SAN FRANCISCO – The recent downturn took a toll on chip and equipment makers.
Not all suffered, however. This is true for one specialty, niche-oriented outsourcing vendor. ''We expanded in the downturn,’’ said Timothy Tobin, president and chief executive of Entrepix Inc.
The Tempe, Ariz.-based company has recently opened an office in Singapore. The office will provide sales and service, as well as a spare parts depot in Asia, Tobin said.
The company also has direct offices in Shanghai and Wuxi, China. Some 50 percent of Entrepix’ sales are derived in Asia, he said in a recent interview.
Extrepix is seeing strong demand in both of its main businesses. For some time, Entrepix has provided chemical mechanical polishing (CMP) and wafer surface conditioning foundry services. It also sells refurbished equipment in the arena.
The company was started in 1998 as a refurbisher and service provider of used equipment. In 2002, Entrepix expanded by launching a dedicated CMP outsourcing service. The company expanded again in 2008, adding wafer conditioning capabilities to its foundry operations.
CMP and wafer conditioning are not exactly the glamorous parts of the chip-manufacturing process, but these steps are indeed critical. Most chip makers with fabs have their own CMP tools in-house.
Here are at least three problems in the arena: the CMP steps are becoming more complex; defects are a concern; and CMP tool costs are going up, but the consumable prices are soaring out of control. The consumables refer to the slurries and pads.
In other words, CMP has moved from a grimy but necessary part of manufacturing to a fine art. Enter Entrepix. The company provides CMP/conditioning outsourcing services in its plant in Tempe.
It provides initial integration and process optimization, through pilot production and volume manufacturing. Besides ICs, the company is beginning to see interest in CMP from MEMS, optical and other markets.
''More and more companies are integrating CMP from the very beginning,’’ said Robert Rhoades, chief technology officer for the company.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.