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A Smaller, Faster World
(7/1/2000) Future Fab Intl. Issue 8
By Rick Hill, Novellus Systems, Inc.
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Rick Hill
Chairman and CEO Novellus

The world continues to grow smaller at an ever-increasing pace; a phenomenon that will pose some interesting challenges for all of us over the next hundred years. Y2K has come and gone, and the world is still here. I’m pretty confident that the next millennium will come and go as well. But there will be some major changes over the next 1,000 years that we’ll all have to face. While the resources in the world are finite, the population continues to grow at an exponential rate, a fact that has serious implications for the future.

Simply to stave off global scarcity, we’ll need to drive productivity improvements in every facet of commerce, from farming to telecommunications. Technology will be central to achieving a gain in productivity. Semiconductor technology in particular will enable unimaginable gains in food production, medicine and communications in the next century. Over the next 100 years we’ll hook up over half the world’s population to the Internet; close to 5 billion people. Tomorrow’s computers will be capable of transmitting data at full duplex video rates, with both audio and video channels. Computers will migrate from being primarily tools for business, to everyday appliances that are as pervasive in the world as phones are in the US today. The primary means of communication throughout the world will be a hand-held computer operating at speeds in excess of 100 gigahertz. These devices will be capable of storing terabits of data and operating at 1/1000 the power required to operate a Palm Pilot today. They’ll weigh less than 200g. The cost to communicate anywhere in the world will be 1/1000 today’s costs, in real terms.

If we are successful in improving the quality of life on a global basis, efficient use of resources will play a major role. Continuing the expansion of free trade will be key to the efficient use of global resources. Free trade means a more competitive world than we’ve ever seen before. And, semiconductor manufacturing will be one of many theaters of commerce where worldwide competition will take place.

The next hundred years will see semiconductor manufacturing grow exponentially throughout the world. Instead of a few megafabs spread across the globe, however, the underlying nature of our business will change. The most complex printed circuit boards that you can imagine today will become the chips of tomorrow, and they’ll be manufactured differently. The megafabs that do exist will be producing smart substrates that contain a sea of logic blocks. Their product will be wafers, and there’ll be die on those wafers, but the interconnect will be missing. These megafabs will differentiate themselves by the number of levels of blocks their products contain. For example, the most simplistic products will consist of a sea of transistors with no interconnects. The most sophisticated products will be wafers containing system blocks such as computers, motor controllers, A/D converters, voice synthesis systems and even simple nand gates. These wafers of tomorrow will be sold to customers in the same way that integrated circuits are today. Customers in turn will develop interconnect manufacturing capabilities that will allow them to design and build interconnects on much lower cost substrates, mating the die on each wafer to produce the true “system on a chip”. Separating the interconnect from the wafer will allow lower temperature materials to be used, reducing equipment cost and expanding the types of materials that can be used. The big challenge will be the registration between the sea of logic nodes and the customized interconnect. New opportunities for interconnect processing equipment will be created, and printed circuit board assembly will go away.

The advances in technology described above will have to be accomplished with the resources we have today. Human ingenuity will be the most valuable resource we have, allowing us to transform the earth’s resources into microelectronic devices that improve the quality of life for all. The companies that maximize the creativity of their human talent will be the winners in the next millennium.


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