At an industry and investor event held during the August 2019 Flash Memory Summit, Lam management made the case for why semiconductor innovation needs to accelerate in the 5G era and how Lam is ideally positioned to drive that innovation. President and CEO Tim Archer and CTO Rick Gottscho fielded questions from CFO Doug Bettinger on topics ranging from the value of data to vertical scaling trends to evolving Industry 4.0 solutions.
The discussion first focused on the value of data. Tim noted that “the tremendous amount of data being generated is now being used in a way that creates significant economic value.” As an example of how connected sensors can solve real problems, smart transportation promises to ease traffic congestion, which affects productivity. High speed communication sensors in cars, roads, and traffic signals will help redistribute vehicle flow and change traffic signal patterns in real time. Tim also mentioned that the agriculture industry is using sensors to grow more food using less water and less chemicals.
Enabling the transformation to the data-driven world are technologies such as 5G. With its higher bandwidth, high speed, and low latency, 5G is at the center of enabling this virtuous cycle of data creation, data generation, and data use. Enabling more machine-to-machine communication through 5G, said Rick, will allow for more value creation opportunities and will drive an increased need for faster processing and storage requirements. As a company that knows 3D, Lam is ideally positioned to capitalize on these trends.
The transition from planar to 3D NAND was a key technology inflection, enabling NAND to cost-effectively continue bit density scaling. Tim observed that the 2D to 3D transition “transformed how people thought about building devices and this accelerated the importance of etch and deposition technologies in NAND manufacturing”. Continued scaling, Rick explained, “is about adding more and more layers to a deck, and then stacking the decks.” This type of scaling, however, comes with multiple technology and cost challenges. For example, managing stress in the move to 64L and beyond is a critical area of focus for Lam.
Rick talked in detail about two kinds of stress: intrinsic film stress and global wafer stress. In addition to reducing the intrinsic stress in the oxide and nitride film stack, Lam has developed a low-fluorine tungsten solution for word line replacement gate. By bringing down the fluorine content of the tungsten replacement gate material, the stress present in the structure is also reduced.
As announced the day of the event, Lam’s VECTOR® DT and EOS® GS are co-optimized plasma deposition and wet etch products used to compensate for that global stress. Both intrinsic and global stress-relief solutions will increase in importance as vertical scaling continues.
When asked about other innovations that further enable the 3D NAND roadmap, Rick responded that new materials are under development, especially in metallization. For example, as the number of layers increases, the word line lengths become longer and the resistance of those lines becomes a limitation. New metallization schemes may be needed to replace tungsten.
The conversation also touched on the new architectures being developed, as the industry thinks about how to use the third dimension effectively. The integration of separately manufactured components into a single package (heterogeneous integration) is gaining importance, noted Rick. This advanced scheme relies on through-silicon vias, created by high aspect ratio etching and metal filling, to connect the separate units. High bandwidth memory, critically important for artificial intelligence applications, is already employing heterogeneous integration today.
The industry has been working on memory technologies that will fill the gap between DRAM and NAND or provide replacements, including both resistive RAM and phase change RAM. Tim observed that new applications often need new process capabilities. For example, he cited Lam’s “ion beam etching capability which was driven by MRAM, another new memory that’s introduced for certain specific applications.”
These new materials, new architectures, and alternate memories need process technologies that are at the right cost point. To enable chipmakers to lower their cost and improve time to market, Lam is using Industry 4.0 technologies that speed up tool development and help chipmakers ramp those tools into yield more quickly. Rick gave several examples of self-aware, self-maintaining, or adaptive equipment, including an etch capability that uses real-time sensors to adapt for upstream variability.
Tim summarized Lam’s leadership, not just in 3D NAND, but in 3D scaling in general. Citing the company’s existing expertise in high-aspect ratio etching, as well as high-aspect ratio metal fill, Tim indicated how Lam is well positioned to drive the innovation needed for manufacturing future generation 3D devices.
SAFE HARBOR STATEMENT
Statements made in this article which are not statements of historical fact are forward-looking statements and are subject to the safe harbor provisions created by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Such forward-looking statements relate, but are not limited, to technology changes, future requirements or opportunities, or Lam’s ability to meet future requirements and benefit from those developments. These forward-looking statements are based on current expectations and are subject to uncertainties and changes in condition, significance, value and effect, as well as other risks detailed in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including specifically the reports we file on Forms 10-K and 10-Q, which could cause actual results to vary from expectations. As a result, you should not place undue weight on such forward-looking statements. The Company undertakes no obligation to update the information in this article.