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GSA kicks off 3-D chip, MEMS work

September 17, 2010 // Rick Merritt

GSA kicks off 3-D chip, MEMS work

The Global Semiconductor Alliance has launched initiatives in 3-D silicon and MEMS and plans to expand in Japan. The 3-D chip initiative is especially significant because the GSA aims to help accelerate adoption of the technology said to be a potential game changer, but one that faces many steep challenges.


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The fabless semiconductor trade association has retained executives and plans to form industry working groups to educate and possibly set standards around supply chain issues for 3-D and MEMS. It plans to name to its board an executive from a leading chip company in Japan and hold its first executive event in Japan March 1.

GSA retained consultant Herb Reiter to head up its 3-D silicon initiative. It aims to accelerate adoption of through silicon vias (TSVs) to link stacked silicon die.

"Big companies such as IBM, Intel and Samsung have built their own eco-systems for 3-D silicon and are ready to ramp products as soon as the technology is cost effective," said Reiter. "I am trying to help the rest of the industry ramp up on the technology." he said.

Reiter said the biggest challenge is convincing management of the opportunity and the need to spend the R&D money to enable the technology. It could take two or three years of work to enable TSVs, but the capability may prove a viable alternative to the costly shift to 22 and 16nm process nodes for some companies, he said.

Groups such as Sematech and IMEC have been leading the charge in researching the manufacturing issues for through-silicon vias. EDA companies must also step up to the plate to deliver planning, verification, thermal and mechanical design tools such stacks will require, Reiter said.

Digital cameras are already using through silicon vias to link CMOS imagers, DSPs and memories. But they use vias spaced 20-50 microns apart. The industry needs to develop a mainstream capability to support two-micron via spacing, Reiter said.

The technology promises to save several orders of magnitude in chip power. It also promises space savings, he said.

"People need to know how to prepare for 3-D and how it affects the supply chain," said Jodi Shelton, head of the GSA.

Reiter will organize a working group on the topic. Its charter is to educate the electronics community about the challenges and opportunities around the technology and to set priorities for actions that may include setting standards, she said.

The GSA will sponsor its first event on 3-D silicon next spring, she added.

Separately, the GSA has picked Maarten Willems of IMEC to lead a MEMS working group in Europe and Louis Ross, chief executive of Virtus Advanced Sensors, to lead a MEMS working group covering the U.S. and Asia. A handful of GSA leaders met in Santa Clara this week to draft a mission statement for their working groups which will be formed by the end of the year.

CSR, GlobalFoundries, STMicroelectronics and TSMC expressed interest that led GSA to kick off the MEMS initiative. The groups aim to set priorities for what is needed, including possibly setting new standards in the field.

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