Miniaturization as a Catalyst for Success.

The driving force behind the ongoing success story of semiconductor components is the continuous miniaturization of their structures. The structure widths of the Intel 4004 chip from 1971, often referred to as the "first microprocessor ever", were 10 µm - that is, a hundredth of a millimeter. Real monsters compared to today, when chip manufacturers are talking about a structure width of 10 nanometers and less. Factor 1000. This shrinkage process, which the American Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, had already predicted in 1965, has three decisive advantages. Above all, the compression of scale drove the performance explosion in the form of higher computing speed. The clock rate was increased from 108 kHz at the time to today’s several GHz, i.e. by a factor of far more than 1,000. In addition to the higher computing power, the space requirement decreases – and that even by the square of the reduction in the structure width. This means lower manufacturing costs per structural element and a significantly higher packing density. In addition, less energy is required for operation, meaning batteries last longer – enabling the current age of mobile computing and so much else, and reducing the environmental strains of cloud computing and Big Data, with its immense server farms. And so the results of miniaturization sound like a slightly different Olympic triad: faster, more economical, cheaper. If this development is transferred to aviation, for example, a passenger aircraft would fly from continent to continent within a few minutes, using hardly any kerosene and transporting thousands of passengers. At costs that could easily be paid from the thank-you box.

Highly Sensitive Manufacturing Processes

The manufacturing processes in semiconductor technology are extremely demanding and sensitive. It starts with the pulling of the monocrystalline ingot and continues through to the contacting and final packaging of the finished chip. Lithography is of crucial importance for miniaturization. In the exposure process, which is repeated several dozen times, the structures for conductor tracks, transistors and other functional elements are drawn on the silicon wafer. Maximum cleanliness, sharp-edged imaging of unimaginably small structures, highly dynamic, coordinated movement of masks and wafers in the lithography machines – the limits of what is technically feasible are being pushed ever further from chip generation to chip generation. Also with the help of PI.

Involved in Many Process Steps

In addition to lithography, PI components and (sub-)systems are also used in many other process steps in the manufacture of semiconductor components – for example in systems for quality assurance. And PI´s involvement in driving semiconductor progress is literally from the ground up, starting with enabling the most advanced vibration cancellation technologies in sub-floor platforms and tool structures.

PI is the partner for motion and positioning solutions for systems as diverse as:

Laser Optics
Lithography Optics
Mask Alignment

and for tasks like

Mask Inspection
Wafer Inspection
Ball Bonding

and many more.

The Customer in Focus: Much More than Technology, Components and Systems

In all of these systems and applications, the ability to move and position objects with nanometer and even sub-nanometer precision and high dynamics, or to hold a position precisely over the long term, without a power supply, plays a decisive role.

PI offers decades of know-how and a wide range of technologies – starting with piezo components, which are developed and manufactured in the subsidiary PI Ceramic, through sensors, piezo and electromagnetic drives to controllers, software and firmware – as well as components and systems.

Together with our subsidiary ACS, a market and technology leader in controller technology, we also enable the control of highly complex multi-axis systems for the next generation of demanding applications in semiconductor manufacturing up to EUV-L.

But that alone is not enough. It is our long experience as a supplier to leading system integrators in semiconductor manufacturing that enables us to understand and meet the high demands of this industry. With customer-specific service level agreements (SLA) and a global service team, we can react promptly to disruptions occurring at short notice. To this end, we have set up service hubs with highly qualified staff near the world's most important semiconductor production locations, where we keep spare parts for all critical components and assemblies. Based on extensive long-term tests of our components under a wide variety of climatic conditions and a Copy Exactly strategy, we offer our customers a high level of security against failure from the outset, i.e. high uptime. Also, PI has created clean rooms that even meet the exceptional cleanliness requirements that are required in the manufacture of components for EUV lithography.

On The Way to The Next Big Thing

The success factors of the semiconductor industry, in particular the further miniaturization of structures, will ensure innovations for a long time to come. And PI has exciting answers ready for the increasing demands on precision in motion and positioning.

And the semiconductor industry is changing at a faster pace than at any time since the invention of the integrated circuit. While Moore’s Law continues its relentless advance to drive ever-smaller feature sizes and higher performance and efficiencies, it is no longer just about smaller transistors on larger wafers. Now micro-optical components are being fabricated alongside microelectronics, and entirely new computing and communications paradigms are emerging which leverage the mysteries of the quantum world. As the applications change, so do chips, and the revolution proceeds. PI is right there, partnering with the leaders of change.

Do you have questions about our solutions? Our specialists are happy to help you!