In last week’s email update, I talked about the pendulum starting to swing back the other way, albeit ever so slightly. It’s little things, such as SEMI’s book-to-bill rising from a frightening .48 to a less ominous .61; to bigger things, like TSMC announcing they will invest in R&D despite a hiring freeze in other sectors. As part of it’s roadmap to innovate its way out of the slump, the company claims it will have its 300mm fab ready to manufacture TSVs by June. This is exciting news for equipment and material suppliers who have committed to investing in TSV processes.

Whether or not you’re a proponent of TSV, it’s clear that companies who are investing in those technologies are faring better these than those who are hacking away at the bottom line to weather the storm. It seems to be working for SUSS MicroTec and EV Group, who have both invested in developing tool sets for wafer bonding, lithography, and mask aligning for the 3D IC integration market. Last week, SUSS announced an order from Nemotek Technologie for multiple lithography systems to be used for manufacturing the company’s CMOS images sensors (CIS). As CIS was the first application to adopt TSV processes in volume production, this win helps establish SUSS as an equipment provider for CIS.

On the heels of that news, came EV Group’s announcement that they will increase production capacity due to “strong order intake” driven by R&D investment in the 3D IC and nanoimprint lithography markets. EV Group strategically established itself in academia, shrewdly anticipating that while capex spending would fall off in the public sector, universities and research institutes would be investing in 3D IC integration to be ready for the rebound.

In his recent SemiSpice blog post, Tom Morrow recounts the different approaches taken by both Kelloggs and Post to survive the Great Depression. Reading it, I thought of Lam Research and Applied Materials (AMAT), equipment vendors who both offer etch tools for 3D IC applications. See if you can guess who is the Post and who is Kelloggs in this scenario. In December 2008, AMAT made headlines with its launch of the Silvia etch tool, then joining EMC3D and most recently entering into a joint development agreement with Disco to develop wafer thinning processes for TSVs. The only news I’ve seen about Lam in the same time frame is a layoff of 600 employees in November, and another 375 in March. Both layoffs were part of a plan to reduce Lam’s cost structure. In December, Applied announced a cash dividend, while in April, Lam announced a quarterly loss.

While cost cutting may help the bottom line in the short term, it’s my experience that in the long run, innovation and investment goes a lot further to improve a company’s image and ultimately its bottom line, not to mention establish company moral and loyalty. Kudos to the companies and organizations that choose not only to invest and innovate, but also publicize accomplishments. It gives us all something to strive for. — F.v.T.

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Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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