturing process.

Packaging and testing: After the wafers are processed, they must first be tested to verify the performance of the products. Typically, there are several hundred to tens of thousands of chips with the same function on a single wafer. These chips are cut and mounted on a frame, and their function pins are connected to the corresponding pins on the frame using wire bonding. The chips are then packaged in plastic or ceramic to protect the circuit and facilitate transportation. The packaged chips are tested again to verify their functionality. After high-temperature aging, qualified products can be released for sale.

0 thoughts on “What is a semiconductor”

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