Trajectory: The Motion of Semiconductor Technology as a Function of Time

Understanding where an idea came from, its context, how it was perceived by the original
thinker, and the impact that idea made on the world, is not only an interesting thought experiment, but it is also a key to how that idea (as with all ideas) was discovered in the first place.

Trajectory blog

Our general failure to understand this process is little better witnessed than in our oft tendency to attribute luck or happenstance to the overall act, rather than just letting it stand on its own. “He just happened to be in the right place at the right time”. Alternatively, we say there was no luck at all. “Of course, they were able to crack the market, they had deep pockets…” Such attitudes often embrace a lack of confidence, excuse making, or even blame. What it does not grasp is the physics of comprehension and the insight of logic. In short, the power of an idea in its own to bring about change, or equally, face down challenges.

There are a number of things in life that the author found a deep personal difficulty, but once cracked, never forgotten; for instance, riding a bike, swimming, and learning to ski. The first of these was only a private humiliation, just me and my dad. The second two, were all too public. My quick grasp of algebra baffled my teachers since my methods proved to be so unorthodox, but when it came to skills demanding dexterity, I was the definition of an “F” student. To this day I still see my teacher’s elation when I swam my first swimming pool length unaided. No doubt he had nightmares of Groundhog Day with me the only child still flaying in the water, with the others looking positively Olympian in comparison.

I did learn how to float though, and very quickly; but it was many years before I came to grasp the laws of displacement. When I did grasp it, it proved one more beautiful illustration of how mathematically perfect the universe is. Not that I am not an academic mathematician, but I can readily appreciate why many wax Shakespearean, even mystical, in their description of the incredible structure behind all things. Where many of us see chaos, they witness order and harmony. In many ways this is a very apt definition of an engineer. An engineer is someone who brings mechanics, energy, and logic together to make something happen (often something amazing). Sometimes the physics is realized before the theory is discovered, sometimes it is the other way around.

This blog began by pondering on how the world looked before, or was changed by, a particular idea. Sometimes it comes down to phraseology we use so often that we could not begin to imagine it as absent from our vocabulary. The reader will immediately realize the term we have in mind is “trajectory”, or rather, what that word means. The law of parabolic trajectory was first stated by Galileo in his Discourses on Two New Sciences published in 1638. Simply put, if two laws are known, a third can be derived from it; the law of free-fall which states that the distance an object moves from rest is proportional to the square of the time elapsed; the law of inertia which accounts for the relationship between the motion imparted to the body, and its behavior after it is free from the initial impulse.

Galileo’s law could have little better embodiment than the many trajectories, velocities and projected pathways being followed right now in the semiconductor packaging industry. Sadly, these are too complex for simple algebraic representation, but we can note some of the major “trajectories” that are increasingly apparent in the first three months of 2024:

  • The number of Middle East nations investing directly in themselves, or indirectly overseas, in AI chip ventures.
  • Malaysia as the increasingly preferred base of operations for chip manufacturing.
  • Growing American investment in the Philippines’ chip capabilities.
  • Vietnam’s ambitious program of incentives aimed to rank it a strong competitor in the sector; some saying the country is eyeing Malaysia’s crown.
  • The fast pace at which Singapore is coming to dominate global chip research, prototype expertise, and new product development.
  • The even faster pace at which India is attracting inward investment and, after a hiatus of several decades, finally re-entering the chip market and making a big impact doing it.
  • Record valuations of leading companies such as BE Semiconductors and Nvidia (which broke the $2 trillion valuation on March 1); two companies now riding each other’s coattails.
  • The significant rise in ARM stock reflecting the perception that the company is now interpreted as synonymous with AI.
  • The intensity with which the wider industry is driving forward chiplet technologies.
  • China’s seemingly unstoppable success in developing advanced chip technologies, despite US efforts.

Absent infinite energy, or zero resistance, the logical mind must see both unparalleled opportunities, but also the impending realities of downward adjustment. The events just listed reflect the messy confluence of two forces; those with the acumen and foresight who identified the trajectory long before it came into public awareness (and who will not only remain strong into the future, but are anticipating the next evolutionary steps) and those “getting in on the act”. Not that there is anything wrong in “getting in on the act”, but, rather like marriage, it is “… not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, soberly…”. The flip-side to Western chip security will almost certainly lead to overproduction, in turn giving way to ruthless competition. If the current level of tax-payer funded investment looks eye-watering, the final risks will be borne by the market. Over the medium-term, new operations in the West have no choice but to compensate for cheaper operational costs enjoyed by India and Asia. Additionally, as China ramps up production, these chips will sooner or later find their way into the global economy.

What Galileo did not envisage in 1638 was the development of the solid fuel rocket. While the technology does not defeat gravity—the unmentioned force implicit in Galileo’s theory—it does allow for controlled decent. The proposition we need to grasp is not that we are fighting the laws of nature, but that we are taking charge of various elements in order to avoid being blindsided or left hapless.

What the companies and countries list above, and indeed, the many flourishing newcomers who have joined the semiconductor industry over the past decade have in common is a firm and pragmatic application of this principle of “powered trajectory”.

For its part, the Palomar Group has been applying the propositions predicated on controlled trajectory for decades. Indeed, as an off-shoot of the Hughes Aircraft corporation, we were involved with advanced semiconductor packaging almost from the beginning. How does this benefit our customers? Quite simply because often the critical difference regarding systems available today does not lie in the details of the spec sheet, but in experience and knowledge. It is not so much what the machine can do, but what we can help you do with the machine.

For further details as to how the Palomar Group can help control your company’s technical trajectory (without getting a sales pitch) click here to make contact. Finally, keep your eyes open for our next blog when we have some new trajectories our own to announce; all aimed at helping our customers reach even more ambitious targets!


Dr. Anthony O'Sullivan
Strategic Market Research Specialist
Palomar Technologies