We live in a society that is increasingly connected. From the way we interact and travel, to the cities we inhabit, we rely on electronic devices to help us communicate, navigate, learn and play. The next phase in this journey is the move towards the Internet of Things, where devices connect online and share data. As objects become ‘smarter’ and provide us with more information about our world, we will see greater connectivity between individuals, societies and businesses, resulting in more freedom, economic growth and innovations in health, safety and energy.
These developments are only possible because of the industry’s relentless push to follow Moore’s Law, which results in the development of devices with greater performance at lower costs. One result of this advanced technology drive is higher complexity in transistors and memory devices. Historically, new technology nodes have been achieved by shrinking the transistor size, although certain physical limits have recently been reached. To solve this problem, the trend is to build 3D (three-dimensional) transistors, as more performance functionality can be stacked vertically than in two dimensions. The result is that FinFETs and several 3D memory architectures are now in volume production.
Another 3D trend in semiconductor manufacturing is the stacking of several chips in one package. These chips can come from different supply chains, each optimized for its own performance and cost, enabling the manufacture of heterogeneous devices with integration in the package or as chips stacked on a wafer. As a consequence, ‘more than Moore’ chips can be efficiently integrated with conventional Moore-scaled devices in one package.
The trends outlined above are the main drivers of the broad semiconductor roadmap which semiconductor equipment companies track in developing new production systems and process technologies. These new systems and technologies must be developed well ahead of volume demand for the semiconductor devices they make. As a result, there is a long lead-time between the investment in a new technology and its commercial success. With the combination of a long lead time and the short product life-cycles comes the inherent difficulty of matching supply and demand, which results in the high volatility associated with the semiconductor equipment industry.
Semiconductor chips are manufactured in wafer fabrication plants, where silicon wafers 300mm in diameter move through a series of process steps, including lithography, deposition and etching. Demand for the semiconductor equipment we manufacture is driven both by growth in the end market for semiconductor devices, and by new technology needed to realize the next generation of devices. The result of this advanced technology drive is greater complexity in transistors and memory devices, which means wafer processing equipment gets ever more complex, driving the trend of higher wafer fab capital costs.
By driving innovations at the atomic level, we play an integral part in enabling our customers to fulfil their ambitions. The chip-making process is in the age of the nanometer, and we are now creating transistors that are only a few nanometers across. But connecting billions of transistors on a single chip requires astonishing precision. As a leading supplier of ALD process solutions to the semiconductor industry, our ALD technology supports our customers with this.
ALD allows us to deposit thin films atom-by-atom on silicon wafers, meaning we can deliver atomic-scale thickness control, high quality deposition and large area uniformity. Such precision means we can use materials that could not be considered before and develop 3D structures, such as FinFETs, which are vital to the future of electronics.
As the industry continues to shift from working in a single plane to 3D, our ALD deposition technology will enable customers to produce the chips of tomorrow.