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US should invest more in semiconductor packaging to lead in AI, Cadence CEO

The US should invest more in cutting-edge semiconductor packaging to ensure it leads in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, Cadence Design Systems Inc. Chief Executive Officer Anirudh Devgan said.

Sophisticated chip packaging helped Nvidia Corp. develop industry-leading AI accelerators, but limited suppliers are now proving a bottleneck for the US company. As computing demands grow and advanced chips get more expensive to make as the transistors get smaller, assembling silicon into three-dimensional structures and working around physical limitations are becoming essential.

“Manufacturing is critical, three nanometer, two nanometer, but you also have to invest where the puck is going. The puck is going to 3D-IC,” Devgan told Bloomberg News in an interview in Taipei. His firm is one of the three leading semiconductor design software providers in the world, and it counts Nvidia and other AI hardware developers among its customers.

The stacking of so-called chiplets into a multifunctional 3D chip is one of the ways that silicon designers are advancing their capabilities as the constant pursuit of ever-smaller transistors approaches the limits of physics. It’s helping create chips powerful enough to compute workloads like generative AI, and to do so at a reasonable cost. Securing a lead on that front should be a priority for the US, the CEO of San Jose, California-based Cadence said.

“You don’t need to even own a fab to do packaging because sometimes you can have chips from different fabs assembled. For the US government, it’s good to have this kind of technology,” Devgan said.

The Nvidia case offers an illustration, as the company has a clear technological edge on the rest of the industry, but it’s supply-constrained by limited capacity provided by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., its chipmaker of choice for advanced AI parts. At Semicon Taiwan last week, TSMC Chairman Mark Liu reaffirmed the company’s view that the shortage will persist for another 18 months, after Nvidia said in late August that it’s happy with the progress it’s making in getting more components.

Cadence’s software is an indispensable design tool for semiconductor firms large and small. Its critical role in the global chip industry was highlighted by the US Department of Commerce putting export controls on design software for cutting-edge semiconductors last year as part of measures to cut off China’s access to advanced technologies.

The company is looking into applying for funding from the $52 billion Chips and Science Act, Devgan said, which was passed last year to help bring more of the global semiconductor supply chain within US borders. Bloomberg

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