Gadgets

Applied Materials aims to speed new generation of chip processing

Above: Applied Materials tools

Image Credit: Applied Materials

New advances in chip making will make your eyes glaze over. But Applied Materials announced a couple of new products today that mean you’ll be able to get your hands on the next-generation of smartphones and computers faster than you otherwise would.

One of the products will enable the company, which is the world’s largest maker of semiconductor processing equipment, to create faster transistors with its chip factory tools. The other will enable chip makers to more quickly identify and eliminate defects in chip processing.

Kathy Ta, the managing director of the Silicon Systems Group at Applied, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the advances will enable chip makers to churn out faster chips and to make them more reliably. That, in turn, will usher in a new generation of tech gadgets.

The defect review and classification technology, created under the Applied SEMVision family of products, will accelerate the time it takes to get to defect-free or near-defect-free manufacturing, Ta said. That’s important as the industry shifts from 28-nanometer manufacturing to 20-nanometer manufacturing. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and being able to shift to a smaller number of nanometers is critical to the continuation of Moore’s Law.

Moore’s Law, postulated in 1965 by Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore, predicts that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years. That can happen only if companies like Applied Materials make advances in chipmaking equipment.

Ta said that the new SEMVision G6 system will allow for better inspection of chips in processing and that will enable 100 percent faster processing in analyzing new chips for defects. That shortens the time it takes to get to better yields, or the ratio of good chips to total chips in a given batch.

Regarding the defect review tool, Ta said, “The last generation took so long to ramp up. If we can get our customers to production faster, that’s the name of the game.”

The new tools will help so-called foundries, or contract chip manufacturers such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., as they shift to better generations of chipmaking equipment.

Applied Materials is also launching its new NMOS transistor application for the Applied Centura RP Epi system. Epitaxy is the task of laying a perfect crystalline structure on top of a chip wafer. That’s about 5 percent of Applied’s business, amounting to $500 million a year in revenue. That percentage is growing, and the number of epitaxy steps in making chips is increasing as more of it is required to build faster transistors. The new product addresses a different type of transistor, or NMOS, in order to improve performance. Past improvements have addressed the PMOS transistor type.


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