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Posts Tagged ‘Applied Materials’

Manufacturing Challenges 3D NAND Deployment

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research and veteran semiconductor analyst, shares his views on the challenges of moving from 2D planar to 3D NAND flash.

By John Blyler, Editor-in-Chief, Electronic Systems Design

3D NAND flash is touted as the eventual replacement for bit density limited 2D planar NAND flash. Its arrival into the mainstream memory market has been delayed by several years but should commence toward the end of 2017.  The delay has been caused by a steeper than expected learning curve in the manufacturing process. To understand why, Electronic Systems Design spoke with Jim Feldhan, founder and president of Semico Research Corp. What follows is a portion of that interview. – JB

Blyler: What are the general trends in NAND flash technology?

Jim Feldhan

Feldhan: 3D NAND is an evolutionary, architectural change that was needed to deal with the scaling limitations faced by planar 2D NAND memory. One major benefit of 3D NAND is that it will be manufactured on slightly older and less expensive process nodes.

Blyler: What unique costs are incurred for the manufacturing of 3D NAND Flash?

Feldhan: Depending upon the architecture, manufacturing at higher process nodes like 40nm can save money in terms of lithography requirements. However, since a common practice is to make 32 to 48 vertical layers or more in the 3D design, a significant increase can occur in etch costs. Holes must be etched between the different stacked layers to serve as inter-connections between the vertical layers.

Even though 3D NAND go back to older, higher process nodes for the lithography, the bit density is still increased via vertical stacking. The trick has been to fine tune the etch processes so that the yields remain good while achieving lower costs. Like any new process technology, it takes a while to get up that learning curve to maximize the yield.

Blyler: Increasing the need for additional etching should be good news to the semiconductor capital equipment companies.

Feldhan: Yes. With 3D NAND, you’ll have an array that is more like a cube or a three dimensional chess board with interconnections and wires going horizontally and vertically through the matrix. That is why companies like Applied Materials and Lam Research are thrilled since memory manufacturers will have to buy 5 or 10 times the amount of etch tools.

On the technology side, there has been interesting things with the resist, specifically, they can do several etches with the same coating of resist. More specifically, new materials on the resist allows for multiple etches without recoating. This process will save both time and money. [Editor’s Note: A resist is a thin layer used to transfer a circuit pattern to the semiconductor substrate which it is deposited upon.]

Blyler: Is 3D NAND more reliable than planar?

Feldhan: One of the original questions was how reliable is 3D NAND flash. The relaxed lithography node means you are not squeezing everything together so cross-talk is less. Also, 3D NAND has substantially more interconnections with vertical architecture that might provide you with access to more redundant cells. These redundand cells could be used if or when other cells fail. As 3D NAND has only been out for a few years, I haven’t really seen any lifecycle test data. But what I hear from Samsung and Micron is that 3D NAND is getting good acceptance from their customers. That’s impressive as many of the early customers are in data center applications that are really particular about failure rates.

Blyler: How does the Intel-Micron Optane differ from other 3D NAND flash technologies?

Feldhan: The Intel-Micron technology is called 3D Xpoint. They’ve described it as changing the physical properties of the material, which sounds more like a phase-change technology than a 3D NAND architecture. Further, the description made it seem different from the phase-change technology announced by IBM many years ago. Apparently, Intel-Micron have spent quite a bit of time working on a new material that they think solves all the problems faced by the original phase-change memory devices.

Blyler: So the Intel-Micron 3D Xpoint technology seems like it will be competing with 3D NAND flash. Is that correct?

Feldhan: Well, the XPoint platform is a different technology than with what everyone else is doing on 3D NAND. But Intel is doing both approaches, as I understand it. Their fab in China is gearing up for 3D NAND in production. My estimation would be that the Xpoint is a new technology and probably has a much higher bit cost, which would explain why they are focusing on SSDs and more so on the enterprises and server farm apps.

Blyler: Let’s return to 3D NAND manufacturing issues. At some point, won’t that technology need to move to the latest process nodes and/or contain ever-increasing layers to stay competitive with the bit cost?

Feldhan: Yes, they will eventually have to move to finer levels of lithography or be able to continue to go up in vertical layers. Or some type of combination. When the major manufacturers rolled out the first 3D NAND, they were saying it would be scalable, i.e., 24 layers at first, then 32 layers to 48 layers and etc. But I haven’t seen them progress as quickly as they mentioned. So I think they are now more focused on maximizing yield and reliability. [Editor’s Note: At the 2016 IEDM conference, SK Hynix discussed stacking technologies that could potentially enable over 256 memory cell layers.But it wasn’t clear when those levels would be reached.]

Blyler: When will 3D NAND become a mainstream memory technology?

Feldhan: On the plus side, the cost of 3D NAND is reaching equivalence with 2D planar NAND. Over the last year or so, NAND flash memory prices have been driven upward from tight supply and strong demand (see Figure). These aggregate average selling prices (ASP) are average prices for all densities and technologies.  As 3D NAND production comes down the manufacturing learning curve, the cost per bit for 3D NAND will fall and 2D NAND will have to match the price to remain viable in the market. Ultimately, 3D NAND will have the lowest cost per bit and will supplant 2D NAND especially in the large density parts.

NAND Pricing

Figure: With a tightening supply and strong demand, prices for all NAND devices are climbing. Before too long, 3D NAND will be on par with 2D planar memory. (Courtesy of Semico Research).

Blyler: Thanks, Jim.

WEEK IN REVIEW: October 10 2013

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Imagination Technologies and Rightware collaborate; Applied Materials’ tax affairs; Cadence prepare for next-gen comms with IP; AWR at European Microwave Week and Tensilica’s DSP for in-car sound.

Imagination Technologies and Rightware have signed a multi-year agreement whereby the companies will collaborate to develop next-generation mobile benchmarks. It hopes to deliver “visually stunning” user experiences through the software company’s Kanzi-based user interfaces on Imaginations PowerVR GPUs (graphics processing units) and MIPS CPUs (central processing units).

Tetsuro Higashi, Chairman, President and CEO of Tokyo Electron and Gary Dickerson, President and CEO of Applied Materials

Applied Materials is still in the headlines following its merger with Tokyo Electron, but for a different reason – tax. By reincorporating the company in the Netherlands, its tax bill could be reduced from 22% to 17%,
saving the company $100million a year.

Cadence Design Systems has introduced a suite of fast, low power analog IP (intellectual property) that delivers as much as x10 faster conversion rate than anything else available, it claims, ready for the next-generation of high speed, wired and wireless communications. The Data Converter IP, ADC (analog to digital conversion) IP and DAC (digital to analog conversion) IP can be integrated into 28nm process nodes and in readiness for WiGig (802.11ad) LTE (long term evolution) and LTE Advanced protocols.

Breaking new ground, Cadence announced that it is the first IP core supplier to offer DTS Neutral Surround support to the next generation of car audio processors with the Tensilica HiFi Audio/Voice DSP.

Nuremberg – European Microwave saw AWR announce AWR Connected for AMPSA, a synthesis through simulation flow for amplifier design. High-frequency circuit designers can leverage the AMPSA synthesis tool, using Impedance-Matching Wizard (IMW) and Amplifier Design Wizard (ADW) environments.

EDA-IP UPDATE: 2D materials store energy; Applied Materials-Tokyo Electron, the low-down on semi spend; (Ni/Cu) platingboost solar cell efficiency

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Researchers find “massive” amounts of energy between layers of 2D materials

Layered MXene (with added intercalated ions illustrated between layers).
Photo credit: M. Lukatskaya, Y. Dall’Agnese, E. Ren, Y. Gogotsi

Materials that are as thin as a single atom, have the potential to store energy, researchers at Drexel University have discovered.

Following the finding three years ago of Dr. Michel W. Barsoum and Dr. Yury Gogotsi, both professors in Drexel’s College of Engineering, that atomically thin, two-dimensional materials -similar to graphene- have good electrical conductivity and a surface that is hydrophilic, or can hold liquids, they have investigated these “MXenes” and report the finding that they believe can push materials storage capacities to new levels while also allowing for their use in flexible devices.

Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron merger, what’s in it for IP

Although described as a merger, Applied Materials will own 68% of the new company, reports Reuters.

Together they could create the world’s largest semiconductor equipment company in terms of sales, worth an estimated $29bn. As a result, it is to be investigated by anti-trust regulators.

Chipestimate reports that one effect of the merger might be to drive automation of chip design verification, which will increase the already low costs of EDA tools. The other side of the coin could be a swifter approval process for soft IP standard, as consolidation will mean fewer companies to determine which IP design standards can be used.

The equipment companies’ customer base is shrinking. US semiconductor companies have either sold capacity or chosen to outsource manufacturing to foundries like TSMC in Asia. For many observers, the answer could be held by Moore’s Law and what the next process node determines.

Applied Materials CEO Gary Dickerson will be chief executive of the new company and Tokyo Electron chief executive, Tetsuro Higashi, will become chairman.

Japan semiconductor spend loses ground, but is still ahead of Europe

Reversal of fortunes, sees Japan’s semiconductor companies lose ground

IC Insights has reviewed the semiconductor industry over the last 30 years and found that Japan’s share of capital spending is a lowly 7% in the first half of this year. In 1985 Japanese companies accounted for 51% capital spend; but since then companies such as NEC, Hitachi and Matsushita have disappeared off the semiconductor map.

The analyst company also identifies former giants such as Sanyo which was acquired by ON Semiconductor; Sony, which cut semiconductor capital spending and announced its move to an asset-lite strategy for ICs; Fujitsu, which sold its wireless group to Intel, sold its MCU and analog IC business to Spansion, and is consolidating its system LSI business with Panasonic’s – not forgetting Mitsubishi.

The report also shows that from 2000 to the first half of this year, companies in China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore invested in wafer fabs and advanced process technology.

And the rest of the world? North America accounted for 37% of capital spending in 1H 2013, mostly spending by Intel, GlobalFoundries, Micron. The capital spend has remained around 29%-33% since 1990.

The three large European semiconductor suppliers each operate a fab-lite or asset-lite strategy. As a result, says IC Insights, Europe’s share of semiconductor capital spending is 3% of total capex in 1H13. The report forecasts capex spending by STMicroelectronics, Infineon, and NXP – and all other European semiconductor suppliers combined – will amount to less than $1.5 billion in 2013. In comparison, nine semiconductor companies – headed by Samsung, Intel, and TSMC, are forecast to spend more money than Europe will spend collectively this year.

Imec and Meco present 20% efficiency in silicon solar cells

Shown at European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EUPVSEC), large i-PERC-type silicon solare cells achieve 20.5% average efficiency.

At this week’s EUPVSEC in Paris, France, imec and Meco, a supplier of plating equipment will, present large area (156x156mm²) i-PERC-type silicon solar cells. They use Nickel/Copper (Ni/Cu) plating for the front contacts and achieve 20.5% average efficiency using the plating on p-type Czochralski Silicon (Cz-Si) material.

The companies achieved a maximum efficiency of 20.7% (confirmed by ISE callab). This improvement in efficiency is also exciting because the coating is less expensive than screen-printed PERC cells.

The cells were processed on imec’s solar cell pilot line using Meco’s inline plating tool to deposit the Ni/Cu front contacts. The metallization process of the Ni/Cu stack included Ultraviolet laser ablation, sequential in-line plating of the metal layers and contact annealing.

Investments In EDA Stocks Offer Good Returns

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Gabe Moretti

I have heard multiple times that once an EDA company goes public almost always the new investors do not experience the growth in the share price that other companies in the electronics industry can offer.  At least this is what one hears from publicly traded EDA companies.  I wanted to see how true the opinion is.  I looked at the last twelve months stock market performance of Cadence, Mentor, and Synopsys and compared it to a few other electronics companies’ market performance.

The EDA Companies

On October 23rd Cadence reported third quarter 2013 revenue of $367 million, compared to revenue of $339 million reported for the same period in 2012. For the last complete financial year Cadence reported revenues of $1.33 billion, an increase of 15% over 2011 results.  During the last twelve months its stock price ranged from $13.51 to $12.71 reaching a peak price of $15.77 on July 19th.  The company today has a little over 287 million shares outstanding and a EPS (earning per share) of 1.53.  it is interesting to note that almost all the publicly traded shares are owned by institutional investors.

Mentor will release its 3rd quarter 2014 soon.  For the first six months of its 2014 fiscal year Mentor reported revenue of almost $480 million.  Its last completed year of operation resulted in revenue of $1.089 billion.  Its latest EPS is 0.95.  In the last twelve months he stock reached a highest closing price of $23.62 on October 1st and the lowest price of $14.22 on November 19, 2012.  The company is in currently executing a share buyback program and plans to purchase up to $20 million worth of shares.  Also in the Mentor case almost all of the outstanding stock is in the hands of institutional investors.  It is interesting to note that of the three companies I looked at, only Mentor is currently paying a dividend to its investors.  The quarterly dividend is $0.05 per share.

For the third quarter of fiscal year 2013, Synopsys reported revenue of $482.9 million, compared to $443.7 million for the third quarter of fiscal year 2012, an increase of 8.8%.  The company reported revenue for the last complete fiscal year of $1.756 billion.  Revenue for the quarter ended July 31, 2013 were almost $483 million.  Stock price ranged from a low of 31.42 on January 7th to a high of $38.40 on October 22nd.  Its EPS is 1.41.  Of the three EDA companies Synopsys is the company with the largest percentage of shares in the hands of small investors.

Other Electronics Companies

For comparison I picked ARM that considers itself an IP company, Applied Materials a provider of semiconductors fabrication equipment, and TSMC, a foundry.

ARM is the largest pure play IP company.  For its 3rd quarter 2013 it reported revenue of $286.7 million.  For its 2012 fiscal year it reported revenue of $650 million.  ARM pays dividends to its stockholders, a practice very popular with European companies.  At the beginning of September it increased the amount of its dividend from $0.12 to $0.167 per share.  Its stock price ranged from a low of $34.46 on November 20, 2012 to a high of $51.78 on October 21st.  Its EPS is 0.53 and only about 28% of its shares are held by institutional investors, making the stock more volatile due to a higher volume of daily trades by small investors.

Applied Materials stock price ranged from a low of $10.36 on November 19, 2012 to a high of $18.07 on October 22.  The company has just reported its fiscal 2013 results.  It had revenue of $8.719 billion and it pays a $0.10 quarterly dividend.  The EPS is a negative 0.36 and the stock is approximately 86% owned by institutional investors.

Finally TSMC’s stock ranged from a low of $15.75 on August 21st to a high of $20.21 on May 8th.  Its EPS is 1.19.  For fiscal 2012 the company reported revenue of over $17.2 billion.  For the 3rd quarter of 2013 revenue were a little over $5.5 billion.  The company is in a competitive market that also requires very high capital expenditures to stay competitive.

Conclusion

few data points show that there is really no substantial difference in the performance of the stock of an EDA company versus that of other companies in the electronics industry.  Certainly both Applied Materials and TSMC have much larger revenue, but their business model is quite different from that of EDA vendors.  Revenue size is not a good indicator of stock performance anyway.  Profits are, as well as expected performance in the short term (one or tow years).  Stock market behavior no longer reflects long term expectations as investors are focused on immediate returns.  Actually judging by earnings per shares, EDA companies are above average in the ability to generate revenue from their capitalization.  The fact that institutional investors own a very large percentage of stocks of EDA companies shows that they are seen as reliable conservative investments.  In the last twelve months Mentor stock in fact performed as a growth stock.  If you had purchased it at its low price of $14.22 and sold at $23.62 you would have realized a 66% return on your investment.  Only a similar investment in Applied Materials would have returned a higher percentage.