PORTLAND, Ore. — "When US researchers find out about what we do, a lot of them wish they had something like CMC to support them," Ian McWalter told us. McWalter is president and chief executive officer of Canadian Microelectronics Corp. (CMC), an industry organization that aims to give academics access to the whole system of chip making -- from front-end design and conceptual tools all the way to a packaged device and testing.
President & CEO
Canadian Microelectronics Corp.
And it's not just using last-generation tools: CMC just finished a 28-nanometer CMOS project using the fully depleted silicon-on-insulator (FD-SOI) process at STMicroelectronics. "Not very many researchers get access to such state-of-the art processes," McWalter said.
The group's goal is "to provide the resources to researchers that lead to a prototype device typically in an advanced technology. When engineering students graduate from one of our universities, they come out with an understanding of every aspect of how chips are made, what can go wrong and how to test them," he said. "That student is going to be productive for the company that hires him in a much shorter period of time than if he had to learn all that from scratch."
CMC is unique in the breadth of technologies it supports -- from state-of-the-art CMOS chips to MEMS to silicon photonics. The closest thing the US has is MOSIS, which mostly offers last-generation CMOS chip processes on shared-mask multi-project wafers. In fact, CMC is one of MOSIS's biggest customers, since most of the chips it produces for Canadian academics do not require advanced node processes.
MOSIS will work with anyone that pays, but CMC is very much focused on academic research -- providing access to commercial technologies for researchers and students who are not required to pay (much) for the services. Instead, most of CMC's funding comes from the Canadian government, which is committed to supporting researchers, with CMC doing all the paperwork to draw up proposals, get them approved, and fill out followup reports.
CMC success stories
Click the image to view a quick slideshow of engineers and researchers
working on interesting projects in electronics.
University of Manitoba professors Michael Freund (left) and Doug Buchanan meld chemistry and electronics for their highly sensitive electronic nose.
McWalter told EE Times:
We are primarily for academics, but about 5 or 10% of our business in the last few years has been commercial startups that would like to access the technologies -- mainly to try some things out, do some prototyping -- to see if the technologies fit with their product plans. It's a very cost-effective way for them to investigate things that they don't necessarily want to create a whole product development team for yet. Of course, no government funds support these commercial projects, but we often just charge them cost recovery, rather than make a profit. In the last 15 years, we have helped about 150 startups in this way.
CMC does about 400 prototyping projects per year of varying kinds, about two-thirds of which are farmed out to commercial fabrication facilities, where the researchers have to pay only about 20% of the cost, with CMC picking up the rest. It also trains the academics in how to use the necessary software tools.
CMC also provides the computer aided design (CAD) tools and process design kits. "We also do all the design aggregation, which we then send to someone like MOSIS, where we would become their customer," McWalter said. "We also work with similar organizations in other countries all over the world," such as Circuit Multi-Projects in France and Europractice IC Services in Germany. "We also act as a front end to many university fabs in Canada, but by and large when it comes to commercial access, we also broker that to make sure that the researchers get the best technology and the best access to it."