Collaboration will be increasingly important in moving technology forward, as was made clear by many speakers at SEMICON West held in July in San Francisco. As process geometries shrink and devices become more complex, the industry is undergoing a consolidation—resulting in a smaller pool of suppliers and customers who must work together to bring high-quality products to market quickly. During a press conference and panel discussion hosted by show sponsor SEMI, panelists Dr. An Steegen of imec, Robert Cappel of KLA-Tencor, and William Chen of ASE Group agreed that meeting emerging challenges would require collaboration throughout the industry, from EDA to packaging.
Speaking at the imec Technology Forum (ITF) held in conjunction with SEMICON West, Bobby Bell, executive vice president at KLA-Tencor, specifically called for collaboration to address challenges related to 3-D devices, multiple patterning, scaling, increasing variability, and exotic new materials. A process window can have more than 30 million weak points, he said, and he advised using design context for inspection. “Inspect the design locations that really matter,” he said.
Also speaking at ITF, Luc Van den hove, imec’s president and CEO, cited imec’s 30 years of facilitating collaboration. In the early 1990s, he said, the transition from node to node saw increased infrastructure costs, prompting the birth of IIAP, or the imec Industrial Affiliation Program, which, he said, “attracted the interest of partners to join us in research programs to share cost and benefits, bringing together even the most fierce competitors.” Early results included 193-nm lithography, silicide technology, and ultraclean processing. And in early 2000, he said, “the red brick wall” loomed, imposing fundamental limits based on materials in use at the time. But cooperative efforts yielded many new materials (such as high-K and low-K dielectrics) that allowed innovation to continue.
Innovation continues today, Van den hove said. “Our industry has experienced a phenomenal track record, but we may be approaching an inflection point where challenges are increasing at a much more rapid rate.” Rising R&D costs pose a dilemma calling for effective innovation models that permit the sharing of costs and mitigation of risk. He noted that imec serves as a primary partner for precompetitive research for companies including Intel, Global Foundries, Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix, Toshiba, and TSMC. He called for earlier and stronger interaction with equipment and material suppliers, with imec acting as a supplier hub, leading to a bright future.
Also promoting collaboration is CEA-Leti. Philippe Robert, MEMS department director at the organization, described a generic MEMS platform that facilitates MEMS product development at many companies. He said Leti holds 330 patents in the MEMS field and is adding 35 patents per year. The organization has 25 ongoing industrial collaborations and 10 long-term strategic partnerships. It also has seen 18 industrial transfers and the creation of five startups, including Tronics, APIX, Wavelens, Primo1D, and enerbee.
Partnerships were the focus of Mark Adams, president of Micron, in his keynote address at SEMICON West. Successful partnerships, he said, don’t involve one partner trying to squeeze every last dime out of the other. He noted that as innovation progresses, the industry is consolidating. As an example, Adams said, at one time there were 40 companies in the memory business. Today, there are only four scaled memory manufacturers: Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix, and Toshiba. With few players and rapid innovation, he said, working relationships have to change to address new challenges. It’s no longer adequate, Adams said, to “just be a semiconductor manufacturer.” Manufacturers must move up the value chain as customer relationships evolve into strategic partnerships.