DuPont Photomask looks to design automation to cut mask costs

By Paula Doe
WaferNews Contributing Editor

DuPont Photomask doesn’t want to be just a maskmaker any more. Instead CEO Peter Kirlin’s broader vision is to become a “microimaging solutions supplier.” And it looks like it has taken a big step in that direction with its recent acquisition of design automation supplier BindKey Technologies.

BindKey applies its algorithms to finding design rule violations, to speed up the design process.

“For 0.25-micron devices there are about 50 design rules, and a design rule check usually finds some violations,” Kirlin explained to analysts in a call announcing the deal. “But as you integrate more manufacturing limitations at 0.13-micron, there are about 1,000 rules, and the number of errors is increasing geometrically.”

DuPont paid $4 million in cash and will make further performance payments over the next four years.

The Santa Clara-based startup just introduced its first product in 4Q01, and says it is already in use at three of the top 10 chipmakers.

“We have no known competitor,” says BindKey CEO Motti Beck, who claims none of the other design automation software systems are mask smart. “We can prevent one or two iterations, save months of design time, and accelerate the process by at least 10 weeks.”

Coming next, in 3Q02, is a new tool in the suite that will provide real time feedback to the designer to prevent the errors in the first place. The software, however, is not specific to DuPont masks, but can be used with those from any supplier.

“It’s a big deal to my mind,” says Banc of America Securities Analyst Mark Fitzgerald. “It shows the strategy the rest of the industry is going to have to take to reduce mask costs.”

He argues the only way to cut soaring mask set costs will be to consider the costs of the entire system – design, manufacturing, and usage – and improved design for manufacturability is one good way to do so.



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