IMEC, the microelectronics research consortium based in Leuven, Belgium, has developed a dedicated, nonvolatile memory cell that is compatible with standard 0.35µm CMOS processes. The patented HIMOS (High Injection MOS) cell, based on source-side injection, offers very high programming speeds at moderate voltages and power consumption, with low development entry cost, leading to a truly embedded memory processing module that can be combined with any standard CMOS process.
In contrast to other nonvolatile processes, this cell requires the addition of only four masking steps. Several cell layouts were used in a 1Mbit flash EEPROM memory in order to validate the HIMOS concept on a 0.35µm CMOS process. The smallest cell size, used without compromising low voltage, is 3.5µm2.
American Microsystems Inc. (AMI), the supplier of digital and mixed-signal ASIC and ASSP solutions, has entered into a license agreement with IMEC allowing AMI to make industrial use of HIMOS. AMI expects to be offering the flash module for internal and external designs by the end of 1999.
IMEC recently opened a US office, in San Jose, that will help it serve its existing customers more effectively and broaden its customer base. Many of those companies are clustered in the Bay Area, and having a presence there will enable IMEC personnel to deal face-to-face with staff from the chipmakers and equipment suppliers involved in IMEC programs.
Previously, communications suffered from the time difference of nine hours between Silicon Valley and Belgium, and of course from the lack of "face time." IMEC's Ludo Deferm said that the staff at the new office are not project specialists but generalists with a broad overview of IMEC activities.
Scotland's Alba Center
The Alba Center project, announced in December 1997, is a unique collaboration among the public sector, industry, and academia, seeking to create a world-class environment for semiconductor design. With a supportive academic framework, it will help to establish Scotland as the world's premier location for electronics companies to design advanced system-on-chip semiconductor devices.
The world's first Institute for System Level Integration (ISLI) has been launched in Livingston, Scotland, as part of the Alba Center project, and in October 1999 it will offer the world's first masters degree in system level integration. System level integration (SLI) is the discipline that leads to complete systems implemented within a single chip. System-on-chip (SOC) technology allows companies to create new products quickly and bring them to market faster by enabling them to trade and use blocks of intellectual property to produce the next generation of high-power silicon chips and associated software found in an increasing number of everyday electronic consumer products. It is seen as a major new technology direction for the semiconductor industry.
The Institute is a collaboration among Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, and Strathclyde universities. One of its first undertakings will be Project Cairngorm, a collaboration between ISLI and Motorola, in conjunction with the Mobile Communications Group of the University of Strathclyde, to improve the effectiveness of mobile phone systems by reducing the number of dropped calls within cities. The project will make possible the creation of a mobile phone chip using software and intellectual property from both organizations. The resulting chip could be used as a case study to teach students; it could also be commercialized and used in a product, or its virtual components could be traded on the Virtual Component Exchange.
"The Institute of System Level Integration is an important part of the infrastructure which provides the caliber of people we need to support the microelectronics industry. The Scottish government is committed to a vision of Scotland as a knowledge-based economy. We are working to help strengthen relationships between universities and the business sector, helping to commercialize our research base," said Crawford Beveridge, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise.
Professor Steve Beaumont, Director of ISLI said, "Through the creation of this institute, Scotland will be able to ensure a ready flow of qualified people who, in turn, will keep Scotland at the forefront of the electronics revolution. This is the only center of excellence in this discipline anywhere in the world, and the research we will be undertaking will influence the development of the semiconductor industry worldwide."
San Jose-based Cadence Design Systems, a SOC design technology and services company, has enrolled some 30 engineers in the industrial version of the masters course and in partnership with ISLI will train 1900 SOC engineers over the next seven years.
Plan for 14,500 jobs
The government has announced an ambitious new strategy aimed at making Scotland a world center for semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing. The plan would create up to 14,500 new jobs over the next five years. The initiative is intended to transform the semiconductor and microelectronics industries by 2004.
Three goals central to the plan are the creation of a new wafer foundry, the first global Scottish-owned semiconductor manufacturer, and Scotland's first $100 million semiconductor/optoelectronics company. Other elements of the action plan include:
- increased funding for academic research and commercialization,
- building a successful intellectual property trading exchange,
- a significant increase in the number of graduates educated in SLI,
- a worldwide promotional campaign to market Scotland as a global center for semiconductor design, and
- more global semiconductor supply companies headquartered and controlled from Scotland.