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September 16, 2010

IBM Rolls Out New Power Management Process Technology

By Ashok Bindra, TMCnet Contributor

IBM (News - Alert) has developed a new power management process technology, labeled CMOS-7HV, that allows wireless communication functions to be integrated with power management circuits on a single semiconductor chip. According to IBM, it is the company's first foray into a segment seen as critical to the development of alternative energy sources, smart buildings and new consumer devices.

IBM said that the new 180 nm CMOS process will cut production cost by about 20 percent and will enable chip designers and manufacturers to create a new class of semiconductors that are ultra-small and affordable. In short, continued IBM, these new chips will control power usage while they communicate in real-time with systems used to monitor "smart" buildings, energy grids and transportation systems.

One of the first customer for IBM’s new foundry service is wireless chip maker Wispry based in Irvine Calif. In a statement, said Jeff Hilbert, Wispry’s president and co-founder, "IBM's process pushes us closer to the holy grail of wireless -- connect any where, at any time."  He added, “By enabling more efficient power management in smart phones, IBM's technology opens up the possibility of using smaller, lighter batteries or needing less recharge time to provide the same amount of 'talk' time, video sharing or picture-snapping."

According to IBM spokesman, Wispry is in the process of taping out silicon for its chip design based on the new IBM CMOS-7HV process. However, no further details were available.

"This new process can be used to create new types of affordable wireless sensors, the kind needed to monitor and connect the smart systems coming on line in the next few years --  from alternative-energy products being developed by industrial firms to consumer companies looking to deliver mobile entertainment," commented Michael J. Cadigan, general manager, IBM Microelectronics Division. He added, "Integrating communications and power sensors on one chip cuts costs for the industry and is an example of our 'smart-planet' technology vision -- one that we back up with R&D."

The market for power-management (PM) semiconductors is about $31 billion in 2010, up a sizable 40 percent from 2009 and on track to double by 2014, according to market watcher iSuppli.

 The company's semiconductor plant in Burlington, Vt. will be the primary manufacturing location for the new technology. IBM is already accepting designs from customers and is scheduling full production for the first half of 2011.

CMOS-7HV joins IBM’s growing list of state-of-the-art chip-making processes and services that IBM Microelectronic's foundry business offers to semiconductor and electronics manufacturers worldwide. IBM Microelectronics Division’s foundry processes include silicon germanium (SiGe) technology, RFCMOS, power management technology, high-performance SOI, embedded DRAM, industry standard bulk CMOS and custom processes.

Key features of the new CMOS-7HV process include 180 nm lithography, triple-gate oxide high-voltage CMOS technology including high-voltage FETS from 20 to 50 V extendable to 120 V, shallow-trench isolation, and 150K circuit/mm2. Likewise, RF features include precision poly, diffusion and well resistors, MIM capacitors, vertical natural capacitors for high voltage use, three to seven levels of Al including thick last metal, one-time programmable (OTP) memory and wire-bond or solder-bump terminals.

Ashok Bindra is a veteran writer and editor with more than 25 years of editorial experience covering RF/wireless technologies, semiconductors and power electronics. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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