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SEMI Conference Addresses Issues in Semiconductor Materials

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By Jeff Dorsch, Contributing Editor

Ruthenium, anyone?

The element in the platinum group, atomic number 44 on the periodic table, could one day succeed copper in the advanced interconnects of chips, according to Christoph Adelmann of imec and other speakers at SEMI’s annual Strategic Materials Conference, held Tuesday and Wednesday, September 22-23, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

In the same session, Adelmann was followed by Patrick Martin of Applied Materials and Greg Herdt of Micron Technology, with the latter taking “Copper Interconnect Scaling Challenges and Strategies” as his theme.

The overall theme for the conference was “Materials for a Smart and Interconnected World.” It featured sessions on “Material Enabling Silicon Everywhere” (read: the Internet of Things), “New Emerging Materials Technology & Opportunities at the Edge,” sustainable manufacturing, and a panel of executives from semiconductor manufacturers providing “A View from the Fabs.”

The attendees also heard from a number of speakers on economic and market trends.

Mark Thirsk of Linx Consulting said that among the top 50 chemical companies in the world, some are considering whether they want to remain suppliers to the semiconductor industry. In merger-and-acquisition activity, “there are no holy cows,” he observed.

While Europe, Japan, and the United States have traditionally dominated the semiconductor materials market, South Korea and Taiwan are taking higher profiles in the business. “China is coming,” Thirsk said, noting the multibillion-dollar initiative by China’s government to bolster its domestic semiconductor industry.

For all the talk about next-generation materials, there is “record silicon use” at present, with growth in 200-millimeter wafers, largely driven by demand for Internet of Things devices, he said.

Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association, presented an economic perspective on China and the U.S. economy. “Anything under 7 percent growth in China is a recession,” he said. “A China recession is a global recession.”

He also discussed the leading consumer product categories of smartphones, tablet computers, televisions and displays, laptops, and desktop computers. “Tablets are maturing and are in decline,” DuBravac said.

Dan Tracy of SEMI reviewed developments in the IC packaging market. The packaging materials market is worth around $21 billion a year and represents 45 percent to 50 percent of all semiconductor materials, he noted.

While the large outsourced assembly and test contractors continue to dominate IC assembly and testing services, there are signs that Celestica, Flextronics, and other contract electronics manufacturers are pressing into the chip packaging field to complement their production of printed circuit boards, according to Tracy.

Wafer-level packages are becoming more prominent. The average smartphone has more than 25 wafer-level packages, Tracy said.

Lita Shon-Roy of Techcet said the “growth areas” in semiconductor materials are 3DICs, 10nm, and 7nm.

Gases represent a $3.7 billion annual market, Shon-Roy said, and she detailed the supply situation involving neon gas, which is used in excimer lasers for lithography. Prices for neon gas have risen five to 10 times, she noted, and the situation likely won’t settle down until the end of this year or early 2016, at best.

Rich Ray of Honeywell Electronic Materials spoke about “silicon everywhere” and the Internet of Things, a very popular topic at industry conferences this year. “It’s not in the things,” he said. “It’s the cloud, the big data.”

Ray said, “How do you manage all that data? When the insights come out, how do you store that? Access the cloud.” Big-data analytics are key to obtaining those IoT insights, he added.

Other speakers addressed developments in atomic-level processing and new materials, such as hafnium dioxide and yes, ruthenium.

“We are in a situation that is unprecedented in the industry,” said Ralph Dammel of EMD Performance Materials. “The breakdown of Moore’s Law is always around the corner.” The cost issue is consuming the semiconductor industry, he added.

The semiconductor industry is always changing and always moving on. SEMI’s Chemical and Gases Manufacturers Group will continue to address these and other issues for the next year, leading up to the 2016 Strategic Materials Conference.



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