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080101: 2007 odds and ends
Ed’s Threads 080101
Musings by Ed Korczynski on January 01, 2008

2007 odds and ends
High-k (HK) and metal-gates (MG) for CMOS transistors are real and here now, with Intel deciding on HK-first but MG-last for process integration. What is the temperature limit for MG processing such that the HK remains amorphous in this flow, and how many other elements are alloyed with hafnium and oxygen in the final film? IBM and SEMATECH and most of the rest of the world seem to be working on HKMG-first integration.

IBM in the US has sold 45nm bulk silicon manufacturing technology to SMIC in the P.R. China. I remember being in Shanghai in 1995 when people in China talked about getting 250nm (then “quarter micron”) technology from US companies, and it was then deemed too powerful to let go; now such technology sells for pennies on the ever depreciating dollar. Meanwhile, Intel is reportedly still on schedule to open a 90nm logic fab in China.

Indian semiconductor fab plans seem to lack the political will needed to become real. An anonymous comment left on my prior blog entry about India's plans for its "Fab City" stated, “so far nothing happened. no electrical infrastructure and no water pipes. government is only fooling to promote the nearby real estate ventures.” Informal discussions with Indian expatiates at IEDM last month seem to confirm this perspective. The official Web site for the government now lists "Nano-Tech Silicon India Ltd." (NTSI) as a solar fab to be built -- just seven months ago the government insisted that it would soon be a 20K wafer starts/month IC fab. Despite delays in infrastructure, companies seem willing to try to start-up photovoltaic fab lines in India along with the rest of the world (scroll halfway down the page to see the list of promised PV projects).

With the price of oil nearly at US $100/barrel (less in other currencies), most of the world has decided that solar energy might be worth investing in for a while. Applied Materials continued to acquire its way into OEM dominance, while Oerlikon did a spin-out and acquired a top executive. (I recently talked shop with top PV execs at both AMAT and Oerlikon about their respective strategies.)

Meanwhile, subsystems suppliers like Advanced Energy and Edwards have shifted resources to follow the PV money. Nanosolar printed its first CIGS thin-film PV cells at its new line in San Jose, CA. HelioVolt announced its first fab to produce printed CIGS cells. Dick Swanson of SunPower gave a great presentation at IEDM (Session 14.1) on development of silicon solar cells, showing that manufacturing efficiency increases should cut final installed PV system costs 50% by 2012.

Never trust a semiconductor process engineer who isn't a great cook. It's all about recipes either way, and I've come to the unreasonable conclusion that all good process people like to play in the kitchen too. Baking holiday cookies reminds me of systematic yield losses and design-for-manufacturing (DFM) pattern-centric solutions -- in both cases you need uniform distribution of features across the surface to ensure uniformity. The more narrow the process window, the more you have to control repeatability across the cookie sheet (or silicon wafer).

From the wonderful people at the Annals of Improbable Research we get the yearly Ig Nobel Awards . My personal favorite award for 2007 -- due to love of Toscanini's Ice Cream -- is the award in chemistry given to Mayu Yamamoto of Japan's International Medical Center, for developing a way to extract vanillin from cow dung (REFERENCE: "Novel Production Method for Plant Polyphenol from Livestock Excrement Using Subcritical Water Reaction," Mayu Yamamoto, International Medical Center of Japan.) Moreover, kudos to Toscanini’s for creating a new ice cream flavor and introducing it at the Ig Nobel ceremony, called "Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist."

Speaking of twists, 2007 was also another year of consolidation across various equipment/process segments (Lam/SEZ, KLA-Tencor/Therma-Wave/FabSolve, Aixtron/Nanoinstruments, MKS/Yield Dynamics, and TEL/Epion to name just a few). Notable deals happened in the intersection of litho and design (Cadence/Invarium, Blaze/Aprio, and in late 2006 ASML/Brion), as well as test (Teradyne/Nextest, Verigy/Inovys, Rudolph/Applied Precision). Also, private equity had a major presence in the industry, particularly early in the year, in deals for Edwards' vacuum/equipment biz, backend firms STATS ChipPAC, UTAC, and UK dep/etch firm STS. And even AMD looked overseas for much-needed external funds.

One surprising end to 2007 was the Republic of Lakotah formally withdrawing from all treaties with the United States of America, and reclaiming sovereignty as a nation and over its traditional grounds. Maybe someone can build an IC fab there.

After Motorola's advanced fabs became Freescale and then moved R&D to France and then New York, and after Texas Instruments decided to end R&D at 45nm, and after the Silicon Valley Technology Center (Cypress’ former R&D fab) bought the Advanced Technology Development Fab, it’s time to pause for a moment of silence. SEMATECH in Texas is dead; long live SEMATECH in New York!

— E.K.

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080101: 2007 odds and ends

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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.