The Alphabet Soup Of New Material Science

The recurring theme at Semicon this month was that new materials will provide the power and performance benefits in future chips.

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By Joanne Itow
Escaping the scorching Arizona temperatures is only one reason why I always look forward to Semicon West. This year’s event was packed with an exceptional variety of activities and vendors. What was the most memorable take-away from the show? There were plenty of panels, presentation and networking discussions on the 450mm wafer transition and EUV. But the biggest thing that I walked away with was the focus on new materials and the tools that work with these new enabling materials. There are a lot of innovations and modifications taking place across the ecosystem that relate to materials.

My week started with presentations at Applied Materials. Mike Splinter, chairman and CEO, is supplying the ammunition for the “war for mobility.” He directed our attention to their name, Applied MATERIALS. AMAT believes device performance and yield is being achieved through material innovation, and they are focused on enabling the success of those new materials.

New material introduction was the theme from IMEC, too, which announced a manganese-based barrier process that significantly improves RC (Resistance Capacitance) performance. The use of manganese resulted in a 40% increase in RC benefits at 40nm half pitch compared to conventional tantalum options today. Yet another material being added to the list of possible solutions.

That leads directly into the question, is the list of material options too long? Because of the unique challenges of processing at atomic levels and the fact that there won’t be a new or replacement lithography solution until 7nm, most companies are turning to the periodic table to discover a miracle cure for current leakage and offset the reduced scaling benefits. “Fail Fast” was a phrase used by one material company that is constantly being asked to test out new material options. It sounds worse than it appears. The idea is to eliminate weak or inappropriate options quickly so that more resources can be focused on the remaining viable options. Makes sense to me.

But the question isn’t just which material to use. Because of all the new materials being introduced, we also have to figure out what to do with all the waste and pollutants that might be introduced in these new processes. DAS is a company solely focused on removing waste gas pollutants in semiconductor wet bench applications. They’re not revolutionizing the chip technology but their burn/wet inline system along with a new system scrubber approach for gas pollutants created during wafer cleaning is helping to keep the fab environmentally safe with cost-effective cleaning tools.

The message from almost every company at Semicon West was that growth in the mobile market is driving demand, technology and new materials. Equipment and material changes are all geared toward lower power, higher performance and new features for mobile devices. I remember when Art Zafiropoulo, chairman, CEO and president of Ultratech, said this industry, right or wrong, moves with a herd mentality. Sometimes it may not always be best to stick with the pack. All these material innovations are leading to better products but instead of just changing the chemistry, we may need more breakaway solutions that take the industry down a completely new path.