Van den hove calls for collaboration at ITF

San Francisco, CA. Precompetitive collaboration will be the key to innovation in the semiconductor industry as fewer companies cooperate to share costs and risks to their mutual benefit. That's according to Luc Van den hove, president and CEO of imec, who gave a presentation titled “Creative Business Models for Challenging Ecosystems” at the imec Technology Forum (ITF), held in conjunction with SEMICON West. Creative models, he said, will be required for healthy growth of the semiconductor industry.

The year 1984 marked the rise of CMOS technology, Van den hove said, setting stage for a whole industry. That year also saw the birth of imec, which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Van den hove was one of a group of 30 people at imec's beginning, when it was spun off from a university. “I am proud that I was part of that team from the early days,” he said, “and am even more proud now.” Our industry, he added, is a challenging, cyclical one with upturns and downturns, “but we always battle back and achieve a healthy growth rate.”

Van den hove cited some defining moments in business models. In the early '90s, 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.

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- and low-K dielectrics) that allowed innovation to continue.

Innovation continues today, he said, but with fewer companies facing increased risk. “Our industry has experienced a phenomenal track record, but we may be approaching an inflection point where challenges increasing at a much more rapid rate.”

We have continually reduced the cost per function for many decades through the transitions from vacuum tubes to discrete transistors and integrated circuits, Van den hove said. We may be facing an inflection point, however, as lack of EUV readiness mandates the use of complex processes involving double and multiple patterning to meet customers' continuing demands for increased performance.

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.

“We are committed to remaining the primary research partner on very advanced nodes,” he said. “We are trying to increase our value offering up and down the supply chain.”

More in Semiconductors