Despite the best efforts of the Bush administration, the U.S.
semiconductor industry will still need a $1.5 billion shot in the arm to
succeed in nanotechnology
The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) today called for the creation of a
Nanoelectronics Research Institute (NRI) to direct and coordinate a massive
research effort and assure continued U.S. leadership.
“The price for not starting now on a massive, coordinated research and
development effort in nanoelectronics could be nothing less than a loss in
just two decades of U.S. economic and defense leadership,” said John E.
Kelly, III, senior vice president and group executive of the IBM Technology
Group, in a statement. Kelly spoke at an SIA event in Silicon Valley
The sub-micron space has been a hotbed of activity in the semiconductor
sector in manufacturing and research and development. In the
last few years, IT giants like IBM,
and Fujitsu have all staked
their claim on the development of 90-nanometer process products and smaller. But
most researchers believe that complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS)
technology will reach its limit in 15 years. After that, computer
processors and their related transistors will need new materials and
The government has been proactive. In December, President Bush
signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act,
authorizing $3.7 billion over the next four years for the emerging science.
The legislation puts into law programs and activities already supported by
the National Nanotechnology Initiative
(NNI), one of the White House’s highest multi-agency R&D priorities.
But Kelly said that U.S. research and development efforts in
semiconductor technology currently face an annual shortfall of approximately
$1.5 billion compared to the investment necessary just to stay current with
the CMOS technology roadmap outlined in the International Technology Roadmap for
Semiconductors (ITRS). The ITRS is a plan that identifies technical
obstacles (known in the industry as “red brick walls”) that must be overcome
in order to continue Moore’s Law
The Research Institute proposed by the SIA would be a joint effort of the
semiconductor industry, academia and government. Researchers from
university faculties, students and assignees from industry would be charged
with generating new ideas and discoveries and demonstrating the feasibility
of creating a new switch with associated interconnects and memory using
novel materials and manufacturing techniques by the year 2020.
The SIA plan in establishing a larger U.S. participation in
nanotechnology has a hint of political overtones. Kelly noted that other
regions of the world are accelerating their research efforts and taking jobs
away from American engineers.
“As we speak, state-of-the-art, 300-millimeter fabs with 90-nanometer
process technology are coming on line in other parts of the world,” said Kelly. “No one
doubts that the links between R&D and manufacturing are becoming more
important — that these links are dynamic, and that proximity between labs and
fabs is also an issue. Public policy must not only encourage R&D activities
in the United States, but also provide an attractive climate for investing
in production capacity in the U.S.”
While Kelly’s criticism may not put IBM in a bind, the two largest
chipmakers have extensive fabrication facilities overseas, including Intel’s
plans for a new 300 mm wafer facility in Ireland and AMD’s plant in Dresden,
Germany. SIA member companies have approximately 70 fabrication facilities
in the United States and 68 in foreign countries, five of which are located in China
with more on the way.
The SIA estimates that the U.S. semiconductor industry has approximately
163,000 employees in the United States with an average annual total compensation of
$97,000. If research investment is insufficient to support further
technological advances in accordance with Moore’s Law, Kelly claims the
semiconductor engine driving productivity gains will slow down, or perhaps
even stall, with adverse consequences for job creation, economic prosperity
and national defense.
“Economic prosperity and high-value jobs have come from decades of
leading revolutions in mainframe computing, personal computing, wireless
connectivity and Internet technologies,” Kelly said. “All of this and the
resulting increases in productivity have been driven by the relentless
engine of making semiconductors smaller, more powerful and less expensive.”