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060713: The Chip Biz All Grown Up
Ed’s Threads 060713
Musings by Ed Korczynski on 13 July 2006

The Chip Biz All Grown Up
So this was the 21st year since the first SEMICON West I attended (1985) as a freshly minted young materials engineer from a Well Known east-coast technical institute, on my way to a career dealing with specialty equipment, engineered materials, and integrated processes necessary to control matter down to the scale of individual atoms. It’s a thrill to work in an industry where a prominent researcher from a major international research organization—such as Raj Jammy of SEMATECH at a DuPont sponsored future of materials panel (which I had the pleasure of moderating on the 12th)—uses a Mendeleyevian periodic table of the elements to discuss the materials options for constructing future ICs. It’s a wild, yet sober and mature perspective, and indicative of a mature global industry that has grown up with its local west-coast trade show.

SEMICON West has grown up and can now drink beer, as was proclaimed by lederhosen-clad minstrels whose accordion-accompanied exultations of “Beer, Bier, Biru in the Biergaarten” (…the exact lyrics a bit difficult to discern through the massive West-Hall entry echo and the minstrels’ presumed prior peristalsis). Yes, SEMICON West can now drink beer like its European and Asian cousins who’ve always been able to drink, and it doesn’t have to hide in dark corners like back at the fairgrounds.

You don’t see many new tools and stuff (those are technical terms). New manufacturing tools are mostly new and improved (28% better) versions of old tools, though a tremendous amount of engineering effort by tool-makers goes into making it happen. A rare exception, Blue Shift unveiled the novel result of engineering by 4 founders with combined 100 years experience. Applied Materials showed 32-nm node silicon lattice strain engineered planar transistors through intense tool integration. Novellus discussed medical and consumer electronics industries (its customers’ customers’), reminding us that a mature industry’s growth tends to pace the global economy.

New materials are mostly extensions of old materials, and no one wants to talk about any silicon wafers wider than 300mm, and stuff-sellers really would like to sorta see the money up front before someone asks them to develop another 157-nm photoresist. Pixelligent showed a novel material for double-exposure lithography: nano-crystal impregnated stuff that’s effectively a high-pass filter for light such that images are sharpened. Disco showed the slickest dicing blades…ultrasonic vibration while spinning to glide through material. No matter what material you throw down a drain, BOC-Edwards can abate it.

New developments in tools are very focused on specific applications, with multiple unit-processes often integrated into physical clusters or lines. From ion-implant/rapid-thermal-annealing to copper-barrier/seed-deposition, processes must be integrated so tools must be physically connected to control atomic-scale interfaces. Individual countable atoms are being engineered into structures with epitaxially-grown or deposited layers single-digit atoms thick. Dan Herr of SRC showed—in the same DuPont panel—that precisely placed atoms provide double the silicon device performance of randomly implanted atoms. Might POs to stuff-sellers in the future replace “gm” (grams of stuff) with “ea” (each atom), and if so can you imagine the price/atom? Metryx can weigh atoms, while Imago can see them.

SEMICON West has grown up, and we mostly know how to hold our alcohol whether it’s a brown ale at the Thirsty Bear or a martini at the penthouse of the Fairmont. Still, some of us rudely snicker at the pretentious conceptual art in the MOMA, and we don’t suffer fools gladly. We’re too busy getting real work done…and it keeps getting more complicated, and there’re hundreds of pages in the contract, and what have you done for me lately? See you next year.

— ed

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060713: The Chip Biz All Grown Up

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Ed's Threads is the weekly web-log of SST Sr. Technical Editor Ed Korczynski's musings on the topics of semiconductor manufacturing technology and business. Ed received a degree in materials science and engineering from MIT in 1984, and after process development and integration work in fabs, he held applications, marketing, and business development roles at OEMs. Ed won editorial awards from ASBPE, including interviews with Gordon Moore and Jim Morgan, and is not lacking for opinions.