Without going into the catalysts for the creation of SEMATECH, or its original funding sources, suffice to say its funding is based on membership dues, government funds, and project-specific member and supplier in-kind contributions. It appears that G450C is following a similar model.
What many in the industry may recall is that, with the wisdom of some of the founders of SEMATECH, alongside the chipmaker-only consortium, a supplier-only consortium was created. Its name was SEMI/SEMATECH. As SEMI is an international body, and SEMATECH was US-only at the time, a US-only supplier consortium was requested as an interface for suppliers. SEMI helped create this separate entity within the US, known as the SEMATECH Chapter of SEMI.
When you consider that even with industry consolidation, G450C will have at least 60 or more major tool types with at least two or more vendors per tool, there will be a significant number of equipment supplier relationships to manage. SEMI/SEMATECH had nearly 300 US-based members at its height among all supplier types. SEMI’s Equipment Productivity Working Group (EPWG) served as the aggregation point for at least fifteen large OEMs.
The many-to-one and one-to-many communication efficiency a consortium or working group provides also allows suppliers to speak with one, protected voice where it make sense. The consortium can organize double-blind surveys and cooperative analysis under NDA, yet, suppliers still interact with individually with chipmakers or the chipmaker consortium as desired, even having consortium staff arrange private meetings when cold calling isn’t comfortable. It’s the best of both worlds.
Why not Combine Groups?
Why not just let suppliers be part of G450C? As you can imagine, there is an inherent conflict of interest in suppliers setting their own tool requirements. True, this somewhat happens in standards meetings, but in such meetings there is well-documented, open process that is voted upon, and most importantly, one that meets all of the anti-trust requirements of the US Federal Government.
Likewise, the supplier group or consortium must ideally, separately fund themselves—a financial conflict of interest would exist if their group were unduly influenced by receiving direct chipmaker funding. This doesn’t mean individual suppliers or supplier partners can’t compete for chipmaker-funded projects—they can, and should.
Looking back, ultimately, financial independence from SEMI proved valuable for SEMI/SEMATECH in its initial founding. Though SEMI’s business model, flush with trade-show cash during the heady, high-growth years of the semiconductor industry, was able to subsidize everything from SEMI Standards, to a magazine, to experiments with dotcom directories, when growth slowed and crises hit, these items had to be slashed to keep the trade-show, cash cow from starving. After SEMATECH went international and 300mm was successful, SEMI/SEMATECH merged with SEMI. The resulting business model mismatch was just too much and most of the technical staff were gone within a few years.
Impact on 450mm
As shown in the figure below, presented by M&W Group this summer at SEMICON West, provision has been made in G450C’s organizational structure for a supplier voice, though many linkages are informal. However, the publicly stated expectation is that suppliers will self-organize solutions. M&W Group has been proactive in organizing a Facilities Council, which now appears to have been approved. However, an equivalent equipment supplier group is not yet apparent.
In the past, such a supplier group was readily available within SEMI/SEMATECH, and later, within SEMI. However, after this last downturn, SEMI’s business model with its dependence on trade show revenue didn’t provide for such activities. In fact, it was only through a complete overhaul of its standards delivery model that SEMI Standards was narrowly rescued.
Time for Action?
Perhaps, similar to the formation SEMI/SEMATECH, a supplier-only equipment group can be created along-side G450C to be the voice for the equipment supplier. It need not be a research consortium—neither was SEMI/SEMATECH. Rather, it was primarily an interface to SEMATECH. Here are some ideal characteristics of what one would hope to see contained such in the group, whether embodied in an individual or multiple staff:
- Membership-dues Business Model
- No Financial Conflicts of Interest
- Technically Knowledgeable
- Politically Savvy
- Economic Modeling Experts
- Honest Brokers with Trust of Suppliers and Chipmakers
- Excellent Communicators
Let’s expect that suppliers can proactively cooperate to find a way to create an aggregate voice, and that the G450C members can help. History shows that the resulting efficiency and openness in communication will help ensure resourceful use of the funds and energy.
*Photo of JFK: State Library and Archives of Florida. No copyright restrictions. Why JFK? We just had an election in the US, and he was a country favorite.