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3D merges chip production routes

Posted: 20 Jun 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Moore’s Law? MEMS? chip design?

The semiconductor industry is no doubt facing challenging times, bracing itself for the predicted �end of Moore�s Law?. Now is the perfect time to re-examine the facts, issues and milestones that have accompanied the industry on its journey the past 40 years, and determine where it is headed and what it will take for it to get there.

Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore believed that scientific advances affecting semiconductors could be crucial to economic growth, because an extensive range of applications would be found for more powerful devices in industry, government and national defense. He thought that it would depend on a tradeoff between the pace of scientific advancement and the costs of producing more powerful devices.

As the IC industry progresses and many layers on the silicon chips approach atomic scale, we could face an insurmountable wall that could hamper the future development of chip technology. Many changes took place in the industry as copper replaced aluminum and chemical-mechanical planarization was introduced. High k hafnium oxide replaced the traditional silicon dioxide as the basic building block of the transistor (gate) while mobility enhancement was obtained by stressors (either dielectric film or selective epitaxial growth in the source/drain area). Additionally, Intel recently introduced the tri-gate process. The transistor of advanced processes today (32nm and below) looks dramatically different from the 130nm transistor of 10 years ago.

The end result of all these is: yes, we have better, faster and more advanced devices (as well as manufacturing facilities), but the cost of manufacturing has gone up dramatically as shown in Figure 1.

advanced nodes manufacturing

A clear bifurcation
However, there is a clear bifurcation in the industry with the rebirth of several "sleepy" technologies that for several years didn't receive the right attention. By that I'm referring to analog, MEMS and power electronics.

Analog companies like Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics, Analog Devices and Infineon Technologies are the leaders in that field. The use of analog ICs is increasing in wireless applications (Figure 2). Greater use of hand-held devices (smartphones, tablets and laptops) is in turn boosting sales of analog chips.

Analog IC technology is playing a key role in wireless systems such as 4G cellular phone systems, wireless sensor networking systems and broadband wireless networking systems. Wireless systems need analog ICs mainly in their transceiver chips for signal processing. Other application areas of analog ICs in wireless systems are wireless data access cards, wireless LAN cards, wireless mouse, wireless repeaters, etc.

The use of power electronics including power transistors and power management devices (used in portable devices, they facilitate addition of more functions while minimizing the battery drain) has grown dramatically in recent years as we have become an increasingly mobile society. The use of hybrid or electric cars, smart grids and solar devices has also increased the use of power electronics. See Figure 2 for more details.

analog market

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