In the News


SEMI, IEEE Collaborate on MEMS, Nano and Smart Materials Standards

SAN JOSE, CALIF. — SEMI and IEEE recently signed a memorandum agreeing to support each other's efforts to create standards for nanotechnology and MEMS. The two organizations plan to appoint liaisons, define a regular exchange of information and schedule periodic joint meetings to present updates and disseminate standards information on nanotechnology and MEMS.

IEEE's Standards Association has an active nanotechnology standards effort underway and expects to publish a measurement standard for carbon nanotubes in 2005. Similarly, SEMI's MEMS Initiative includes a focus on standards.

"The memorandum will give SEMI and IEEE greater traction in developing suites of standards for nanotechnology, MEMS and other emerging fields that will enhance electronic device performance," says Judith Gorman, managing director of the IEEE Standards Association. "Possible areas of focus include organic, molecular, carbon nanotube and silicon nanofiber-based devices. We see this memorandum as the start of a long-term collaboration, one that links the complementary expertise of our organizations to benefit our members and industry as a whole."

"This is a timely agreement because of the heightened interest in nano-enabled technology development," says Bettina Weiss, director, International Standards & MEMS at SEMI. "Our goal is to move the entire field forward by starting work on standards early in the development cycle so as to nurture commercialization, reduce costs and boost productivity. Standards developed by SEMI will address such areas as materials, tools and interfaces, while IEEE standards will deal with test methods, materials, devices, interoperability and other topics."

Semiconductor Sales Reach Highest Point Since July 2000

SAN JOSE, CALIF. — Worldwide sales of semiconductors rose to $16.94 billion in April, a sequential increase of 4.1 percent from the $16.28 billion reported in March and a 36.6 percent increase from April 2003, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). April is traditionally a strong month for semiconductor sales, and is continuing that pattern.

"Worldwide semiconductor sales in April reached the highest monthly level since July 2000," says SIA President George Scalise. "Continued strong overall economic growth in the U.S. and China helped propel chip sales upward. The fundamentals are in place for strong growth through the remainder of the year, and it is likely that growth for 2004 will significantly surpass last fall's forecast of 19 percent growth."

Strong sales of cell phones were a major contributor to increased chip sales, especially for digital signal processors (DSPs), which were up by 6.8 percent; application-specific standard products (ASSPs) for wireless grew 8.8 percent; and flash memory devices rose 3.2 percent. Personal computer sales growth, combined with increasing memory content in each system, helped to drive strong month-to-month growth of 10.3 percent in sales of DRAMs. Sales of image-sensing devices grew 7.6 percent sequentially on strong sales of digital still cameras and camera phones.

Semiconductor sales were up sequentially in all geographic regions, with Asia-Pacific showing very strong growth of 6.6 percent over the immediate-prior month, according to the SIA.

NASA's Lab-on-a-chip Technology Customized for Mars

HUNTSVILLE, ALA. — Using a microscope and a computer monitor, NASA researchers at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) watch fluorescent bacteria flow through tiny, fluid highways on a dime-sized lab on a chip. They are studying how lab-on-a-chip technology can be used for new tools to detect bacteria and life forms on Earth and other planets and for protecting astronauts by monitoring crew health and detecting microbes and contaminants in spacecraft.

The chips are made with the same microfabrication technique used to print circuits on computer chips. Chemicals and fluid samples can be mixed, diluted, separated and controlled using channels or electrical circuits embedded in the chip. Basic lab-on-a-chip applications conduct a test and yield results in a short time with a handheld portable device containing a simple chip design.

"NASA requires complex lab-on-a-chip technology, so scientists can conduct multiple chemical and biological assays or perform many processes on a single chip," says Helen Cole, project manager of NASA's Lab-on-a-chip Applications Development program. "Current commercial are not designed to work in space, so we are developing a set of unique chips along with a corresponding miniaturized controller and analysis unit."

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NASA is developing complex, portable microarray diagnostic chips to test for all of the genes and DNA responsible for determining the traits of a particular organism, detect specific types of organisms or use biosensor-like probes such as antibodies to detect molecules of interest. By applying this technology in laboratories and in the field where organisms live in extreme environments on Earth, astrobiologists can compare Earth-life with those that may be found on other planets.

Since the chips are small, many of them can be carried on a Mars rover to search for life or carried on long-duration human exploration missions for monitoring microbes inside lunar or Martian habitats.

MSFC is collaborating with scientists at other NASA centers and at universities to design chips for many applications, such as studying how fluidic systems work in spacecraft and identifying microbes in self-contained life support systems. To make customized chips for these various applications, NASA has an agreement with the U.S. Army's Microdevices and Microfabrication Laboratory at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. The lab-on-a-chip research is funded by NASA's Biological and Physical Research Enterprise through MSFC's Microgravity Science and Applications Division.

Challenges Ahead for 3-D CSP Suppliers

NATICK, MASS. — A number of 3-D chip scale packaging (CSP) studies conducted by VDC, a Natick, Mass.-based technology market research and consulting firm, indicate that 3-D CSP solutions will play an increasingly vital role in meeting performance and size requirements for future generations of mobile electronics.

3-D CSPs involve the vertical (Z-axis) stacking of multiple die within a package, or multiple packages, using specialized substrates and interconnects. Earlier advanced IC packaging solutions such as ball grid arrays (BGAs) and CSPs have succeeded in decreasing package sizes while increasing I/O count and overall component performance, but their capabilities are falling short in today's more mobile-oriented technology landscape.

3-D chip scale packaging solutions help to meet size and performance requirements by providing the following benefits:

  • Reductions of size and weight in the package;
  • Vertical stacking reduces the number of chip-to-board interconnections and the area required for chips and inter-chip traces;
  • Reduction in power consumption. The level of power required depends in part on the number of interconnects. Currently, chip-to-chip interconnects account for 15 to 40 percent of power consumption. It is projected that CSPs and multichip modules will reduce system power consumption by 10 to 30 percent;
  • Increase in performance and reliability. Currently, module-to-board solder connects account for 80 to 90 percent of board failures. Reducing the number of module-to-board solder connects by using 3-D chip scale packaging will decrease board failures.

Although 3-D CSPs exceed many performance demands, some challenges still exist. Mobile device manufacturers have expressed their concerns about the viability of 3-D chip scale packaging, including:

  • Expense. Products such as cell phones and other consumer devices have short product life cycles. The rapid turnover of new products and the hazy future of others (i.e. PDAs) create inconsistent demand for advanced packages. For applications that are in the mature or declining phases of their present life cycle, the additional costs of advanced packages are unjustified.
  • Changes to the supply chain. Cooperation between OEM system designers and their various suppliers must improve in order to address integration challenges.
  • Technology uncertainties. Board/system level manufacturers are concerned about reliability, ruggedness, power/thermal management, as well as shielding and other technical challenges.

As demands on portable devices increase and they become smaller, lighter and more feature-rich, VDC predicts that the vertical stacking techniques used in 3-D CSP solutions may become more attractive to mobile device manufacturers.

Freescale Joins E3 Lead-free Initiative, Makes it E4

MUNICH, GERMANY — Freescale Semiconductor Inc., a subsidiary of Motorola Inc., has joined STMicroelectronics, Infineon Technologies and Philips to further lead-free electronics packaging efforts. Formerly E3, the group is now called E4 (environmental 4) and is focusing on accelerating the use of lead-free packages, while also stimulating further development of environmentally friendly package technologies.

In July 2001, Philips, STMicroelectronics and Infineon Technologies teamed up to develop standards for lead-free products. The definition of "lead free" includes factors such as solderability, reliability of alternative materials and characterization of the moisture sensitivity level. As defined by the companies, lead free is content less than 1000 parts per million lead by weight.

By developing substitutes for lead-based materials in components and packages, the E4 is intends to help its customers meet the EU's July 1, 2006 deadline requiring phase-out of lead usage in most electronic products. The E4's goal is to provide a high quality drop-in solution for lead-free applications. Member companies plan to share databases and methodologies, collaborate on standards and develop a common conversion strategy for the transition to lead free.

Newport to Buy Spectra-Physics

IRVINE, CALIF. — Newport Corp. has signed a definitive agreement with Thermo Electron Corp. to purchase Spectra-Physics for $300 million, subject to a post-closing net asset adjustment. The acquisition is expected to create a company with approximately $400 million in annualized sales that is immediately profitable, excluding transaction-related expenses.

For the year ended December 31, 2003, Newport reported sales of $134.8 million. Its sales for the first quarter of 2004 totaled $42.4 million, an increase of approximately 27 percent compared to the $33.3 million recorded in the first quarter of 2003. Spectra-Physics had sales of approximately $200 million in 2003, and its first quarter 2004 sales were up 16 percent to approximately $58 million vs. approximately $50 million in the comparable quarter of 2003.

The acquisition adds over 5,000 products sold by Spectra-Physics to the more than 10,000 products offered by Newport. In addition to greatly increasing Newport's range of products, the transaction is expected to provide Newport with better balance in its end markets. The combined company will have more than 2,000 employees and 15 manufacturing plants in five countries.