Applied Materials recently hosted Congressman Lamar Smith, representative for the 21st Congressional District of Texas, at the company’s Austin facility for an in-depth overview of the semiconductor industry, global challenges and opportunities ahead and Applied’s leadership role in the industry.
Congressman Smith chairs the influential Science, Space and Technology Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has jurisdiction over important programs within the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation.
Recently more than 270 students from National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in Hsinchu, Taiwan, crowded into the campus auditorium to hear Mike Splinter, Chairman and CEO of Applied Materials deliver a talk about the fast-paced and challenging environment of the semiconductor industry.
The past two years have seen a significant decline in the number of venture firms making new investments in the Energy Technology and Semiconductor sectors. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for private companies raising capital in these sectors.
Increasingly, corporate investors are playing a critical role in financing companies in these sectors, with 54% of energy tech and 24% of semiconductor private financing rounds in 2012 including one or more corporate investors1.
As the funding for energy tech and semiconductor startups from traditional financing sources has weakened, Applied Ventures continues to be a strong supporter of new thinking that will drive these sectors.
Mobility is the biggest influence shaping the semiconductor industry and is the main driver of chip development. Smartphone sales are expected to surpass 700 million units growing at a 50% growth rate year over year and demand for tablets is set to exceed 110 million units growing at an 85% rate year over year. The race to manufacture chips for the surging mobile markets is driving the industry to explore new materials and technologies to enable essential breakthroughs for higher, more power-efficient performance. For the PC market, we will see the advent of Ultrabooks and the new Windows 8 operating system – both of which can spur a technology upgrade cycle and drive growth.
A very short word for a hugely important technology, without which there would be no microchips. Etch is the process by which images of circuit features printed on a silicon wafer are engraved into the films below. Put another way, etch makes circuits real.
Below is a short excerpt of an article I submitted to IEEE Spectrum that looks at the emerging memory technologies being considered to help smartphones and tablets meet the demand for more energy efficient data storage. To access the complete article, visit the IEEE Spectrum web site.
"Our smartphones and ultrathin laptops rely on a triumvirate of memory technologies—SRAM, DRAM, and flash—each customized for a specific purpose. They’ve all been fabulous workhorses, but now these memories are struggling to keep up with the steady demand for chips that are faster, cheaper, more reliable, and more energy efficient.
It's not just movies, televisions and video games that are going three-dimensional these days. Microchips are doing it, too.
Semiconductors aren't shifting into the third dimension because it’s fashionable, though. This shift is about continuing Moore’s Law, the relentless drive for higher performance that has driven the industry for four decades.
When it comes to microchip technology, transistors seem to get all the attention. But did you know that the transistor layer only makes up 10% of a modern logic chip?
The other 90% is made up of interconnect layers – the three-dimensional maze of copper wires that make connections between all those transistors and the outside world. From a volume perspective, that makes the dielectric insulator that supports all that copper the most important material in all of chipmaking!
May 4, 2011 may go down in history as a day that shook the chip industry to its core, literally. Anyone even remotely interested in technology must have caught Intel’s dramatic announcement on that day that 3-D transistors are now ready to enter high-volume manufacturing.
However, other leading players believe there’s plenty of development room left in two dimensions.
Chipmaking is arguably the most complex manufacturing operation in human history. To illustrate this:
A modern megafab – one that processes over a million wafers a year – contains hundreds of individual machines and turns out billions of finished chips a year
It can take over 750 individual process steps to make a modern microprocessor
The number of different types of chips being made simultaneously is growing while adding more layers to each one. As technology continues to progress the size of the chips are shrinking and manufacturing constraints are increasing
How is this complexity handled? By computers, of course, using a similarly complex piece of software called a manufacturing execution system (MES) which keeps track of every machine and every wafer in the fab.
At Applied Materials, we’ve taken software automation to the next level. Our SmartSched software doesn’t just react to changing fab conditions; it peers into the future. This video shows how it works.