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Wrap-up: SEMI’s Strategic Materials Conference

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

SEMI’s Strategic Materials Conference was held September 30-October 1, 2014, in Santa Clara, CA at the Biltmore hotel.

By Karey Holland, Techcet Group

The 2014 Strategic Materials Conference was very well attended.  There were people from several of the leading IC makers as well as suppliers of equipment and materials to the fabs.  Unfortunately, the audio and video systems were not stellar, so we had to endure some ear shattering system noise, and any light image was not visible on the screens.  Otherwise, the venue was good.  Throughout the conference, several themes were repeated.

Focus on the stability we hope for in post 2013 times, but concern about volatility and uncertainty of the world economics, esp. the recession-like growth numbers in Europe and Japan expected for the next few years. While forecasters (Gartner, IC Insights, VLSI Research, Linx, Techcet Group and others) anticipate IC wafer starts growing at ≥6% CAGR over the next 5 years, there is concern that any number of geo political world problems could throw us back into a global recession.  Attendees had a greater concern than the presenters over the possibility of a future recession, and that the impact would be greater to IC industry now due to the entrenchment of mobile platforms.

Focus on cost of lithography as a driver for increased cost of leading edge MCUs/MPUs … with current nodes, multi-patterning requires many more expose/develop/dep/etch steps than EUV, but EUV has not yet met the requirements for manufacturing implementation.  It is likely that EUV will first be used for only a few critical layers.  DSA (directed self-assembly) may be used also for a few selected critical layers, but issues of defects will likely keep it from use in many layers.

Focus on the expected (and currently numerous options) for advanced devices and implications for materials.  This includes advanced packaging technologies.

450mm wafers may continue to slip, if the other large IC makers (e.g. TSMC, Samsung, GlobalFoundries) don’t agree with Intel on first implementation date/node. Collaboration across the entire ecosystem was stressed for 450mm to become a reality.

Below are things I found particularly interesting in the presentations and/or at the end of day panel discussions.

The key note presentation, “Materials Innovation for the Digital 6th Sense Era,” was by Matt Nowak of Qualcomm.  He discussed both the vision of the Internet of Things (IoT), the required IC devices (including analog & sensors) and implications to materials (and cost to manufacture) from these new IC devices; a perfect start to SMC 2014.  Qualcomm defines the Digital 6th Sense Era is “the augmentation of human ability”, or as Sue Davis put it “intelligent data based extension of our 5 senses ==>to a 6th“. Essentially this is where the ability of the IoT/IoE data feedback can act as our 6th sense by capturing data about one & one’s environment which results in  prediction/information being shared based on data collection and/or user selections regarding the environment around us (or about us, e.g., tele-health).”  Because the smartphone is the “most pervasive platform ever” (US Android users average 106 Apps launched/day), it can serve as a remote connection to the IoT world … be that monitoring our health, schedules, honey-do lists, and improving our understanding and enjoyment of the world around us.  For advanced logic one might expect, lithography for advanced ICs (quad patterning vs EUV) were discussed as key cost drivers.  Other required/expected advanced materials include high mobility channel materials and thin barrier metals (likely Co). Beyond CMOS, new structures and materials may be required to support sensors (bio, chemical, fluidic), nano batteries, piezo, thermal, and solar harvesters.

Mark Thirsk, Linx-Consulting, reviewed IC growth and lack thereof for past years, and observed that 2014 will be “first good year in 8 years” (since 2006), and forecast 6-8% CAGR for the next few years – strongly dependent on the success of the IoT.  IC market growth since 2010 correlates strongly to GDP since 2010, and thus regional GDP differences (e.g. the current European recession) are reflected in IC demand.  Technology challenges & opportunities in for the next 5+ years include advanced logic (3D NAND, and new memory method after 2018), numerous AL (atomic layer) processes, 3D / advanced packaging, patterning efficiency, and complexity.  The electronic materials landscape is changing: the supply chain is merging, and there are new entrants (esp. from Korea, Taiwan & China) in advanced materials such as photoresists. Interestingly, China appears to be focusing more on investing in fabless than fabs.

Duncan Meldrum, Hilltop Economics, said that the current subdued market growth (3% 2013-16) is due to more fiscal responsible people. China & Asia are growing 4 to 7.7%, US & Latin America about 2.1 to 3.1, Euro <2%, and Japan ~1.5%.  The tax increase in Japan is having a very negative impact. He expects the US to see a 5% year over year improvement (very good news) with our investments finally growing in 2nd half of 2014.  He anticipates healthy, but not stellar consumer spending through 2016.

Patrick Ho, Stifel Nicolas, initially discussed that for companies that follow Moore’s Law, that it is increasingly Fab capital intensity (Capex) with addition of FinFETs, new materials (e.g. High k), 3D NAND, and Multi-Patterning (from delayed EUV).  One can assume this will continue to be the case as CMOS devices moves from Si channel to replacement channel filled with SiGe, Ge, or III-V and memories move to new technologies such as ReRAM, STTRAM, etc.  His observation is that only Intel is pulling for 450mm, and if TSMC & Samsung don’t exert more pull, 450mm may not happen (esp. in light of the negative impact to equipment revenue per square inch of silicon).  The top 4 OEMs (ASML, KLA-T, Lam, AMAT) are large enough to push back on the top 3 IC makers, and that consolidation is continuing.  Patrick noted that all 4 top OEMs have dividends, and he anticipates that they will eventually get better valuations.  He showed a nice list of companies he thinks are acquisition candidates (CMC, Nanometrics, Nikon, Nova, Axcelis, Rudolph, Veeco, FormFactor, and Ultratech).  Other comments:  Moore’s law lives, but is under stress.  Innovation w/ or w/o EUV will bring industry back to Moore’s Law.  Changing landscape will help economics of leading players.

Ross Kozarsky, who leads Lux Research’s advanced materials team, discussed the longer range materials he investigates such as graphene, 3D printing, and Meta-materials. Graphene film sheets are of interest for transparent conductive materials (e.g. touchscreens), possibly moving to FETs & sensors.  3D printing has been around 30 yrs; today it’s used mostly for prototyping, but manufacturing use makes sense and could really increase total growth.  Multifunctional and multi-materials printers will be needed.  Autonomous cars are now a big growth opportunity, opening great opportunity for chemical and material companies to innovate.

Geraud Duboix, IBM Almaden, develops porous low k materials for interconnect passivation and their integration (esp. plasma damage).  In the 0.65 to 0.1um timeframe, interconnect RC delay was slowing devices even though the transistors were getting faster, and thus began the drive for lower k insulators.  The ITRS has been showing the need for lower k since its inception, but it also has pushed out the date of the more aggressive low ks.  Initially to achieve lower k, C and F were added to SiO2 to break-up network structure.  Today, they are driving low k down by adding porosity.  Once a big concern, Geraud said that ULK mechanical properties are now no longer a concern with UV treatment, the lowest k being integrated is 2.3-2.4, and new low k materials are emerging. Geraud is working on porous low k materials, to achieve lower k, and larger pores deliver lower k.  He discussed the various pore-sizes in evaluation, the importance of porogens (material in the low k deposition that is later removed to create pores) and methods being used to seal the created pores (especially before conformal barrier metal deposition).  Interestingly, he commented that creating and sealing the larger pores is somewhat easier, although he’s being asked to work on the smaller pores for now.  During the panel discussion Mansour Moinpour (Intel) asked why Geraud was working on smaller pores that are more difficult to fill. Geraud responded that for the designers insulators with 2.0 or 1.8 k would be too big a change and they want 2.4 and 2.2 first.

Todd Younkin, from Intel’s central research (components) novel materials group, discussed that the industry will continue CMOS Scaling through 7nm. As stated by others, lithography is a challenge and using several methods to accomplish patterning, while productivity and pattern placement (alignment) are concerns.  Intel is working on devices with channels of higher mobility materials that Si (III-V or MoS2) as well as beyond CMOS (e.g., GAA) devices.  Todd said that early in device research development, Intel works to make sure manufacturing should be capable of meeting cost expectations. These include the cost of multi-patterning versus EUV, ultra-low k interconnect materials, etc.

Angela Franklin, of TriQuint (recently renamed Qorvo) discussed the challenges of supply management (and unlike others, she projects well when talking, so we could avoid the audio system problems … thanks Angela!).  Angela educated the audience about Qorvo devices (some look more like MEMS with permanent epoxy “cavity” structures that resonate w/ the RF) which are significantly different from the leading edge logic and non-volatile most of us follow.  Unlike the device manufactures that use Si, Qorvo uses smaller substrates of III-V and GaN.  Many films are already on the substrates when purchased.  The fab process is very solvent intensive, and only 1/3 aqueous.  Unlike others, Qorvo uses significant eBeam lithography with up to 28 different resists and many negative resists, as well as metal lift-off (my first job at IBM >30 yrs ago).

Prof. Philip Wong of Stanford gave his typical dynamic and mind-stretching presentation. His discussion was focused on the single digit nodes, and the possible new channel materials for logic (III-V or 2D MoS2, MoSe2, WSe2, WTe2 or ??) and possible new devices, including carbon nanotube FET (CNFET), STTRAM, CBRAM, ReRAM (using HfOx, TaOx, TiOx).  He said that memory chips will hold 32Tbits.  He then smiled and said “none of this before the next 10 years”.  He showed some exciting interleaved memory and logic ideas using a base of 2D or 3D FETs, topped by STTRAM, then 2D or 3D FETs, and then 3D RRAM.  Because the interconnects of the bottom device are present, all processing for the others must be at low temperature (<400C).

Discussion Panel.  When asked about collaboration with materials suppliers, Intel and IBM research had significantly different responses.  Intel invests dollars and works with graduate students on advanced projects and hopefully a “lucky accident” brings advances.  IBM research mentioned that legal issues often get in the way of collaboration with suppliers.

Notes for SMC Day 2 2014 Blog

Tim Hendry, from Intel’s supply management team started off day 2.  A large concern he brought up was what he described as the widening connections between fab, material suppliers, and sub-suppliers.  He then discussed the concerns and possible ways to improve connections, as well as the importance of metrology and verification of chemical quality.  Unfortunately, some of the sub-suppliers are very big chemical companies that have difficulty getting excited about the low volume materials used to make ICs.  He finished up by saying that Intel is focused on controlling the costs of manufacturing that require close partnerships with materials suppliers. Intel is driving for unprecedented collaboration among the materials and sub tier suppliers to achieve cost, performance and defect targets.  The cost of packaging and shipping materials globally is driving investigation into new operating models to cut costs.

Dennis Hausmann of LamRC/NVLS discussed ALD/CVD in more details than others.  For Each CVD/ALD step, an average of $2-$3/wafer is added to manufacturing cost, while only about $1/wafer of this is for chemistry+power+exhaust management.  He reviewed at least 4 versions of ALD tools (furnaces to single wafer) and said that there is a “right ALD tool” for the right deposition job.  He said that single wafer tools with proper development can meet same throughput as batch furnaces.  However, if you look at the development cost, single wafer tools are much better in cost.  For depositions that improve with plasma ALD, single wafer tools also make sense.  An important observation by Dennis was that for ALD, sometimes it is the unknown contaminant that “makes it go”.  This is something that has been observed in the past of copper plating chemistries, as well as some CMP slurries.

James ONeil, CTO Entegris had an interesting title, which should fit most suppliers “Accelerating yield in a disruptive environment”.  James emphasized that suppliers need meaningful process discussions, insights & collaboration with their customers.

Adrienne Pierce of Edwards introduced SCIS collaboration to most of us.  This is a supply chain collaboration working group.  Some topics are tracing defects origins and BKMs for specific process (e.g. ALD).

There were then two parallel sessions; one on advanced memories and the other on 3D packaging.  In the memory session, Norma Sosa of IBM talked about PCRAM (phase change memory, which Micron has been shipping for a few years now), Mark Raynor, Matheson, discussed RRAM for Non-Volatile, and Suresh Upa, SanDisk, discussed packaging implications.

After the breakout, we had presentations from four materials supplier companies.  The four same very similar things.  Dave Bern of Dow Chemical discussed using the “right tool” for collaboration and the importance of making sure suppliers agree to work in areas that fit their “core competencies”.  Wayne Mitchel of Air Products noted that ICs are only 2% of GDP.  He agreed with Dave Bern that suppliers should only agree to work (partner) with customer on areas within expertise, otherwise it takes too much time and money to execute successfully. Jean Marc Girard, Air Liquide discussed the numerous risks of supply chain, from the sub-supplier, the environment (e.g. earthquakes), and materials stability (or lack thereof). Kevin O’Shea of SAFC Hitech emphasized that taking materials from a catalog of low volume and ramping to IC manufacturing needs is not trivial, and may also not be consistent with the materials manufacturer (the sub-supplier, or company that is “primary” in the materials).

The day 2 Panel discussion had more audience participation.  Some discussions I found particularly interesting are discussed below.

Tim (Intel) said the gap is getting wider between Intel, suppliers, sub-suppliers (esp. customs for IC industry). The large sub-supplier that doesn’t have an interest in moving forward – there is no motivation to increase metrology, metrics, etc.  The shrinking sub-supplier base isn’t good for our industry – reduction in cost per bit comes from shrinks and reuse of capital, not only lower cost materials..

Kurt Carlson said that sub suppliers don’t think IC fabrication is the best industry – the IC industry wants more and more, yet wants to pay less and less.  It’s not worth it to us (good sub-suppliers leave because it’s too costly for the small volumes).

Jean Marc said they don’t want to duplicate development costs, if they don’t need to; they would rather use universities and share on things like toxicology.

Dave said it costs millions of dollars to test materials, like EUV.

Mansour Moinpour asked about collaboration on liquid particle, GCMS, and similar – can we have joint & consistent measurements across the industry?  James Entegris responded that end user need to be drivers.  Jean Marc suggested that maybe SEMI standards could drive a standard of industrial analytics.

The value of roadmaps was very different to the various participants, however the idea of regulatory alignment and a roadmap related to this was generally thought to be useful.

The question of cost and logistics … there are some materials that require shipping a lot of water, which adds cost.  Intel said that they are getting into more cost sensitive mobile market and they may be driven to this rather than exact materials copy in near future.  Tim said the Intel CEO is “hell bent” that Intel will make money in the mobile market.  “Intel will pull it off.”

SPIE Photomask Technology Wrap-up

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Extreme-ultraviolet lithography was a leading topic at the SPIE Photomask Technology conference and exhibition, held September 16-17-18 in Monterey, Calif., yet it wasn’t the only topic discussed and examined. Mask patterning, materials and process, metrology, and simulation, optical proximity correction (OPC), and mask data preparation were extensively covered in conference sessions and poster presentations.

Even with the wide variety of topics on offer at the Monterey Conference Center, many discussions circled back to EUV lithography. After years of its being hailed as the “magic bullet” in semiconductor manufacturing, industry executives and engineers are concerned that the technology will have a limited window of usefulness. Its continued delays have led some to write it off for the 10-nanometer and 7-nanometer process nodes.

EUV photomasks were the subject of three conference sessions and the focus of seven posters. There were four posters devoted to photomask inspection, an area of increasing concern as detecting and locating defects in a mask gets more difficult with existing technology.

The conference opened Tuesday, Sept. 16, with the keynote presentation by Martin van den Brink, the president and chief technology officer of ASML Holding. His talk, titled “Many Ways to Shrink: The Right Moves to 10 Nanometer and Beyond,” was clearly meant to provide some reassurance to the attendees that progress is being made with EUV.

He reported his company’s “30 percent improvement in overlay and focus” with its EUV systems in development. ASML has shipped six EUV systems to companies participating in the technology’s development (presumably including Intel, Samsung Electronics, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, which have made equity investments in ASML), and it has five more being integrated at present, van den Brink said.

The light source being developed by ASML’s Cymer subsidiary has achieved an output of 77 watts, he said, and the company expects to raise that to 81 watts by the end of 2014. The key figure, however, remains 100 watts, which would enable the volume production of 1,000 wafers per day. No timeline on that goal was offered.

The ASML executive predicted that chips with 10nm features would mostly be fabricated with immersion lithography systems, with EUV handling the most critical layers. For 7nm chips, immersion lithography systems will need 34 steps to complete the patterning of the chip design, van den Brink said. At that process node, EUV will need only nine lithography steps to get the job done, he added.

Among other advances, EUV will require actinic mask inspection tools, according to van den Brink. Other speakers at the conference stressed this future requirement, while emphasizing that it is several years away in implementation.

Mask making is moving from detecting microscopic defects to an era of mesoscopic defects, according to Yalin Xiong of KLA-Tencor. Speaking during the “Mask Complexity: How to Solve the Issues?” panel discussion on Thursday, Sept. 18, Xiong said actinic mask inspection will be “available only later, and it’s going to be costly.” He predicted actinic tools will emerge by 2017 or 2018. “We think the right solution is the actinic solution,” Xiong concluded.

Peter Buck of Mentor Graphics, another panelist at the Sept. 18 session, said it was necessary to embrace mask complexity in the years to come. “Directed self-assembly has the same constraints as EUV and DUV (deep-ultraviolet),” he observed.

People in the semiconductor industry place high values on “good,” “fast,” and “cheap,” Buck noted. With the advent of EUV lithography and its accompanying challenges, one of those attributes will have to give way, he said, indicating cheapness was the likely victim.

Mask proximity correction (MPC) and Manhattanization will take on increasing importance, Buck predicted. “MPC methods can satisfy these complexities,” he said.

For all the concern about EUV and the ongoing work with that technology, the panelists looked ahead to the time when electron-beam lithography systems with multiple beams will become the litho workhorses of the future.

Mask-writing times were an issue touched upon by several panelists. Shusuke Yoshitake of NuFlare Technology reported hearing about a photomask design that took 60 hours to write. An extreme example, to be sure, but next-generation multi-beam mask writers will help on that front, he said.

Daniel Chalom of IMS Nanofabrication said that with 20nm chips, the current challenge is reduce mask-writing times to less than 15 hours.

In short, presenters at the SPIE conference were optimistic and positive about facing the many challenges in photomask design, manufacturing, inspection, metrology, and use. They are confident that the technical hurdles can be overcome in time, as they have in the past.

Intel Announces “New Interconnect” for 14nm

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

By Dr. Phil Garrou, Contributing Editor, Solid State Technology

Intel has just announced that Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge (“EMIB”) packaging technology will be available to 14nm foundry customers. Claiming it is a “…lower cost and simpler 2.5D packaging approach for very high density interconnects between heterogeneous dies on a single package.” [link]

Intel released the following description “Instead of an expensive silicon interposer with TSV (through silicon via), a small silicon bridge chip is embedded in the package, enabling very high density die-to-die connections only where needed. Standard flip-chip assembly is used for robust power delivery and to connect high-speed signals directly from chip to the package substrate. EMIB eliminates the need for TSVs and specialized interposer silicon that add complexity and cost.”

It is highly likely that this is tied to the issuance of patent application publication US 2014/0070380 A1 published March 13 2014.

In simplified form interconnect bridges (“silicon glass or ceramic”) are embedded in a laminate substrate and connected with flip chip as shown below.

Bridge Interconnect as described in recent Intel patent.

A cross section of the package is more revealing showing connections through the laminate and connections through the bridge substrate (316) which would be TSV in the case of a silicon bridge substrate. The underside of the bridge substrate (314) may be connected to another bridge substrate for further interconnect routing as shown below.

While there is no silicon interposer, there do appear to be TSV in the embedded interconnect substrate as shown below. While removing complexity from the IC fabrication by eliminating TSV from the foundry process, the packaging operation becomes much more complex.

Since the 2.5D interposer has been reduced in size to the interconnect bridges this may reduce cost, but will increase signal length vs a true 3D stack or a silicon interposer 2.5D.

Further details will be discussed in a future IFTLE blog.

Intel EMIB Module in Cross Section

The Week in Review: August 29, 2014

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Intel Corporation announced two new technologies for Intel Custom Foundry customers that need cost-effective advanced packaging and test technologies.

Fairchild Semiconductor, a supplier of high performance power and mobile products, today announced it will eliminate its internal five-inch and significantly reduce six-inch wafer fabrication lines, resulting in the closure of its manufacturing and assembly facilities in West Jordan, Utah and Penang, Malaysia, as well as the remaining five-inch wafer fabrication lines in Bucheon, South Korea.

KLA-Tencor Corporation released two metrology tools and an upgraded data analysis system that can reduce overlay error by 25% when using multi-patterning in leading-edge IC fabs. By taking additional data and using feed-forward control loops, the integrated solution dynamically adjusts the exposures in lithographic steppers to improve both overlay and critical dimension (CD) results in high-volume manufacturing (HVM).

United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) and Fujitsu Semiconductor Limited announced an agreement for UMC to become a minority shareholder of a newly formed subsidiary of Fujitsu Semiconductor that will include its 300mm wafer manufacturing facility located in Kuwana, Mie, Japan.

Scientists have developed what they believe is the thinnest-possible semiconductor, a new class of nanoscale materials made in sheets only three atoms thick.

SEMI announced the keynotes for the 2nd Vietnam Semiconductor Strategy Summit (September 16-17), an executive conference focused on Vietnam’’s growing role in the global semiconductor industry.

Solid State Watch: August 22-28, 2014

Friday, August 29th, 2014
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The Week in Review: August 22, 2014

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Himax Technologies, Inc., a supplier and fabless manufacturer of display drivers and other semiconductor products, and Lumus, a producer of Augmented Reality glasses, announced another joint initiative to continue developing the next-generation of smart glasses that will set new technological standards in image quality and performance.

North America-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted $1.41 billion in orders worldwide in July 2014 (three-month average basis) and a book-to-bill ratio of 1.07, according to the July EMDS Book-to-Bill Report published this week by SEMI.   A book-to-bill of 1.07 means that $107 worth of orders were received for every $100 of product billed for the month.

Intel Corporation and Unity Technologies this week announced a strategic collaboration to advance the development of Android-based applications on Intel architecture. The agreement accelerates Intel’s mobility push as millions of developers using the Unity development platform can now bring native Android games and other apps to Intel-based mobile devices. Unity adds support for Android across all of Intel’s current and future processors including both the Intel Core and Intel Atom processor families.

MediaTek this week announced the establishment of a new research and development facility in Bengaluru, India. The new R&D facility will focus on developing innovative and inclusive solutions for wireless communications and establish MediaTek’s presence in other core segments such as connectivity and home entertainment devices.

Amkor Technology, Inc. announced that David Watson has been appointed as a new member of the Company’s Board of Directors. With this appointment, Amkor’s Board has been expanded to nine members. Mr. Watson is currently serving as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Comcast Cable. In this role Mr. Watson oversees the teams responsible for day-to-day operations of the cable division, including sales and marketing of cable video, high-speed Internet and voice services, as well as oversight of the three operating divisions and Comcast Spotlight, the advertising sales unit.

STATS ChipPAC Ltd., a provider of advanced semiconductor packaging and test services, announced this week that it has shipped over 100 million semiconductor packages with the company’s fcCuBE technology, advanced flip chip packaging with fine pitch copper (Cu) column bumps, Bond-on-Lead (BOL) interconnection and enhanced assembly processes.

Intersil Corporation, a provider of power management and precision analog solutions, announced the ISL98611 display power and LED driver for smartphones. The ISL98611 is the first power management IC that integrates the display power and backlight LED driver functions in a single chip. It significantly improves efficiency of both functions to increase smartphone battery life by an hour or more.

Research Alert: August 5, 2014

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Taking great ideas from the lab to the fab

A “valley of death” is well-known to entrepreneurs–the lull between government funding for research and industry support for prototypes and products. To confront this problem, in 2013 the National Science Foundation (NSF) created a new program called InTrans to extend the life of the most high-impact NSF-funded research and help great ideas transition from lab to practice.

In partnership with Intel Corporation, NSF announced the first InTrans award of $3 million to a team of researchers who are designing customizable, domain-specific computing technologies for use in healthcare.

The work could lead to less exposure to dangerous radiation during x-rays by speeding up the computing side of medicine. It also could result in patient-specific cancer treatments.

Led by the University of California, Los Angeles, the research team includes experts in computer science and engineering, electrical engineering and medicine from Rice University and Oregon Health and Science University. The team comes mainly from the Center of Domain-Specific Computing (CDSC), which was supported by an NSF Expeditions in Computing Award in 2009.

Expeditions, consisting of five-year, $10 million awards, represent some of the largest investments currently made by NSF’s Computer, Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate.

Today’s InTrans grant extends research efforts funded by the Expedition program with the aim of bringing the new technology to the point where it can be produced at a microchip fabrication plant (or fab) for a mass market.

National Science Foundation tests out the assembly line of the future

There’s no shortage of ideas about how to use nanotechnology, but one of the major hurdles is how to manufacture some of the new products on a large scale. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst chemical engineer Jim Watkins and his team are working to make nanotechnology more practical for industrial-scale manufacturing.

One of the projects they’re working on at the NSF Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing (CHM) is a roll-to-roll process for nanotechnology that is similar to what is used in traditional manufacturing. They’re also designing a process to manufacture printable coatings that improve the way solar panels absorb and direct light. They’re even investigating the use of self-assembling nanoscale products that could have applications for many industries.

“New nanotechnologies can’t impact the U.S. economy until practical methods are available for producing products, using them in high volumes, at low cost. CHM is researching the fundamental scientific and engineering barriers that impede such commercialization, and innovating new technologies to surmount those barriers,” notes Bruce Kramer, senior advisor in the NSF Engineering Directorate’s Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI), which funded the research.

“The NSF Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing is developing platform technologies for the economical manufacture of next generation devices and systems for applications in computing, electronics, energy conversion, resource conservation and human health,” explains Khershed Cooper, a CMMI program director.

“The center creates fabrication tools that are enabling versatile and high-rate continuous processes for the manufacture of nanostructures that are systematically integrated into higher order structures using bottom-up and top-down techniques,” Cooper says. “For example, CHM is designing and building continuous, roll-to-roll nanofabrication systems that can print, in high-volume, 3-D nanostructures and multi-layer nanodevices at sub-100 nanometer resolution, and in the process, realize hybrid electronic-optical-mechanical nanosystems.”

New material allows for ultra-thin solar cells

Extremely thin, semi-transparent, flexible solar cells could soon become reality. At the Vienna University of Technology, Thomas Mueller, Marco Furchi and Andreas Pospischil have managed to create a semiconductor structure consisting of two ultra-thin layers, which appears to be excellently suited for photovoltaic energy conversion.

Several months ago, the team had already produced an ultra-thin layer of the photoactive crystal tungsten diselenide. Now, this semiconductor has successfully been combined with another layer made of molybdenum disulphide, creating a designer-material that may be used in future low-cost solar cells. With this advance, the researchers hope to establish a new kind of solar cell technology.

The solar cell’s layer system: two semiconductor layers in the middle, connected to electrodes on either side.

Two-Dimensional Structures

Ultra-thin materials, which consist only of one or a few atomic layers are currently a hot topic in materials science today. Research on two-dimensional materials started with graphene, a material made of a single layer of carbon atoms. Like other research groups all over the world, Thomas Mueller and his team acquired the necessary know-how to handle, analyse and improve ultra-thin layers by working with graphene. This know-how has now been applied to other ultra-thin materials.

“Quite often, two-dimensional crystals have electronic properties that are completely different from those of thicker layers of the same material”, says Thomas Mueller. His team was the first to combine two different ultra-thin semiconductor layers and study their optoelectronic properties.

Two Layers with Different Functions

Tungsten diselenide is a semiconductor which consists of three atomic layers. One layer of tungsten is sandwiched between two layers of selenium atoms. “We had already been able to show that tungsten diselenide can be used to turn light into electric energy and vice versa”, says Thomas Mueller. But a solar cell made only of tungsten diselenide would require countless tiny metal electrodes tightly spaced only a few micrometers apart. If the material is combined with molybdenium disulphide, which also consists of three atomic layers, this problem is elegantly circumvented. The heterostructure can now be used to build large-area solar cells.

When light shines on a photoactive material single electrons are removed from their original position. A positively charged hole remains, where the electron used to be. Both the electron and the hole can move freely in the material, but they only contribute to the electrical current when they are kept apart so that they cannot recombine.

To prevent recombination of electrons and holes, metallic electrodes can be used, through which the charge is sucked away – or a second material is added. “The holes move inside the tungsten diselenide layer, the electrons, on the other hand, migrate into the molybdenum disulphide,” says Thomas Mueller. Thus, recombination is suppressed.

This is only possible if the energies of the electrons in both layers are tuned exactly the right way. In the experiment, this can be done using electrostatic fields. Florian Libisch and Professor Joachim Burgdörfer (TU Vienna) provided computer simulations to calculate how the energy of the electrons changes in both materials and which voltage leads to an optimum yield of electrical power.

Tightly Packed Layers

“One of the greatest challenges was to stack the two materials, creating an atomically flat structure”, says Thomas Mueller. “If there are any molecules between the two layers, so that there is no direct contact, the solar cell will not work.” Eventually, this feat was accomplished by heating both layers in vacuum and stacking it in ambient atmosphere. Water between the two layers was removed by heating the layer structure once again.

Part of the incoming light passes right through the material. The rest is absorbed and converted into electric energy. The material could be used for glass fronts, letting most of the light in, but still creating electricity. As it only consists of a few atomic layers, it is extremely light weight (300 square meters weigh only one gram), and very flexible. Now the team is working on stacking more than two layers – this will reduce transparency, but increase the electrical power.

Blog review June 30, 2014

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Pete Singer blogs that at The ConFab last week, IBM’s Gary Patton gave us three reasons to be very positive about the future of the semiconductor industry: an explosion of applications, the rise of big data and the need to analyze all that data.

Tony Chao of Applied Materials writes that Applied Ventures will be participating in the second-annual Silicon Innovation Forum (SIF) held in conjunction with SEMICON West 2014 in San Francisco on Tuesday, July 8. The forum is designed to bring new and emerging innovators together with the semiconductor industry’s top strategic investors and venture capitalists (VCs), in order to enable closer collaboration and showcase the next generation of entrepreneurs in microelectronics.

Adele Hars of ASN recently caught up again with Laurent Malier, CEO of CEA-Leti to get his take on the ST-Samsung news. Malier said that CEA-Let has been heavily investing in FD-SOI technology, committing critical scientific and technological support at each phase of FD-SOI development.

Phil Garrou blogs that last week at the 2014 ISC (International Supercomputing Conference) it was announced that the Intel Xenon Phi processor “Knights Landing” would debut in 2015. It will be manufactured by Intel using 14nm FinFET process technology and will include up to 72 processor cores that can work on up to four threads per core.

Solid State Watch: May 30-June 5, 2014

Friday, June 6th, 2014
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The Week in Review: June 6, 2014

Friday, June 6th, 2014

After two years of decline, fab equipment spending for Front End facilities in 2014 is expected to increase 24 percent in 2014 (US$35.7 billion), according to the May 2014 SEMI World Fab Forecast Report released this week.

This week, the Society for Information Display (SID) unveiled the winners of its prestigious 19th annual Display Industry Awards.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) this week announced that worldwide sales of semiconductors reached $26.34 billion for the month of April 2014.

Imec announced this week that it is collaborating with Samsung Electronics to accelerate innovation and collaboration among technology companies and researchers working in the burgeoning mobile wearable field.

Synopsys, Inc. and Intel Corporation this week announced broad SoC design enablement for Intel’s 14nm Tri-Gate process technology for use by customers of Intel Custom Foundry.

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