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070727: Working together to reach nirvana
Ed’s Threads 070727
Musings by Ed Korczynski on July 27, 2007

Working together to reach nirvana
SEMICON West hasn’t been a “selling show” (i.e., a tradeshow where you actually sell stuff) for well over a decade, so why do people still bother to attend it? There are still endless meetings and seminars and panel discussions that provide vital connections and information to keep the industry going. Manufacturing ICs with minimal dimensions below 45nm creates technical challenges that combine with consumer-market challenges to create extreme rewards for success and extremely expensive penalties for failure. For any IC fab company to succeed in the future, partners will be needed and new ways of working together will have to become new habits, as detailed in two separate panel discussions held on succeeding days by Praxair Electronics and DuPont Electronic Materials.

The first few decades of the semiconductor industry were based on vertical business integration like that championed by Henry Ford at the carmaker's Rouge Plant, where controlling the stream of raw materials and custom-built equipment resulted in massive economies of scale. Vertical organization under a strong top customer leads to a clear hierarchy of power, and corresponding norms of one-way information flow, dual-source strategies for all suppliers, and limited motivation for fixed relationships.

By the 1990s, however, the global semiconductor industry had became vertically dis-integrated, with separate levels for original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and specialized subsystems manufacturers — yet the mindset of vertical integration typically remained.

Today, we’re in an era where the complexity of manufacturing has increased to the point that even the biggest integrated device manufacturers (IDM) like Intel and IBM and TI have to partner to develop technology. With consortia and joint-development projects (JDP) now driving the creation of most new intellectual property (IP) in the industry, and with the increased costs and risks of nanometer-era IC fabrication, we must develop new habits of working together and sharing information.

Carrying the theme that “In sharing knowledge we can achieve true enlightenment,” Praxair’s July 17th event at SEMICON West featured keynotes by SEMATECH’s Raj Jammy and processing expert John Borland, discussing the technical challenges of 32nm node transistor fabrication. In the panel discussion that followed (which I had the pleasure of moderating), I attempted to express some “Zen-like” ideas about working together in a harmonious ecosystem. More details from the Praxair panel can be found in SST On the Scene video interviews available online.

Meanwhile, DuPont’s July 18th seminar entitled "Technology Partnerships and Tools for the Future" featured presentations by executives from IDMs, OEMs, academia, and a consortium (SEMATECH's Raj Jammy again) on how cooperation is needed to meet the increasingly demanding requirements of advanced ICs.

Mansour Moinpour, materials technology and engineering manager for Intel’s global fab materials organization, showed that even the largest company in the industry with potentially the greatest internal resources has used an ever increasing number of partners over the last decade. Large companies today have typically systematized interactions with universities and other research organizations. “I think the challenge is going to be how to make sure that we facilitate the interaction of the small companies with the universities,” explained Farhang Shadman, Regents Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the U. of Arizona, and director of its Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing. “I think this is very important, because they are in greatest need of research facilities.”

Basic human trust is essential to making deals that can quickly bear fruit, combined with prior aggregate experience, and some manner of mutual benefit on a strategic level. Jammy said that templates and standards have allowed SEMATECH to reduce the time needed to get a signed contract from one-half year down to weeks. John Behnke, VP of process development and transfer for Spansion, commented, “There are some pretty good templates that the legal community and the different corporations begin with, which helps the process. I think it has matured in the last maybe two to three years. So that helps.”

Behnke reminds us that trust is still vital to efficient business, and trust that your ideas will not be stolen is perhaps the most vital. “Let's say that the room is dark and the solution to that is to invent the lightbulb,” he explained. Once the hard work of creating a working lightbulb is complete, “the person who said the room was dark thinks that it's all theirs.” This sort of mindset was not uncommon in the past. Fortunately, it seems that most of us now realize that an attitude of “enlightened altruism”—in which we all work for mutual benefit—really does result in the greatest individual benefit too.


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070727: Working together to reach nirvana

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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.