IBM is ramping up production of its first
copper-interconnect chips using Novellus Systems' new Sabre
electroplating tool, it was disclosed Monday prior to the opening of the
Semicon West semiconductor production exhibition in San Francisco.
During a briefing for analysts and the press, IBM and Novellus managers also
disclosed that the two companies had quietly collaborated for two years in
development of copper electroplating equipment. Those systems are being
used in Big Blue's manufacturing complex, located in Burlington, Vt.
In addition, the two companies also announced that Novellus has licensed
key technologies from IBM (company profile) to offer a full suite of solutions for copper
Monday's disclosures are the latest in an aggressive campaign at Novellus to
put copper tools into the marketplace and offer chip makers a viable
alternative to traditional aluminum wiring. In June, Novellus rolled out its
Damascus Complete Copper product suite, which includes the
electroplating tool and other systems for physical-vapor deposition
and chemical-vapor deposition applications.
During Monday's briefing, Novellus chairman and CEO Richard S. Hill
said he believes the current industry slowdown has had no negative impact
on the movement to copper metal. "In fact, we see a pull in acceleration,
not a push out, because semiconductor companies now want to move to
next-generation technologies, such as new materials," Hill said.
Also attending the press conference were CEOs from Novellus' partners,
Lam Research and Integrated Process Equipment Corp. (IPEC). In
May, Novellus announced its partnership with Lam in etch and IPEC in
chemical-mechanical polishing to support dual damascene
processing for copper interconnects.
As part of its strategy to take an early lead in copper processing
technology, Novellus knew it had to have a partnership with a leading
device maker, according to Hill. The IBM partnership gives Novellus and
its two allies a boost, said several analysts after the briefing. Last year, IBM
started the copper race when it announced it had developed a production
process for copper.
Currently, the Sabre electroplating systems are being used to fabricate chips
with a couple of copper metal layers, said Bill Rozich, director of equipment
technology for IBM Microelectronics division. The company's process can
place up to six layers of copper on a chip with device feature sizes below
Rozich dodged a question about whether IBM would also partner with
other tool suppliers for low-k dielectric insulator. "I cannot disclose our
plans, but we have a roadmap," he said.