Interview with Steve Lerner: 3D Start-up Alchimer Poised for Success

Talk about good timing. It’s been a whirlwind year of accomplishments for Alchimer, a French semiconductor start-up whose product portfolio is based on nanometric chemical formulations and wet processes for wafer deposition applications. I first got wind of Alchimer’s flagship product, eGViacoat, as a judge for SEMI’s inaugural Best of the West Award program at SEMICON West 2008. Since then, a combination of strategic planning, a one-of-a-kind technology, and loyal investors has Alchimer poised for take-off even in this stalled economy. I caught up with CEO Steve Lerner on Friday, to find out how it all came together.

While eGViacoat is actually the second product in the Alchimer arsenal of three, the strategic decision to target its promotion first was all about timing. Lerner explained that as TSV metallization processes are still being established, the opportunity exists to assume a leadership position where there is no established process.

“This is going to be a hot wave – better than bumping,” says Lerner. “This is an industry-wide wave affecting both front and back-end processes.” He said the company has recipes for via-first, middle, and last processes, as well as TSV for interposers, different substrates and a whole range of dimensions. “We will evolve with the field and provide solutions for everyone; logic, memory, image sensors…” he said.

Alternatively, Lerner explained that eGSeed, the first product developed based on the company’s electrografting (eG) processes, is a dual damascene process that competes with the more complex, established market currently committed to dry PVD and CVD processes. Lerner is confident that Alchimer’s processes can out-perform dry processes at a fraction of the cost, and it’s simply a matter of time before displacing them. Once eGViacoat’s position is secure, Lerner intends to do just that.

alchimerThe third product (still in beta) is AquiVia, a wet process for isolation, barrier, and seed layer deposition that picks up where Viacoat leaves off. It allows the same tool to be used for insulation, barrier and seed layer deposition, and completely eliminates dry process techniques from TSV metallization resulting in a 70% cost reduction. “It’s all about cost,” says Lerner about TSV adoption. “Quality and design rules are a given, but the overriding driver is cost.” AquaVia is positioned to launch mid-year, and by SEMICON West 2009, all three products will be promoted as a full-line solution.

In addition to the Best of the West Award, eGViacoat has racked up recognition as finalists in both the 2008 Advanced Packaging Awards, and Eurasia IC Industry Awards, and as a top new product for 2008 by Fabtech.

The company announced its first licensing deal with NEXX Systems, provider of electro-deposition systems for TSV applications, for metallization of high-aspect ration TSVs.
Landing its first user licensee , according to Lerner, was the result of meeting with DALSA Semiconductor’s visionary Luc Ouellet. Ouellet analyzed the MEMS manufacturing process and recognized Alchimer’s value proposition as applied to copper TSVs for the company’s low-cost MEMS products. After successful testing, DALSA decided to license the technology.

Lerner scoffs at statements reverberating currently throughout the industry that the front-end is dead and the back-end will follow. He’s been around awhile, and knows that this is all part of the industry lifecycle. Those who make it through will be the ones who are strategically positioned, offer innovative solutions, and are open to collaboration. The semiconductor phoenix will rise again, and Alchimer will assume an active role.