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Semiconductor manufacturing has an enormous carbon footprint, from the mining processes used to extract and refine the component materials to the chip fabrication steps themselves. Sustainability, however, doesn’t just apply to shrinking carbon footprints. The sustainability imperative provides a unique opening for semiconductor companies to improve manufacturing and create new products and services.
Below are some of the top strategies semiconductor manufacturers can start employing today to improve their sustainability goals for tomorrow. These are designed around data mastery (analytics), green tech, supply chain management, and circular design.
Sustainable semiconductor manufacturing strategies
Data mastery is not only key to a sustainable future, but also the new currency for competitive advantage. Semiconductor manufacturing analytics embrace data strategy goals, data engineering requirements, and yield improvement use cases to drive strategic growth insights.
Manufacturing analytics can generate tangible value, such as reducing machine downtime by up to 50% and improving manufacturing yield by 5-15% by leveraging machine and deep learning, according to Accenture.
Some of the key tools and best practices that semiconductor manufacturers can leverage include:
- Harness data engineering including abstraction layers and data meshing.
- Transform complex semiconductor variables into a virtuous cycle of insight and decisiveness with AI and ML insights for cumulative value creation.
- Utilize new tools to leverage fresh value across core manufacturing steps from design to fabrication, assembly, test, and shipping.
Organizations can shift to hyperscale data centers and optimize their cloud usage to reduce overall energy use. They can also “green” their remaining energy usage by switching to regions with more direct local renewables and running workloads at a time of day when renewables are available.
To do so, businesses need to start with establishing a baseline of existing data center energy consumption, computing requirements, and sustainability goals. The next step lies in quantifying the “greenness” of potential cloud solution options, based on a range of information such as the cloud service providers’ carbon emissions goals, locations, energy sources, and readiness to transition to clean energy
Semiconductor companies can learn from other industries and how they used this strategy to make an impact. For example, when a large mining company began its transition to the cloud, it needed to better understand its CO₂ footprint, especially emissions in its data centers, and how its ongoing cloud transition could contribute to emission reductions.
By gathering data on energy consumption for its 32 data centers, the company gained a better understanding of the impact of cloud on emissions as well as potential savings through a cloud migration. It also increased its knowledge of how it could further leverage cloud in its strategic operations. The company was then able to turn this analysis into action and achieve the following:
- Estimated emission reductions of approximately 5,000 metric tons.
- Estimated 90% reduction in the carbon footprint of its data centers
But these initiatives can also take place directly in the fab. Intel, for example, launched a new cooling system in its Oregon fab that reduces water, energy, and air pollution by recovering the heat removed by cooling systems to provide heating for its buildings. This helped reduce water requirements for this facility by about 45 million gallons per year and CO₂ emissions from its boilers by about 80%.
Supply Chain Management
Coordination and collaboration across the supply chain is critical. That is why SEMI’s Sustainability Advisory Council is considering how to standardize sustainability reporting processes and better share accurate data throughout the supply chain.
Companies also need to pursue responsible sourcing with their suppliers. For example, manufacturers such as ASML are joining the Responsible Business Alliance, the world’s largest industry coalition dedicated to corporate social responsibility in global electronics supply chains.
As part of its involvement, ASML has adopted the RBA Code of Conduct, which is a set of social, environmental, and ethical industry standards. They expect key suppliers to participate in this common effort and encourage them to develop their own sustainability strategies, policies, and processes, and to actively pursue their own suppliers’ adherence to this code.
Another effective strategy for supply chain management lies in improving reverse logistics such as repair, refurbishment, repackaging, recycling, and material harvesting. These can effectively reduce a company’s environmental, social, and economic impact.
Between smartphone upgrade cycles and data centers swapping out servers to keep up with the demands of IoT and AI, more than 50 million metric tons of electronic waste accumulate every year. The raw materials alone are worth an estimated $60 billion.
Instead of attempting to recycle after the fact, engineering teams need to consider sustainability at the design stage. According to Accenture research, designing products for reuse, resale, repair, refurbishment, and remanufacturing can boost operating profit for a company by 16%. In addition, modifying business models for recovery of products can bring up to 35% in cost savings, an 80% reduction in material losses, and a 45% reduction in CO₂ emissions.
Onwards to More Sustainability
With the growth of the IoT and the widespread availability of AI and machine learning, semiconductor manufacturers finally have the tools to tame data overload and achieve high levels of innovation and yield improvements.
The time is right for the industry to work together to help improve sustainability and start meeting ESG goals.