Answering the needs of semiconductors
Larry Maloney- June 1, 2007
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the semiconductor industry?
A: I see three principal challenges, and they are all interrelated. First, there are the materials and process complexities that occur as the industry moves to sub-45-nm technology. That, in turn, is driving up the cost of R&D, and those expenses are forcing companies to take on a third challenge, which involves changing their business models.
Q: How are these challenges affecting suppliers of metrology and inspection equipment?
A: Before you can introduce a new material, you have to measure its critical features, which is what metrology is all about. Then, in any new manufacturing process, you also must find defects, and that is where automated macro-defect inspection comes into play. Both of these areas involve dealing with ever-increasing demands as feature sizes get smaller. At the same time, semiconductor manufacturers depend on companies like Rudolph to provide technology that will help them cope with the rising costs of R&D.
Q: Are semiconductor companies looking for suppliers that can help accelerate the sharing of data between front-end and back-end applications?
A: As process complexity increases, more customers want to do that. They are looking for better ways to manage huge amounts of data. They need to be able to identify and classify the defects in their process and then take remedial action. So, we have products like DMS Vision data-management software, which enables users to find the source of defects and manufacturing problems by bringing together all inspection, electrical test, and manufacturing information and then providing analysis. We also offer another software tool, Process Sentinel, that automatically sorts defect data and classifies wafer-level patterns. These tools are becoming a much more important service to customers as they seek to improve yields.
Q: What progress is your new AXi 935 system making in replacing micro-inspection tools?
A: Rather than replacing micro tools, the AXi system provides a complementary set of capabilities. For example, this image-based, high-throughput macro-inspection system can capture defect types that a dark-field micro tool is not able to capture. The AXi 935 builds on the tremendous success of the AXi 930 platform by offering higher throughput while still maintaining the sensitivity to detect defects down to 0.5 micron. The AXi 935 also allows customers to use a single system for a variety of applications, whether it be lithography, etch, CMP, or thin films.
Q: How has the merger last year with August Technology changed Rudolph?
A: As you look at the semiconductor industry, consolidation is certainly occurring at the chip-manufacturer level, and we are one of the companies that are undergoing such a change at the supplier level. Clearly, the merger has increased our size and scope as a vendor in the semiconductor market.
As Chairman and CEO Paul McLaughlin likes to say, this merger is a case of one plus one equaling three. From both the standpoint of higher revenues and increased capabilities, the joining of the two companies has been a huge positive. Rudolph brought its strong set of metrology offerings, while August was an established leader in automated macro-defect inspection. Both companies had excellent software products, which we have now combined in a new business unit called our data and analysis review group. So, as you look at the new company, we are in a much stronger position to be an R&D and technology provider for our customers.
Alex Oscilowski offers additional comments on R&D priorities, surface-inspection technology, and growth opportunities in the continuation of this article.