SEMICON West marches to the relentless beat of Moore's law

July 22, 2008--It was obvious that Moore's law and its relentless march towards finer and finer feature sizes on integrated circuits was once again the overriding theme of SEMICON West 2008, held July 15-17 in San Francisco, CA. This year's show was also co-located with Intersolar North America for the first time, allowing SEMI (San Jose, CA) to expand its technology focus from the traditional semiconductor industry into the exploding photovoltaic market.

July 22, 2008--It was obvious that Moore's law and its relentless march towards finer and finer feature sizes on integrated circuits was once again the overriding theme of SEMICON West 2008, held July 15-17 in San Francisco, CA. This year's show was also co-located with Intersolar North America for the first time, allowing SEMI (San Jose, CA) to expand its technology focus from the traditional semiconductor industry into the exploding photovoltaic market.

Moore's law--loosely cited as the exponential increase in the number of transistors that need to be packed onto an IC in order to economically make chips (roughly, a doubling every two years)--is the driver towards smaller and smaller IC feature sizes from the current 90 nm or more down to the desired 22 nm level. The intense pressure (in terms of cost, price, and technical innovation) to meet the demands of this law is driving semiconductor technology to new and competitive levels, especially in the area of semiconductor lithography.

On the one hand, there is the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) approach--an extension of existing lithography technology that depends on an ever-smaller wavelength of light (13.5 nm in this case to produce 22 nm features) and currently in the R&D stage at several academic institutions as well as at Cymer (San Diego, CA) and Gigaphoton (Mountain View, CA). But on the other hand, there is the nanoimprint lithography (NIL) option from suppliers such as Molecular Imprints (Austin, TX)--already capable of 22 nm features, but still challenged in terms of speed and defect levels.

Although the technology roadmaps for both NIL and EUV can be debated (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/298394), results from a recent survey of semiconductor industry insiders by Wright Williams & Kelly (WWK; Pleasanton, CA), a cost & productivity management software and consulting services company, showed that 50% or more of the respondents expect to see imprint lithography in production between 2010 and 2012 (as well as 193 nm high-index immersion lithography), whereas survey respondents did not expect to see EUV lithography in production until 2014 or beyond.

But whatever lithography and semiconductor technology is ultimately used, it was clear in the numerous keynote sessions at SEMICON West that the benefactor of Moore's Law is definitely the consumer. Unfortunately, forecasts call for a downturn in the semiconductor equipment market in 2008, largely due to falling chip prices as consumers demand cheaper optoelectronic devices. While those same forecasts curiously call for a recovery in 2009, the reasons were not abundantly obvious.

For more information on the happenings at this year's SEMICON West, please read the full report in the upcoming August 1st issue of Optoelectronics Report; or subscribe to Optoelectronics Report.


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