Imec Launches R&D Tool Hub

To help fab tool vendors, Imec has launched a new R&D hub. ASML and Lam are the first members.

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The semiconductor industry is entering yet another inflection point. Consumers want faster mobile systems with more functions. So, chipmakers are under pressure to deliver new and low-power chips that are smaller and faster.

The problem is that IC design and chip manufacturing costs continue to escalate. These costs, in turn, are fueling an ongoing shakeout in the chip and fab tool industries. And simply put, only a few chipmakers and fab tool vendors can afford to play at the leading edge.

“Fewer companies need to address more challenges,” said Luc Van den hove, president and chief executive officer of Imec, during a keynote address at the Imec Technology Forum (ITF2014) in Brussels, Belgium.

The trends are especially challenging for fab tool vendors. IC equipment vendors must continue to spend more in R&D to address the leading edge. But yet there are fewer and fewer customers for vendors.

To help fab tool vendors, Imec has formally launched what it calls a “suppliers hub.” This program aims to offer an open R&D platform, which enables chip suppliers and tool makers to collaborate more deeply and in an earlier stage in the process, according to Van den hove. Suppliers joining Imec’s supplier hub concept have the ability to assess their tools on product stacks, develop process control and hardware/software options, and integrate new materials.

Imec has been working with fab tool vendors and materials suppliers for decades. The new suppliers hub increases Imec’s level of collaboration with tool makers. In fact, ASML Holding has been one of the early participants of the suppliers hub. ASML and Imec recently launched an advanced patterning center, which formed the basis of the suppliers hub.

Now, Lam Research will join Imec’s suppliers’ hub. In addition, Imec is broadening its R&D partnership with Lam. The partnership will focus on developing patterning and metallization solutions for next-generation CMOS process technologies.

Other fab tool vendors will also join the program. For its suppliers hub, Imec is expanding its cleanroom space, which is next to its current R&D fab. The new 4,000-square-meter cleanroom space will be ready by the end of next year.

Separately, Imec said it is collaborating with Samsung Electronics to accelerate innovation and collaboration among technology companies and researchers working in the burgeoning mobile wearable field. The announcement comes as part of Samsung’s recently announced digital health initiative. A centerpiece of the announcement is Samsung’s Simband platform, which includes an open reference sensor module integrating advanced sensing technologies from Imec. This sensor array promises to bring a new understanding of the body’s inner workings to the world of consumer health monitoring.