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3D memory for future nanoelectronic systems

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

The future of 3D memory will be in application-specific packages and systems. That is how innovation continues when simple 2D scaling reaches atomic-limits, and deep work on applications is now part of what global research and development (R&D) consortium Imec does. Imec is now 30 years old, and the annual Imec Technology Forum held in the first week of June in Brussels, Belgium included fun birthday celebrations and very serious discussions of the detailed R&D needed to push nanoelectronics systems into health-care, energy, and communications markets.

3D memory will generally cost more than 2D memory, so generally a system must demand high speed or small size to mandate 3D. Communications devices and cloud servers need high speed memory. Mobile and portable personalized health monitors need low power memory. In most cases, the optimum solution does not necessarily need more bits, but perhaps faster bits or more reliable bits. This is why the Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC) provides >160Gb/sec data transfer with Through-Silicon Vias (TSV) through 3D stacked DRAM layers.

“We’re not adding 70-80% more bits like we used to per generation, or even the 40% recently,” explained Mark Durcan, chief executive officer of Micron Technology. “DRAM bits will only grow at the low to mid-20%.” With those numbers come hopes of more stability and less volatility in the DRAM business. Likewise, despite the bit growth rates of the recent past, NAND is moving to 30-40%  bit-increase per new ‘generation.’

“Moore’s Law is not over, it’s just slowing,” declared Durcan. “With NAND, we’re moving from planar to 3D, and the innovation is that there are different ways of doing 3D.” Figure 1 shows the six different options that Micron defines for 3D NAND. Micron plans for future success in the memory business to be not just about bit-growth, but about application-specific memory solutions.

Fig. 1: Different options for Vertical NAND (VNAND) Flash memory design, showing cell layouts and key specifications. (Source: Micron Technology)

E. S. Jung, executive vice president Samsung Electronics, presented an overview of how “Samsung’s Breaking the Limits of Semiconductor Technology for the Future” at the Imec forum. Samsung Semiconductor announced it’s first DRAM product in 1984, and has been improving it’s capabilities in design and manufacturing ever since. Samsung also sees the future of memory chips as part of application-specific systems, and suggests that all of the innovation in end-products we envision for the future cannot occur without semiconductor memory.

Samsung’s world leading 3D vertical-NAND (VNAND) chips are based on simultaneous innovation in three different aspects of materials and design:

1)    Material changed from floating-gate,

2)    Rotated structure from horizontal to vertical (and use Gate All Around), and

3)    Stacked layers.

To accomplish these results, partners were needed from OEM and specialty-materials suppliers during the R&D of the special new hard-mask process needed to be able to form 2.5B vias with extremely high aspect-ratios.

Rick Gottscho, executive vice president of the global products group Lam Research Corp., in an exclusive interview with SST/SemiMD, explained that with proper control of hardmask deposition and etch processes the inherent line-edge-roughness (LER) of photoresist (PR) can be reduced. This sort of integrated process module can be developed independently by an OEM like Lam Research, but proving it in a device structure with other complex materials interactions requires collaboration with other leading researchers, and so Lam Research is now part of a new ‘Supplier Hub’ relationship at Imec.

Luc Van den hove, president and chief executive officer of Imec, commented, “we have been working with equipment and materials suppliers form the beginning, but we’re upgrading into this new ‘Supplier Hub.’ In the past most of the development occurred at the suppliers’ facilities and then results moved to Imec. Last year we announced a new joint ‘patterning center’ with ASML, and they’re transferring about one hundred people from Leuven. Today we announced a major collaboration with Lam Research. This is not a new relationship, since we’ve been working with Lam for over 20 years, but we’re stepping it up to a new level.”

Commitment, competence, and compromise are all vital to functional collaboration according to Aart J. de Geus, chairman and co-chief executive officer of Synopsys. Since he has long lead a major electronic design automation (EDA) company, de Geus has seen electronics industry trends over the 30 years that Imec has been running. Today’s advanced systems designs require coordination among many different players within the electronics industry ecosystem (Figure 2), with EDA and manufacturing R&D holding the center of innovation.

Fig. 2: Semiconductor manufacturing and design drive technology innovation throughout the global electronics industry. (Source: Synopsys)

“The complexity of what is being built is so high that the guarantee that what has been built will work is a challenge,” cautioned de Geus. Complexity in systems is a multiplicative function of the number of components, not a simple summation. Consequently, design verification is the greatest challenge for complex System-on-Chips (SoC). Faster simulation has always been the way to speed up verification, and future hardware and software need co-optimization. “How do you debug this, because that is 70% of the design time today when working with SoCs containing re-used IP? This will be one of the limiters in terms of product schedules,” advised de Geus.

Whether HMC stacks of DRAM, VNAND, or newer memory technologies such as spintronics or Resistive RAM (RRAM), nanoscale electronic systems will use 3D memories to reduce volume and signal delays. “Today we’re investigating all of the technologies needed to advance IC manufacturing below 10nm,” said Van den hove. The future of 3D memories will be complex, but industry R&D collaboration is preparing the foundation to be able to build such complex structures.

DISCLAIMER:  Ed Korczynski has or had a consulting relationship with Lam Research.

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