Moore’s Law (Part 2)

Reflections for the Electronics Industry:-

In the first article of this series BPA introduced the concept that Moore’s Law was not in fact a law but an observation. “So what?” you might say and “does it really matter?” – well we think it does and we’d like to explain how important this is.


On a more practical and commercially valuable level, the Electronics Industry used the forecast enshrined in the Law – that manufacturable transistor densities were to double every 18 to 24 months – to drive design, process and product innovation in what has arguably become one of the most successful sources of revenue in component manufacturing: microprocessors.

Staying with Moore’s ‘Law’ drove the Electronics Industry to innovation and profit

In turning an observation and aspiration into fact, the most heavily capitalized players in the Electronics Industry (those with both design and foundry assets) have benefited from the huge advantage of controlling both the design and manufacture of the chip itself. At the same time (and of great interest to the printed circuit industry), in order for increasingly sophisticated processors to function properly, these components have required and have driven enormous advances in both packaging and interconnections. We’ll be exploring those important Technology Drivers in the next BPA mailshot!

The industry turned Moore’s observations into a “virtual” law by recognising that adhering to the principles behind the forecast would result in technology leadership.   Investment, R&D, design and many other factors throughout the semiconductor manufacturing value chain have, in fact, enabled Moore’s Law to happen. The IC does not evolve naturally in the literal sense. The crucial factors have been driven by commercial imperatives.

BEWARE! Observations can be misleading

While Moore’s observation is one of the success stories, “observations” can be misleading or indeed over simplistic. The following is an example that we came across in the BPA archives, an article published in the Industry during the mid ’90s providing what was then an important input to mobile phone handset manufacturers. The subject of this paper was the crossover point where Photovias became more economical than Laser vias as interconnection density was driven forward and the number of vias increased.

laser versus photovia cost

The conclusion of the paper was accurate within the constraints of the manufacturing technologies of the time. HOWEVER other questions needed to be addressed to understand the whole story and create a narrative that wasn’t simply a snapshot of that stage of development of the technology.

For example,

  • What were the trends in laser drilling?
  • How were improvements in the speed and accuracy of the lasers going to shift the crossover point?
  • Was the reference technology (Excimer gas lasers) the only game in town?
  • Why use Excimer as opposed to lower cost, faster CO2?

…and so on.

A decision based only on the breakover point of cost per via would have steered one in the direction of Photovia …while the rest of the industry moved rapidly beyond early Excimer to the thousands of high performance CO2 and hybrid solid state CO2/Excimer systems in use today.

What this example suggests is that if you are not observing the right parameters and most importantly not looking at potential changes down the road, you can position your company completely incorrectly and/or back the wrong technologies.

Moore’s “law” and similar technology forecasts can be hugely valuable but also potentially very misleading!

In our next article we’ll look at the role of Technology forecasting and the crucial impact of the correct choice of KPIs (Known Performance Indicators) has in understanding the development of both Technologies and Markets and creating forward views to enhance your planning.

BPA has over 40 years of experience in analysing and predicting technologies and their impact on the electronics value chain. We work closely with you, providing a multifaceted, broad view from our neutral vantage point, helping you choose the best KPIs to follow and opening a window on other factors crucial to your decisions. Contact us to see which ‘OBSERVATIONS’ can be relevant to your business and how they can enable you to drive growth and profitability through leveraging technology.

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