Materials Matter

A look at what’s needed to enable the future of IC fabrication and packaging.


By Pushkar Apte
Despite formidable technical and economic challenges, the semiconductor technology engine continues steaming ahead, changing the way we work and play in amazing ways. This engine primarily ran on the “Moore’s Law track” for nearly half a century – but now, the tracks are diverging for digital logic and memory, and “More-than-Moore” devices. Continuing progress requires multi-faceted innovation in systems, design, technology, and especially materials – the underlying foundation.

The upcoming SEMI Strategic Materials Conference 2014 (SMC) on Sept. 30-Oct. 1 offers a unique strategic perspective, covering technology development, economic drivers, and supply-chain dynamics. Tom Taylor of Dow Chemical, co-chair of SMC 2014, aptly describes it as the “only conference with participation and content relevant across the entire electronics materials supply chain – from strategic raw materials such as specialty gases through synthesis and formulation of application-specific chemistries and compounds, equipment manufacturers and process technologists, and the scientific and business leadership of major semiconductor, display and related device manufacturers.”

Digital computing will continue to conquer new heights, and SMC 2014 includes sessions focused on new materials for emerging logic and next-generation memory devices at the core of new computing paradigms. Philip Wong from Stanford University, who will present at SMC, says, “the emerging paradigm of ‘abundant-data’ computing requires real-time analytics on enormous quantities of data collected by a mushrooming network of sensors (projected to surpass a trillion by 2025) feeding into ‘the cloud.’ The next technology frontier is 3D monolithically integrated chips with novel architectures, logic, memory, and embedded thermal management. This approach will provide a 1000-fold improvement in energy-delay product, making possible the performance of the IBM WATSON in a handheld device.”

SMC 2014 also addresses materials besides silicon, which will be important for the “More-than-Moore” applications emerging in healthcare, energy, infrastructure and transportation. Matt Nowak of Qualcomm previews his conference keynote by observing, “There is much buzz in the industry about the diminishing cost savings from continued CMOS scaling, as well as excitement about the opportunities that the ‘Internet of Everything’ (IoE) might create. New materials will play a critical role in both managing the CMOS scaling challenges and in realizing the opportunities of IoE.”

These diverse technologies are often integrated in a package, sparking a flurry of innovation in the packaging industry. SMC 2014 has a focused session on innovation in packaging materials. As John Hunt of ASE, presenting in this session, describes, “size reduction and paradigm shifts in technology such as MEMS sensors and actuators in portable devices have introduced new packaging requirements. The IC industry structure relies on materials suppliers, equipment suppliers, process materials and specialty consumables producers to be successful. To move forward, the industry must take full advantage of the symbiotic relationship between these different layers of the supply chain and the knowledge base of both the IC and assembly industries.”

To sustain this complex ecosystem, every entity in the supply-chain must have sufficient economic incentives for success. Tim Hendry of Intel, previewing his keynote said, “The material supply chain faces many challenges on how to meet the ever increasing technical challenge while keeping the overall cost of the supply affordable. I will discuss the challenges in delivering a 10nm capable supply chain and some methods we can partner on to keep costs in check.” SMC 2014 has sessions dedicated to business dynamics – including big-picture economic scenarios, specific challenges of maintaining supply-chain robustness, and the unique perspective of materials manufacturers.

Wayne Mitchell of Electronic Air Products, who will also present at the Strategic Material Conference (Sept. 30-Oct. 1), says, “Never before in the history of this industry have materials played such an enabling role, but the material supplier community is confronted with ever more complex problems including tighter controls on raw material suppliers to assure product quality, measuring impurities at the part-per-trillion level and finding defects on the dimensions of molecular clusters.” Another speaker at the event, David Bem of Dow Chemical, adds, “Successful new technologies have proliferated so quickly, that it’s effectively impossible or unaffordable for multinational companies to be specialists in all potential areas for growth. Specialty material development investments for global suppliers to the semiconductor industry can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. This forces decisions on what not to pursue, and a range of options such as licensing, funded external research, collaborative development with supply chain partners, consortia or customers, commercial partnerships and joint ventures.”

The executive panel, moderated by Risto Puhakka, VLSI Research, concludes the conference by exploring “the tortuous trail to commercialization of new-to-the-world materials into the IC industry.”

Register for SMC 2014 at: For more information on SEMI, visit

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