2013: Facing unprecedented precision engineering challenges

By Randhir Thakur, Vice President and General Manager, Silicon Systems Group, Applied Materials

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.

Multiple inflections will figure prominently in 2013. Among these, we see the Foundry transition to 20-nanometer process technology node as a significant milestone. 20-nanometer is all about building advanced transistors that can deliver low leakage, low power and high performance in a smaller footprint.  To achieve this combination of performance and energy efficiency, chip makers must adopt high k metal gate transistors which could deliver a 20 percent savings in power consumption while offering a 15% increase in speed.  Further leakage and speed performance improvements at 20nm and below will be gained from FinFET transistors.  Beyond advances to the transistor, we expect major inflections in lower resistance interconnects, advanced patterning, packaging, and 3D NAND flash technology. 

We’ve never seen in this level of change in the industry or this pace of manufacturing process development. Innovations in new semiconductor materials, manufacturing processes and other technologies will be needed to support these inflections that each pose critical challenges. Unprecedented precision engineering will be needed to manufacture chips features measured in nanometers.  At these dimensions every atom counts and controlling variability is vital to meet performance and productivity targets. Also pivotal in enabling future chips will be new classes of materials with superior properties that can be used in a broad range of process applications.

With demand for new forms of consumer electronics and new methods of computing driving the pace of innovations, we’re going to see more changes in the next five years than we’ve seen in last 15.  These innovations will require major research and development efforts and very early and close collaboration across the industry.


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