For instance, we are seeing an exploding diversity in the number of materials that need to be measured. It seems that there is an unspoken race to put every non-radioactive material on the periodic table into an integrated circuit. Hafnium? Nickel? Sure.
Another aspect of this is that it is harder to predict the insertion node for new materials and structures than it is to predict linewidth shrinks. That means that the industry is often surprised by the push out of advanced materials, such as low-k dielectrics, and structures, such as FinFETs. This has added another layer of business risk.
Power dissipation and leakage current control are other drivers of new materials and more complex 3-D structures with higher aspect ratios. Note that the Front End Of Line (FEOL: the formation of the transistor) has become more problematic than the Back End Of Line (BEOL: the interconnect), in a reverse from previous years when people struggled with the introduction of copper damascene processes.
The risk profile that the semiconductor industry lives under is towering. It takes billions of dollars to build factories that turn out parts selling for a few dollars. These plants burn through about a million dollars an hour. In this environment, operational excellence is oxygen, without which they cannot survive. Luckily for inspection and metrology companies, part of this equation is yield maximization at every point in time. Yield is core to semiconductor companies.
On top of this, however, an operationally excellent wafer fab will also try to systematically drive down costs and transfer risks to their vendors. This is why semiconductor companies often institute dual vendor policies, why they try to commoditize their suppliers, why they demand open standard interfaces, why they are paranoid about their intellectual property, and why they try to minimize queuing and cycle times in their fabs. If you are in a semiconductor company, and yield and operational excellence are not core competencies, you should go fabless. Eventually you will anyhow.
This segment is part 2 in the series : Smaller, Faster, Cheaper -