By João Bilhim
The first portuguese fully functioning integrated circuit, manufactured by the INESC Centre for Applications Specific Integration Circuits (ASIC), was tested with success. This is an historical event for Professor Luis Vidigal; a goal achieved after three years of work, with a large investment from Programme for supporting the Development of Portuguese Industry (PEDIP) and the efforts of various teams from Groups and Centres of the Electronics Technology Area.
It has been the teamwork that has made this technological feat possible: This chip was designed, manufactured, tested, packaged and assembled on a pcb in INESC. Now the short-term task is to improve the life time and the yield (ratio of functioning/non-functioning chips, per wafer), and the long-term task of getting the process qualified; or in other words, in the normalization and standardization of an economically viable process with industrial characteristics.
The chip in question, an electronic controller for the pilot flame of gas water-heater, manufactured in Complementary Metal Oxide Silicon (CMOS 1.2 um technology), using pre-diffused wafers supplied by Siemens, was produced for demonstration in the scope of the Esprit Project Quickchips. According to Professor Paulo Freitas, as soon as the manufacturing process, with the assistance of the Interuniversitair Micro-Elektronica Centrum VZW (IMEC) a Belgian Institute for Microelectronics, was completed, it was the third wafer that brought forth the first functioning chip.
The chip was verified by the test engineers of a Centre for Technology Transfer with the capacity for evaluating and qualifying each circuit in a very extensive set of parameters in accordance of the concepts of "Design for Testability". This structure is crucial for an effective guarantee of the quality of products of the centres of electronic technology.
Meanwhile, the circuit was very well received in the "review" of the Esprit Quickchips that took place this week in Germany, this particular Esprit being already acclaimed as a case of success.
In this whole process, the integration between the PEDIP investments and the activity of the Quickchips was fundamental. This Esprit, coordinated by INESC and initiated four years ago, consists of two Institutes of Microelectronics - Institut für Mikroelektronik Stuttgart (IMS) and IMEC -, the companies Marconi, Intracom and Heidelberg Instruments and the University of Patras. Having as the objective, the development of a support system for the manufacture of ASICs integrating software for the project and prototyping equipment, so as to reduce the cost and processing time.
This Esprit hopes to open the market of the ASICs to a wider number of SMEs. In the case of INESC, the mastering of the "backend" production skills in the manufacturing of chips, the utilization of software for the project without the dependence on the manufacturer and the utilization of an innovating machine for direct writing by laser could constitute the pillars for a real competitive advantage in the European Market in terms of electronic technology.
João Bilhim - INESC
Tel: +351 1 57 28 95