SEMATECH’s Bryan Rice: Why it’s time for a “refresh”

October 4, 2011 – Bryan Rice, SEMATECH’s newly appointed director of strategic initiatives, tells SST what his new job entails: what he sees as his biggest challenges, which areas will keep SEMATECH’s main attention (hint: the "once and future king" of resources), and what new areas are being explored.

Prior to his litho directorship (replacing Michael Lercel who returned to his assignor IBM), Rice was SEMATECH’s immersion program manager, leading research into high-refractive index lens and immersion fluid materials, and also helped form the group’s double-exposure program (focusing on novel materials for litho-litho-etch patterning). He’s been at SEMATECH since 2006 as an Intel assignee.

Looking back on his tenure as SEMATECH’s litho director, Rice agreed that EUV’s slow progress was "obvious," with the biggest problem being high-power scanner sources. "We as an industry, including SEMATECH, didn’t get the job done; source power still isn’t where it needs to be," he said. The industry is now pouring resources into that problem. For SEMATECH itself, he noted that their competency is in masks, not sources, so they’ve focused on reducing mask defects. (Should SEMATECH have pushed harder to develop its own expertise and leadership in source development? "I grappled with that," he said, but "in the end, there have been multiple companies and maybe hundreds of millions of dollars spent and it’s still not solved. It’s an extremely difficult problem.")

In his new role as director of strategic initiatives, Rice will be tasked with putting together plans to extend SEMATECH’s core missions through the next 5-7 years — work that had been encroaching into the jobs of the individual SEMATECH program directors, to a point where it needed to be centralized into a standalone role. (It was simply "good timing," Rice said, that his tenure as litho director was simultaneously ending.) "Every so often we have to refresh the ideas, problems we have, that have reached their tipping point and ready to change direction," he told SST. "My job is to make certain that the direction changes we make are compatible with what the industry needs." ("The industry" means both SEMATECH members and potential future members, since SEMATECH is looking out several years into some emerging areas, he added.)

Though he only hinted at possible areas of special focus under his new leadership — "some ideas are in a very sensitive point, I can’t discuss publicly" — Rice noted that SEMATECH’s structure has changed, and it needs a "refresh" every couple of years to align with what the industry and member companies require. "Look at what we’re capable of doing and what we’d like to be capable of doing — those two, combined with problems that exist in the industry, I have to mesh them together," he said. That applies not only to SEMATECH’s four core areas (frontend processing/transistors, lithography, metrology, 3D integration) but other branches too, including possibly creating new programs that exploit synergies between those existing divisions. "Nothing is off the table," he said.

The biggest challenge Rice sees is personal: known as a litho expert, he’s now trying to come up to speed on the details in other technology areas. "I felt that I understood that subject matter extremely well — but I can’t say the same for the other areas I’m working on now," he said. As a result, he’s having to rely more heavily on expert advice from other team members at SEMATECH, "more than I had to in litho […] accepting the technical inputs at face-value without having the core experience." A similar challenge will be making sure those deeply involved in the SEMATECH technology programs are advancing them in the right direction: "they don’t work *for* me, but I have to convince them what work is going to be most effective. That’s going to be challenging," he said.

What’s the next big thrust for SEMATECH, to be pursued with the same zeal as its EUV efforts? Will it be III-V materials, 3D TSVs, or other next-generation structures? "The next EUV is …EUV," Rice declared. "Until that’s in production, it’s the once and future king of resources." Assuming EUV is "the workhorse technology" that will "take us through critical layer patterning through the end of the decade," there’s plenty of work to be done in the next 5-7 years to keep it at the top of SEMATECH’s priorities. Once that goal is reached, though, he sees "plenty of challenges coming" in the future: "Other litho areas are on the way," he added, declining to offer specifics. (New SEMATECH litho director Stefan Wurm also hinted at new litho work to be pursued, also declining to offer details.)


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