While Moore's law has mostly held true for the last 30 years, using the same \\$quot;scaleable\\$quot; methodologies will not meet the needs of the industry going forward. The analogy of scalability is that of folding an A4 sheet of paper in half ten times – at the seventh fold it becomes almost impossible. Similarly, scalability cannot be relied upon to make transistors smaller and new technologies and materials are required.

This means that suppliers will need to have a more innovative and systematic approach to help get around the limitations imposed by materials and power. Critically, design for manufacturing starts at the materials level and this means sinking resources into research and development with an uncertain return on that investment.

The result – expect to see gas companies moving into materials that will work with technologies such as ALD (Atomic Layer Deposition) but also entering into \\$quot;alliances\\$quot; either jointly or with specialty chemical companies to defray R&D costs.

To add to the challenges, big changes are underway in which chips are fabricated. Forecasts currently show Asia Pacific countries (China, Korea and Taiwan) passing Japan in total Fab capacity during the first half of this decade and accounting for 40% of the world's total wafer processing volume by 2009 with 60% of new Fab capacity being installed in that region. All of the gas companies will need to make significant investments in Asia over the next 5 years and, indeed, many of them, including Praxair and Air Products have already moved their senior staff to this region.

Adding to the difficulties of the gas industry are the increasing demands by the chip manufacturers for lower and lower costs as they seek to offer new technologies at the same price as the older ones. In the past, this was possible because the scalability of the technologies, as they came down to 130 microns, meant that the same materials could be used. Previously, lower costs were achieved by increased capacity and cost control; however going forward this will become increasingly difficult as new products demand more exotic, higher cost starting materials.

This year's Semicon West was attended by all 4 of the major US semiconductor gas companies and a number of smaller gas companies and associated chemical suppliers

The Major Players

Air Liquide has taken the move into new materials extremely seriously with the launch of their ALOHA brand. The ALOHA product line offers advanced CVD and ALD precursors for sub-130nm node applications and includes Ruthenium compounds as well as a new non-pyrophoric TMA substitute TDEAA.

In more traditional areas, Air Liquide Electronics will invest US$15M in a \\$quot;state-of–the-art\\$quot; Electronics Materials Center (EMC) in the Shanghai area. The new center will focus on Electronics Specialty Gases (ESG) activities, particularly for the purification and transfilling of materials used by semiconductor and Flat Panel Display (TFT-LCD) producers.

Air Products and Chemicals already supplies a wide range of gases and chemicals to the semiconductor industry, mainly through their Schumacher brand and also expanding into the supply of slurries and developer equipment. They were one of the first companies to form a strategic alliance with Akzo Nobel for the supply of Trimethyl Aluminium (TMA) used in the ALD process to deposit aluminium – previously, TMA was mainly used in the compound semiconductor industry for the manufacture of LED’s but is being increasingly used in the manufacture of DRAM in the silicon industry.

In addition to the recent announcement of building of a new high purity ammonia plant in Korea, Air Products used Semicon West 2005 to announce plans characteristic of the needs of the industry described above.

  • The purchase of Ashland Chemicals has enabled Air Products to integrate the R&D facilities of the two companies which has resulted in a doubling of the Allentown (PA) electronics research and development facility, \\$quot;making it the most advanced and comprehensive center of any specialty materials supplier to the electronics industry\\$quot;.

  • A new copper and tungsten formulation for SMP slurries in association with DuPont.

    • Matheson, the US subsidiary of Japan's Taiyo Nippon Sanso, continues to dominate the silicon market for supply of dopants (mainly arsine, phosphine and BF3) with their SDS delivery system in association with ATMI.

      Unlike the other majors, they do not seem to have entered the new materials race yet and are focussing on the supply of traditional semiconductor gases – particularly the products in which they have a primary manufacturing interest such as arsine and phosphine which also have significant markets in the compound industry.

      Praxair, probably has the widest product range to the silicon industry of any of the gas majors extending into fab infrastructure via services and process tool solutions.

      Main offerings at this year's Semicon were their UpTime gas storage and delivery system which competes with ATMI / Matheson’s SDS delivery system for ion implantation gases. Despite UpTime being awarded a patent, ATMI filed a lawsuit the week before Semicon claiming that the Praxair method infringed their SDS patents – a claim vigorously denied by Praxair.

      Praxair have thrown their full weight behind the new materials technologies and have invested heavily in research and development for next generation ALD precursors. Commercially they are offering a range of amides including Hafnium and are actively working on next generation materials.

      The Specialist Gas Companies

      Smaller gas companies were also in attendance at Semicon with Epichem, a world leader in the supply of ALD precursors, sharing a stand with Degussa GmbH of Germany. The two companies have joined together to commercially offer a range of silicon based materials including TEOS, di and trichlorosilane and silicon tetrachloride into the already very competitive USA market against the likes of ATMI and Air Products.

      Scott Semiconductor Gases, part of the Scott Specialty Gases Group, has been using its extensive R&D facilities to look at the problems associated with rapid decomposition of diborane mixtures. Scott looked at the whole manufacturing process from standards through to cylinder prep and mixture preparation, and this has resulted in a new Omega class mixture with a 12 month life vs only 6 from other suppliers. This new mixture also offers tighter specifications.

      Showa Denko America, subsidiary of its Japanese parent, is only in its second year of operation. While in Japan SDK offers a vast range of products from automotive and batteries to electronics, the American operation has decided to focus on C4F6, used in etching, direct to US users.

      Rather than using Semicon as a showpiece for new technologies it is generally seen by the gas companies as a method of meeting new and existing customers in one mutually convenient place.

      Andrew Lowe has been recently appointed an Associate Consultant to Spiritus Consulting and heads up the companies new business in the US. Andrew can be contacted at andrew.lowe@spiritusgroup.com and more details on Spiritus's US operations can be found on www.spiritusgroup.com.

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