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IMEC official sees tough sledding to 45nm

Posted: 25 Apr 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:imec? process technology? eda? embedded systems conference?

Cross-discipline and cross-regional communication need to improve in electronics design if the industry is going to reach 45nm design rules without stumbling badly, an executive with the European technology R&D company IMEC said.

Ludo Deferm, Ph.D, the company's VP of business development, said the more abstract design teams get in their description of systems, the greater the risk for product failure because of the teams' distance from process subtleties. "There's no trial and error anymore because if you try and fail, you die," he said.

Deferm made his comments during an interview with EE Times during a visit to the Embedded Systems Conference. He also said Mainland China has quite a long way to go before it reaches technological parity with the West.

Deferm, describing the challenges of 45nm process technologies, which IMEC is exploring now, said most system designers sit too far removed from the realities of the fab today. In between the designer and the fab sits a library that's supposed to model transistor-level characteristics of a given fab. But often the library models at leading-edge technologies won't or can't take into account weird physical problems of 90- and 65nm processes, such as thermal expansion and mismatches between dielectrics and interconnect.

"Systems designers have to take into consideration process issues," he said. "The whole [electronics] community has to communicate to share information. Maybe they can play cards together (now) but maybe they can't communicate."

Deferm said the problem can spell trouble for fabless companies. In that model, the fabless company's engineers design to a set of foundry rules, but the foundry doesn't have access to the design to help it figure out what might be causing errors in manufacturing. In the middle are EDA companies who see the problem but haven't brought to market bulletproof solutions.

"No one has full insight into the other's domain," Deferm said.

On regional issues, Deferm said IMEC is training some Chinese engineers, particularly those from Shanghai, the mainland's ground zero for foundry activity. But the current recession and the cost of equipment could conspire to slow China's evolution as a manufacturing powerhouse.

"You need high volume on low-margin products that have high yield," he said. "They also have no system expertise. There, the problem will be larger" than some people anticipate.

In addition, the Chinese, in order to run a solid foundry business, also need experience in manufacturing, which they don't yet have. "The first step they have to do is learn. They have good, skilled people," he said.

Deferm said like every other technology generation that appears unachievable three or four years before it's realized, 45nm will happen. "Of course it's doable (but) economics will tell us whether going to 45nm is going to be affordable and useful," Deferm said.

- Brian Fuller

EE Times

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