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Archive for December, 2013

Happy 66th, Transistor!

Monday, December 16th, 2013

By Dr. Randhir Thakur

Today marks the 66th birthday of the first working transistor; an opportune time to look back at how far this technological marvel has come. With 66 years of innovations behind it, today’s transistor looks quite different from when it first hit the scene.

First, there are so many of them around today. It’s estimated that more than 1200 quintillion transistors will be manufactured in 2015, making the transistor the most ubiquitous man-made device on the planet.

Numbers like that are staggering to contemplate, but perhaps even more difficult to imagine is a world without transistors. They serve as the building blocks for the electronic devices that have become such an integral part of our daily lives that consumers would shudder to think of life without them.  Case in point, a study showed that smartphone users typically check their phones 150 times a day during waking hours.  That kind of attention reveals just how important mobile devices, and the transistors that power them, have become.

As mentioned above, today’s transistors look radically different from their predecessors back in 1947, and Applied Materials has played a key role in the evolution of the transistor. It hasn’t been easy. As the size of transistors has continued to scale smaller and smaller, we’ve worked closely with customers to overcome device performance and yield challenges and help the industry keep up with Moore’s Law.

Our work has resulted in some amazing feats of innovation in materials engineering. We’ve helped enable new transistor material changes.  Selective epitaxy films enable higher transistor performance and increase speed by >30% through strain engineering. The implementation of high-k metal gates reduce the power leakage issue associated with scaling. Transistor leakage can be lowered by as much as 100x, lowering power consumption. Innovations in implant and anneal solutions improve drive current. We’ve also made significant advances in planarization technologies and precision interface engineering that enable the dramatic transformation of the transistor. The industry’s most recent significant achievement is the architecture’s migration from planar to three-dimensional FinFET transistors (see the transistor roadmap). These major advances in transistor performance enable more functions and features, improve interface experience, and prolong battery life on mobile devices.

Our expertise in precision materials engineering has made the mass production of transistors with atomic-sized dimensions not just a possibility, but a process that is repeated millions of times a day in fabs around the world. Those fabs in turn have created the semiconductors that enable wonderful new achievements: from manned space flights that allow us to explore the universe to smartphones, tablets and high-resolution TVs that keep us connected, productive, educated and entertained.

All of that from a device so small you need an electron microscope to see it. The transistor is truly one of the most amazing technological innovations of all time!

Merger of Equals Moving Forward

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

By Kevin Winston

Last week, Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron held a media roundtable in Japan to discuss the merger of equals announced on September 24, 2013. Executives from both companies provided updates on the rationale behind the merger, the status of the integration planning, the expected benefits to employees, customers and the industry, as well as answered questions from the audience.

Tetsuro Higashi, Chairman, President and CEO of Tokyo Electron, who will become Chairman of the new company, and Mike Splinter, Executive Chairman of Applied Materials, who will serve as Vice-Chairman, addressed the audience of more than 20 members of the Japanese media.

Higashi-san discussed the current state of the semiconductor industry being one of rapid change, with major technology inflections caused by the insatiable consumer demand for mobile devices with increased functionality and lower power consumption. In this environment, he explained, companies must be able to respond to changes quickly and provide better and faster solutions at lower prices than ever before.

“I believe we are at a turning point in the history of semiconductors,” said Higashi-san. “The accelerating global spread of mobile devices is causing dramatic changes in the speed of technological innovation and complexity, and in the responsiveness to cost within the value chain. By bringing together the cutting-edge technologies and innovative products of Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron, we can help propel the industry forward to address new technical challenges, while delivering better, faster and at lower cost to customers.”

Since announcing the merger, both companies have spent considerable time with customers and have received generally positive feedback. According to Higashi-san, “I think a large part of the broad acceptance by our customers is their understanding of the solutions this merger will be able to provide and the value it will bring to them.”

Mike Splinter echoed Higashi-san’s comments on the benefits of the merger to customers and the industry stating, “We know advantages like longer battery life and portability – both enabled by precision materials engineering – will help our customers win the battle for mobility. Our merger will focus incredible engineering expertise to address these major technology inflections and grow the industry.”

When speaking on the integration planning, Splinter explained the companies are taking a disciplined and comprehensive approach to integration, addressing both corporate and cultural nuance so employees and operations will come together seamlessly to deliver for customers. Some of the integration work already underway includes organized teams who are committed to taking the greatest care to integrate thoughtfully, creating a company that functions effectively from day one.

“The more we plan for integration, the more evident our similarities become, such as our passion for customers, materials engineering and the success of our new company,” said Splinter. “Our teams are looking at business processes, our operating rhythm, cultural training and communications so we may rapidly create new value for customers.”

Splinter said the companies will conduct cultural training for employees so they understand the nuance and differences in doing business and working alongside colleagues from another culture.

“Though we come from different cultures, we share many common values and are dedicated to the success of our customers and driving technical innovation for the industry,” said Splinter. “Both companies have a strong heritage of customer service and an enduring commitment to push the boundaries of technology and engineering.”

In closing the roundtable, Higashi-san and Splinter reiterated that the logic behind the merger remains clear and unchanged: to bring together deep engineering talent and innovative, leading technologies and products to create an expanded set of capabilities in precision materials engineering and patterning to solve customers’ high-value problems better, faster and at lower cost.

“With a foundation of people, technology and commitment, we look forward to creating a new global innovator to benefit our customers, employees, investors and the entire industry.” remarked Splinter.

More details about the integration will be available in mid-January, when an S-4 form will be filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The close of the merger is estimated for the second half of 2014.

3D NAND Is A Reality – What’s Next?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

By Gill Lee

One of the biggest developments taking place in the semiconductor industry is the emergence of 3D NAND memory technology. Products are available today that feature 3D NAND devices. It has taken years to become a reality — since Toshiba first discussed the concept of 3D NAND at the VLSI Symposium in 2007 – and now it is poised to replace planar NAND flash memory for storage.

The path that has led to this point is similar to what happened with the logic roadmap; despite innovative workarounds, the era of traditional planar “shrinks” for NAND is running out of steam.  And, just as with logic, it has required significant technical advances to overcome the formidable challenges to successfully manufacture complex vertical 3D NAND designs.

Consolidating the transition to 3D NAND however raises key issues and will be the subject of an Applied Materials technical symposium, “3D NAND Is a Reality – What’s Next?” that I will be moderating on December 10th in Washington D.C. The list of panelists represent several industry leaders who can provide insights into where the industry is headed.

3D NAND is clearly a viable game-changer with leading-edge memory chipmakers investing major resources on this segment. The resulting reliability, density, performance, and lower power benefits will continue to drive this transition to vertical NAND.  But while 3D NAND eases key planar scaling limitations, the question that arises is how far can vertical NAND itself be scaled? What issues will affect its scaling? Will 3D NAND continue lowering the cost per bit? What technologies will follow?

These and other questions will be discussed by technologists from SanDisk, Micron, SK Hynix, Macronix and Applied Materials. I hope you will plan to attend what promises to be an insightful discussion. Here is the link to register.

List below specific questions we should consider addressing during the panel discussion.

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