By Rudy Kellner, VP & GM, Electronics Business Unit, FEI
Consumer demand for more power, speed and functionality in less space seems to be insatiable. Yet semiconductor manufacturers have reached the end of the era when this demand could be satisfied by simply shrinking the dimensions of fundamental planar device technologies. Now they must accommodate complex, three-dimensional (3D) device architectures and a plethora of new materials. At the package level they must develop and produce 3D designs that stack and interconnect multiple die without sacrificing yield or performance. The net result of all this innovation is a sharp increase in R&D capital intensity. In order to maintain profitability manufacturers must increase the productivity and return from their R&D investments. Moreover, time-to-market has become the new battle ground where the first to market enjoy a brief period of premium pricing and higher margins, before the battle begins again.
The decreasing size and increasing complexity of devices has driven demand for high-power transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) required to visualize and analyze structures with critical dimensions of a few tens of nanometers. Equally important, it has also driven demand for the focused ion beam/scanning electron microscope (FIB/SEM) systems needed to create ultrathin samples from precise locations on a die. We have invested heavily to improve the speed and throughput of these systems, reducing sample preparation times to less than 90 minutes with recipe-based automation and hardware innovations that streamline difficult and time-consuming sample manipulations. At the packaging level we have introduced a plasma-based FIB system with milling rates fast enough to permit package-scale edits that can save weeks in the assembly process.
As the industry continues to consolidate, the battle ground will continue to shift. Production excellence and efficiency will remain a requirement, but the spoils will go to the first to market. Accelerating R&D turns and decreasing time to yield will be the keys to success.