August 5, 2011 – In a post-SEMICON West 2011 podcast interview, sp3 Diamond Technologies’ president & COO, Dwain Aidala, told SST how the CMP pad conditioner market has been significantly impacted by process advances as the industry goes from 32nm to even more advanced nodes. "Over the last 1.5-2 years, we’ve seen a focus on using CVD diamond film directly on pad conditioners for 45nm and lower nodes," he said. "What is driving this is the move to Cu CMP and the chemical/caustic portion of the slurries making use of both the wear properties and the chemical inertness of diamond."
Not only are end-users developing pad conditioners using CVD diamond films to structure them for specific pad and slurry combinations, explained Aidala, but they are also making use of advances in production equipment to continue to drive down costs. "The pad marketplace is appearing to fragment into teams," he explained — i.e., pads, conditioners, and slurries, dubbed "the magic triangle," by the Techcet Group. "During the 2009-2010 down turn, engineers and equipment became available to do development to optimize these three combinations for particular processes."
Recently, sp3 Diamond Technologies’ primary R&D focus has been on the emergence of diamond as a potential SOI layer for high-power applications. "Diamond is a high thermal conductivity material that in sub-micron films can operate as both an insulating layer as well as a thermal conductor vs. the thermal barrier that traditional SOI layers have tended to be," said Aidala. One of the challenges with this application is engineering the appropriate surface roughness for next layer bonding — the company has been working with outside partners to achieve bondable surface layers.
In the last several years, the company has funded its R&D activities by a combination of revenue and income generated by equipment sales, government SBIR research contract activities, and user-to-user activities with other semiconductor companies that have complementary technology. "During the 2009-2010 timeframe, where external capital became extremely difficult to obtain, R&D funding had become a more internally-generated and focused activity," said Aidala. "We are now seeing more opportunities with the larger consortia; and with an acceleration in our own business, we’re able to invest more as well."