Saturday, January 5, 2013

IBM - High Tech R&D Power House

The October 28, 2012 on line issue of engadget describes what might be IBM’s first steps to commercialize carbon nano tube technology. Experimentation with carbon structures has been the focus of research activity for most of the past decade. Preliminary interest in carbon’s viability as a semiconductor material was enhanced with the advent of formed nano tube structures as new interest in alternative approaches to device theory and design were explored. IBM, leading the world in new patent generation and intellectual property conducts major research and development in areas of fundamental physics, materials science and the ultimate incorporation of resulting new discovery into advanced technology products with which we often identify IBM. IBM’s annual research and development budget of $6 Billion eclipses the market cap of many well regarded technology companies enabling this wide ranging research. The derivative generation of IBM’s new discovery and product development yields a huge portfolio of intellectual property having value in both end user products and licensable technology. IBM’s recent efforts utilizing an oxide/halfnium oxide/oxide trench to facilitate the delivery and self/location assembly of carbon nano tubes exemplifies the new directions in research being explored to provide more simplistic solutions to challenging semiconductor designs. Other experimental work utilizes DNA to foment self assembled scaffolding on which nano structures may be patterned, eliminating traditional, complex photoresist/lithography fabrication techniques.

While attending the Semicon West 2010 Executive Summit, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Bernard Meyerson, IBM’s Chief Technology Officer. He had just completed a presentation which included a review of current, state of the art semiconductor technology and provided an overview of on-going research being conducted on carbon nano tubes, graphene, germanium/silicon and other promising approaches to future device engineering challenges. Interestingly the continuing acceleration of research has infused the periodic table with a new family of materials which provide the current and future building blocks for next generation semiconductor technologies. In addition to IBM’s research, the contributions of SEMATECH and SEMI member consortiums add to the mix of research effort which helps distribute and offset the enormous investment required in a capital intensive industry.

Recently we have witnessed activities in the semiconductor industry which underscore the necessity of the consortiums. EUV lithography systems required for targeted 14 nanometer geometries are dependent upon the successful on time delivery of ASML’s 13.5 nanometer wavelength EUV technology. The lithography and required precision are on target. However, power output and MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) issues must be satisfactorily resolved. To ensure this critical puzzle piece falls into place, Intel, Samsung, TSMC and others fell into line and invested billions in ASML. ASML in turn proceeded to purchase Cymer, the manufacturer of a high power laser, a key component in the EUV plasma source. A recent You Tube video produced by ASML features animation depicting the new EUV production facility. The production floor can accommodate as many as eight EUV lithography systems and with a price tag of $125 Million each, a single full production run can represent $1 Billion in inventory. Research and development in self assembling semiconductor devices hold promise for the future. In the shorter term we are witnessing the evolution and self assembly of the next generation semiconductor industry.

Thomas D. Jay
Semiconductor Industry Consultant

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Your comments are welcome. I'd like to hear your thoughts and opinions. Many thanks for your readership. - Thomas D. Jay