The semiconductor industry recently gathered at SEMICON China, one of the largest annual microelectronics tradeshows. Tim Archer, Lam’s president and CEO, gave a keynote on the continuing need for innovation in equipment manufacturing and process development, emphasizing Lam’s speed to solution. Following are some highlights from his talk.
Tim opened his talk with a perspective on the industrial revolutions, noting that the fourth industrial revolution, currently underway, is enabled by the confluence of computer intelligence and big data. With each industrial revolution, the rate of change has increased, and our ecosystem is changing at a rate never witnessed before. But we are not just witnessing this speed: we are enabling it through the technologies that the semiconductor industry creates. Even more so than the previous revolutions, this one is transforming the way people live and work. Industries ranging from medicine to transportation to agriculture are reaping the benefits of computer intelligence.
To continue this broad transformation, our industry needs to continue delivering next-generation logic and memory devices. But, as Tim stated, every generation of new devices is requiring more innovation and more process steps, creating a dramatic increase in manufacturing complexity. That complexity requires more time to transition from one node to the next and costs more money to build out the manufacturing capacity.
Tim shared his belief that the key to maintaining the rapid pace of innovation in our industry is to leverage the Industry 4.0 capabilities that are enabled by semiconductor technologies. By working together, we can accelerate time to market for new technologies by designing equipment faster, developing processes faster, and ramping to yield faster.
Tim discussed the digital twin concept for the digital version of the parts, components, and tools that the industry builds. Using digital twins, equipment design and process development in the virtual world can reduce the cycles of learning in the physical world, ultimately enabling first time right products. The cyber version of physical systems can be used in other ways including performing a virtual build to rapidly evaluate designs for manufacturability and serviceability. Once the design is in place, additive manufacturing can be deployed to create parts that cannot easily be created using conventional techniques.
In addition to using Industry 4.0 technologies to help with the equipment design, they can also be used to develop new, innovative process technology faster. Just as digital versions of hardware can be created, processes and process integration schemes can also be brought into the digital world. Once we have cyber models, virtual fabrication and virtual process development can be done much more quickly with simulation experiments, as Tim noted. By running processes in a virtual environment, virtual fabrication holds the promise of developing optimized unit processes and linking them into an overall process scheme flow, prior to performing the design of experiments in the physical world. This means starting with a flow much closer to the desired and final result, reducing time and costly experimental learning cycles.
Tim also articulated the benefits of deploying Industry 4.0 technologies to accelerate ramp to yield. Using machine learning, chamber mismatch and process variability can be quickly identified. Thus, problems can be identified and solved early, ensuring greater consistency over time. Next, tool installation was noted to be a critical but sometimes undervalued step in getting to yield faster. Virtual reality and augmented reality, together with step-by-step instruction, can help ensure high quality installation and service. Lastly, technology enabling self-maintaining equipment reduces tool downtime and enhances overall productivity.
These technologies, as Tim described, are fundamental to the entire ecosystem’s success. Lam collaborates with universities and academic consortia by supporting leading-edge research and building strong relationships with graduate and undergraduate students and professors. These relationships support emerging technologies and innovations, provide a pipeline of highly-skilled talent and encouraging thought leadership around disruptive technologies that fuel innovation.