Saturday, January 17, 2015

Weekend Reading: ISS on EE Times

For many folks in the semiconductor business the year starts off with a trek to attend SEMI's annual Industry Strategy Symposium. I've lost track of how many times I have attended ISS. There are ISS presentations archived on my hard drive(s) extending back to the mid-90's. This year I chose not to attend - next year may be a different story. .

Rick Merritt of EE Times has penned a piece containing fodder that is worth a bit of discussion.

For those I communicate with frequently (you know who you are) you will find that many of the points made in this article germane to topics I refer to during our trading-day chat sessions.

Rick serves up his seven takeaways from ISS:
  • Samsung, GF winning 14/16nm race 
  • Slow Train to 3D Ics 
  • Slow Road to Vertical NAND 
  • Little said about EUV 
  • Little said about EUV Part II 
  • Living in the materials world 
  • Faster, higher, cheaper 
My $0.02:

In the semiconductor world nothing ignites a cat fight like the Samsung/GF/TSMC node race. Wall Street Analysts, Chip Industry Analysts, Industry Trade Rags, Self-proclaimed Pundits and Bloggers all know that a flashy headline - including exclamation point - touting a bleeding edge qualification/production order from Apple, Qualcomm or any leading-edge chip design house, will generate clicks and claws.

If you are investing in Samsung or TSMC knowing the winner of this every-other-year battle makes a difference. If you are investing in the capital equipment companies it doesn't matter because winner, and loser, still have to buy tools to stay in the game.

Yes, it’s that simple.

On 3D ICs: It is taking forever. By forever I mean way more than 10 years and I have the presentations from ISS and other events to prove it. <sarcasm on>

3D NAND : Today's aspect ratios (height and width - spaces and lines), as noted by my equipment industry colleagues, are outrageously challenging - hence the production delays we are seeing at the major memory houses. 

These are important comments from Micron's VP of process R&D:

“We don’t have the right characterization capabilities. [Currently] we have to use destructive techniques. We cannot measure thin films and other features hidden in the stack -- we need to do a lot of work in this area,” he said in a talk, citing stiff challenges removing as little as two microns of material using chemical mechanical planarization.

Worth repeating: "We cannot measure thin films and other features hidden in the stack -- ".

Can you say, "KLA-Tencor?"

Little said about EUV: IMEC submits that Immersion Lithography will extend to 7nm - - enough said.

Little said about EUV II: There are material challenges to be resolved . C'mon, that’s already too much!

Living in the Materials World:  I really wish there were some publicly traded, pure play, semiconductor material companies out there. Unfortunately, most of the materials business is buried inside larger companies. It’s a big business - comparable to the capital equipment industry:

Sidelight: The last time I attended ISS I had a chat with Intel's Tim Hendry. That conversation just happened to be the morning after the release of Intel's quarterly earnings. Intel was, once again, flexing its muscles but the stock was languishing. With the share price hovering around $20 even good news was perceived as a negative. ARM, TSMC and the design house minions were destined to eat Intel's lunch. The PC market was dead and Intel was following because they missed the mobile market. <sigh>

Before parting ways Tim and I agreed that the best strategy was simply a matter of exercising some patience. So far so good….

Sidelight II:  If you are interested in a funny story about Intel and a helium supplier drop me a note.

Faster, higher, cheaper: Quote from Boeing exec: "We study your industry a lot." 

Irony here, The little bit in this area fits with the conversation we've been having about chip manufacturing and how the internal knowledge can be extended to other industries. 

Comments are welcome and enabled,  Before they are published they will, to eliminate spam, be sent to me for moderation.   


  1. Anonymous7:52 PM

    It has been far too long you have been away. As an industry veteran with great knowledge, and non agenda status, this site will prove to be a worthy read.

  2. Thank you! It is great to have you around!