Megatrends such as Big Data, autonomous driving and Artificial Intelligence are pointing the way. An increasingly interconnected world needs more and more powerful microchips. At the same time, microchips have to cost less and consume less power. 3D NAND technology helps achieve these objectives by enabling further miniaturization. Our semiconductor materials are used here, making our company one of the drivers of the digital world.
Broad portfolio for more powerful semiconductors
Thanks to our high-purity specialty chemicals, over the years microchips have become smaller and more powerful. There’s good reason why we see ourselves as a solution provider for the manufacture of integrated circuits. The spectrum of our Semiconductor Solutions business unit ranges from product lines for lithography, for instance photoresists or directed self-assembly (DSA) materials up to patterning enhancement materials. It sounds complicated, and it is. To put it in simpler terms: All of these products can be used to improve the properties of microchips with respect to performance, capacity, costs and energy efficiency.
A miniature version of Burj Khalifa
The spotlight is currently on 3D NAND technology, which makes it possible to use the third dimension in the manufacture of computer chips. This is where our deposition, structuring and spin-on dielectric materials come into play. Back in January, we presented the latest developments of these products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
What’s 3D-NAND all about? For a long time, planar 2D chip architectures dominated the market. Yet the trend towards miniaturization both in progressively smaller mobile user devices such as smartphones as well as in data centers make it necessary to accommodate ever greater numbers of memory chips on surface areas of the same or diminishing size. Yet there are limits to the miniaturization of the 2D structures on one chip. As a result, capacity increases on a limited surface area were therefore no longer possible. A solution had to be found, which is why the structures have been expanded into three-dimensional space.
A 3D-NAND chip can be pictured as a high-rise building in which the memory cells are stacked in layers on top of one another. In addition, they are also connected vertically to one another. This arrangement of the memory cells makes it possible to achieve higher storage density amid a constant or even decreasing surface area. This means that the memory chips not only operate faster while significantly lowering power consumption. The three-dimensional structure of 3D-NAND technology also allows for longer operability, faster programming as well as greater data security.
Let me use an example to explain how high the degree of miniaturization is. When comparing the surface area and the height of a 64-layer 3D NAND chip with a skyscraper, today’s technology relatively has already reached three times the height of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. And even more is possible, for instance 96 layers this year and as many as 256 layers by 2022. That would then correspond to 11 times the height of that skyscraper in Dubai.
Merck is going to remain at the forefront of these technical developments. After all, I am certain that the need for greater storage capacities and faster computing power will continue to develop very dynamically in the future. That’s why we’re strongly counting on our own research and development activities, specifically in semiconductors. At the same time, however, we are resolutely expanding our electronic materials business by making acquisitions. In April, we signed an agreement to acquire Versum Materials, Inc. in the United States. Versum is a leading global supplier of innovation-driven, high-purity process chemicals, gases and equipment for semiconductor manufacturing. To additionally strengthen our business, we made an offer to acquire the company Intermolecular, which has unique capabilities in rapid material screening for device integration. In combination with products from our own R&D pipeline, this will enable us to offer our customers material innovations even faster. As you can see, we intend to keep on driving the digital revolution.