Semi industry worried about ever-smaller processes

With moves to ever-smaller semiconductor manufacturing processes, problems arise as engineers attempt to cram even more transistors onto chips.

According to DigiTimes industry players are already concerned about the progression to smaller processes.  Intel and TSMC for example are expected to begin producing chips which are below the 20 nanometre barrier in the next couple of years, and it will not be long before there are production challenges.

Eastern sources believe in the next few years equipment costs for manufacturers could cause headaches for cash strapped firms, as next gen production methods using extreme ultraviolet lithography tools cost around $100 million a pop.

The technological bottlenecks could be the most significant problem, with TSMC already working on 14nm chips, with risk production due in 2014.

Luckily many labs are looking at developing alternative technologies which could eventually supplant silicon as the ubiquitous semiconductor material.

IBM recently highlighted some of its weird and wonderful attempts to solve the problem creating even smaller chips, and development with super material graphene continues at a mesmerising pace.

But graphene is not the only material which could power a new breed of computer. Researchers at Harvard and Purdue universities in the US have continued work into 3D chip structures which are set to become common in chips next year.

Using microscopic nanowires made from indium-gallium-arsenide, which has a faster electron flow than silicon, the researchers are looking to create an alternative for further 3D gate designs.

According to the team it is difficult to use silicon for smaller process 3D chip design and believe that indium-gallium-arsenide could do the trick.  They reckon that a 3D device developed with indium-gallium-arsenide could be up to five times faster in conducting electrons than silicon, and with a dielectric coating of aluminium oxide power consumption could also be significantly lower.

Due to the ‘top-down’ method for production that is already common in the semi manufacturing industry the researchers think that there should not be too much problem producing a new breed of chips either.