IC Insights has projected that the annual total semiconductor unit shipments for ICs and opto-sensor-discrete (OSD) devices will continue their upward march in the next five years. Based on the 2016 total semiconductor shipments of 868.8 billion, semiconductor units are expected to surpass the 1 trillion mark for the first time in 2018.

Figure 1 shows that semiconductor unit shipments are forecast to climb to 1,002.6 billion devices in 2018 from 32.6 billion in 1978. This amounts to average annual growth of 8.9% over the 40-year period and demonstrates how the world has become dependent on semiconductors.

 
semiconductor shipments forecast fig1 (cr) Figure 1: The growth rate of the semiconductor unit as shown in billions.  

1984 recorded the largest annual increase in semiconductor unit growth at 34%. The biggest decline was 19% in 2001 following the dot-com bust. The global financial meltdown and ensuing recession caused semiconductor shipments to fall in both 2008 and 2009—the only time that the industry experienced consecutive years of shipment decline. Semiconductor unit growth then surged 25% in 2010, the second-highest growth rate across the time span.

More O-S-Ds than ICs

IC Insights has noted shipments disparity (as shown in Figure 2) despite advances in integrated circuit technology and the blending of functions to reduce chip count within systems. The percentage split of IC and OSD shipments within total semiconductor units remains heavily weighted toward OSD devices. In 2016, OSD devices accounted for 72% of total semiconductor units compared to 28% for ICs. Thirty-six years ago in 1980, OSD devices accounted for 78% of semiconductor units and ICs represented 22%.

 
IC-OSD shipments comparison fig2 (cr) Figure 2: The difference in percentage of IC and OSD shipments within total semiconductor units remains heavily weighted toward OSD devices.*  

The long-term resiliency of discretes is primarily due to their broad use in all types of electronic system applications. Shipments of commodity-filled discretes devices (transistor products, diodes, rectifiers and thyristors) accounted for 44% of all semiconductor unit shipments in 2016. Consumer and communications applications remain the largest end-users for discretes, but increasing levels of electronics being packed into vehicles for better safety and fuel efficiency have boosted shipments of discretes to the automotive market as well.

Strong growth rates

For 2017, semiconductor products showing the strongest unit growth rates are those that are essential building-block components in smartphones, new automotive electronics systems and within systems that are helping to build out of IoT.

 
semiconductor shipments by type fig3 (cr) Figure 3: The split of semiconductor unit shipments by product type in 2016.  

Among ICs, analog products accounted for the largest number of shipments in 2016. Analog ICs represented 52% of IC unit shipments in 2016, but only 15% of total semiconductor units. One presumable drawback must be the small signal transistors that are still used in and around ICs on board designs to fix bugs and tweak system performance. Some of the fast-growing IC unit categories for 2017 include consumer—special purpose logic, signal conversion (analog), auto—application-specific Analog and flash memory.

Among OSD devices, CCDs and CMOS image sensors, laser transmitters, and every type of sensor product (magnetic, acceleration and yaw, pressure and other sensors) are expected to enjoy strong double-digit unit growth this year. More coverage about these semiconductor products and end-use applications are included in the 2017 editions of IC Insights’ McClean Report and OSD Report.