Arrived in Paris, 6:55am. Checked in to L’hotel Petit Madeline 8:00am. By 10am I’m sitting in a posh conference room at Rothschild Investments with Steve Lerner, and Claudio Truzzi, CEO and CTO respectively of Alchimer, S.A, and Sarah-Lyle Dampoux and Paola Tarazona of Loomis Group, discussing the challenge of bringing a disruptive technology to market in an industry that is so conservative and resistant to change, it borders on “constipation” (notes Lerner).
I’ve been following Alchimer’s progress since they won a 2008 Best of the West award for eG ViaCoat. The company’s core technologies – electrografting and chemical grafting – directly address the insulation/barrier/seed limitations of high-aspect ratio through silicon vias (TSV) for the via-last approach by replacing dry deposition with a wet build-up process that allows for insulation, barrier, and seed layers to be “grown” from the surface, resulting in conformal layers regardless of the surface topography or depth of the through silicon via (TSV). Once you see it in action, as I did yesterday at Alchimer’s development labs in Massy, France, you wonder why everyone isn’t lining up to include it in their TSV process flows. Am I missing something here? I’m waiting for someone to tell me what the downside is.
One thing that seemed obvious to everyone in the room (as well as the investors not in the room) is that the only ones skeptical about AquiVia are those who perhaps have something to lose by it’s implementation. After all, as Truzzi notes if AquiVia can run on ten-year-old plating equipment and deliver superior film performance than dry processes run on brand-new expensive dry equipment, why would any device manufacturer not want to integrate it into its production line? It sure beats making a huge capital investment. Or is it simply that those who are so embroiled in traditional methods can’t see the forest for the trees? Lerner puts it simply. The dry process community has market influence (Lerner alluded to tentacles). But unfortunately, “they’re dumbing the industry down to accommodate their own limitations,” he says.
I understand Lerner’s position, because conceptually, what Alchimer is trying to accomplish in the semiconductor industry is not unlike what 3D InCites is trying to accomplish in the digital media industry. We’re each offering a totally new approach to something that requires acceptance of a paradigm shift. In the case of Alchimer, this means a new paradigm that matches design rules at low cost. The current paradigm is process focused, which serves the equipment manufacturers, one that focuses on design development serves the end process. For example, the AquiVia process allows for smaller vias at the same depth, thus less wafer real estate is consumed.
The process has been explained to the industry in detail. Reliability data supporting the company’s claims has been presented. Most importantly, the company has convinced the investors, such as Rothschild, who have been involved since the second round, of the technology’s value. “Investor confidence means more than anything,” notes Lerner. “Investors understand the roadblocks to disruptive technologies, but still want to invest.” So Alchimer has a plan of action: bypass the equipment/process guys and go straight to the IDMs and convince them that this is the way they want to do this. Create the demand, the tools will follow. So far this approach is making headway, and according to Lerner, some of the big guys are behind them (can’t say who just yet!). Details to follow.
The tour de France in 3D continues. On to Grenoble!