Research and Development
Research and Development for the Future
With the evolution of ICT, electronics are more and more indispensable to people’s lives. In addition, there is an increasing need to realize both the development of a data-driven society and preservation of the global environment, with the growing demand for semiconductors and displays, which is the base of ICT and increasing global awareness of the environment. The performance required of semiconductors and displays is also becoming more diversified.
In order to contribute to the development of a dream-inspiring society, Tokyo Electron is engaged in R&D with an eye on the future to capture changes in society, including innovations in manufacturing technology and the pursuit of ultra-efficient productivity.
Market Heading toward Diversification
* CPU: Central Processing Unit. A semiconductor chip that serves as the brain of a computer.
As semiconductor production technology grows more diverse and in order to bring high-value-added products to the market in a timely fashion, we have built a system that promotes R&D and technological innovation for the next generations with collaboration between the Development & Production Group and the Business Group.
In addition, we share technology roadmaps spanning multiple generations for the future with our customers, and by working with relevant divisions across the Company we accelerate the development of equipment with solutions that anticipate market needs.
Specifically, the Corporate Innovation Division, which is headed by the CEO, along with the development divisions of the manufacturing sites in Japan and the marketing departments of business units, are leading efforts to enhance process integration capabilities and promote digital transformation* (DX) using AI technology. In addition, in January 2022 we established the Digital Transformation Promotion Department to further strengthen the promotion of DX.
Furthermore, as demands from society escalate with regard to the environment, health and safety, the Global Environment and Safety Council is playing a central role in promoting the review and formulation of basic policies, and each of our manufacturing sites in Japan are also building a development system that takes into account the environment and health and safety.
* CSS: Composed of the Vice President and General Managers of Tokyo Electron, Presidents from overseas subsidiaries
We are focused on using the Shift Left approach, investing resources such as technology, personnel and expense into the early processes of product development. Through this approach, we are endeavoring to develop various technologies and conducting research for multiple future generations in order to realize the technology roadmaps we have created with customers.
In fiscal year 2022, we continued working on using less space for equipment, which is one thing our customers require. By optimizing the layout of equipment in cleanrooms, we enhanced the productivity per unit area of equipment, and also contributed to reducing environmental impact. Furthermore, through activities for E-COMPASS*, an initiative for building sustainable supply chains, we are also pursuing more efficient product development from an environmental perspective in partnership with our suppliers.
Through promoting the Shift Left approach we gain an understanding of customer needs at an earlier stage, and by reflecting the information obtained from feedback into our R&D and proposing superior products, we are contributing to maximizing yield for customer devices and capacity utilization of their mass production line equipment.
We are also promoting on-site collaboration for early delivery of evaluation equipment to customers’ fabs and development and research laboratories, and are working to accelerate the process in which R&D is reflected in mass production equipment as well as to optimize development efficiency.
* E-COMPASS: Refer to E-COMPASS Initiative
We are endeavoring to further enhance the productivity of product development by having our sales departments and product marketing departments appropriately fulfill their respective roles.
Our sales departments are responsible for ensuring that products and services are provided based on solid relationships of trust with customers.
Meanwhile, our product marketing departments work to plan and realize products that meet the future needs of customers in target markets, such as development planning to increase the value of products and services, and the examination of value-adding mechanisms. In conducting these initiatives, in addition to considering new products and functions based on the seeds of our development divisions, they also formulate plans for optimal collaboration including tie-ups with partner companies and consortiums.
Our sales departments and product marketing departments work together in developing product marketing activities that anticipate market needs and contribute to customers’ products, and in doing so, help improve our product competitiveness and promote our Shift Left approach.
Roles of Sales Departments and Product Marketing for Product Development
* CIP: Continuous Improvement Program
Collaboration with Consortiums and Academia
We have focused on collaborative efforts with domestic and international consortiums and academic institutions (universities) to enhance our R&D capabilities and to create leading-edge technologies for a very long time.
Today, we continue our engagement in a wide range of areas from applications to product development. In the area of EUV and high-NA EUV*¹ lithography processes*², this is achieved through collaboration with imec located in Belgium. Furthermore, we participate in a global research hub for hardware development of next-generation AI in the U.S. state of New York, and have formed a partnership with BRIDG*³, which is a non-profit public-private partnership located in the U.S. state of Florida, as well. At our research center in TEL Technology Center, America*⁴, advanced R&D in the areas of front-end, back-end*⁵, and advanced packaging process areas are being carried out daily.
Additionally, we collaborate with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), one of Japan's largest public research institutions. There we leverage AIST's world-class research environment and personnel to enhance our own development by conducting MRAM*⁶ and 2D material-related research. We do this to address the needs in the field of semiconductor technology development, which is becoming increasingly diverse.
From fiscal year 2022, we are also participating in iSyMs*⁷, an open consortium led by the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo, to broaden the scope of our collaboration. We have also been working with SRC*⁸, a globally known U.S. consortium, and contributed to the production of the Decadal Plan for Semiconductors*⁹ published in October 2020.
*1 EUV and high-NA EUV: Extreme Ultraviolet. Ultraviolet radiation (ultraviolet rays) in the wavelength range of 1 to 100 nm. High-NA EUV refers to extgeneration EUV.
*2 Refer to Lithography Process
*3 BRIDG: Bridging the Innovation Development Gap (BRIDG) provides the physical foundry infrastructure and collaborative process to connect challenges and opportunities with solutions making commercialization possible.
*4 TEL Technology Center, America: Our R&D center in the U.S.
*5 Front-end/Back-end: In semiconductor device production, the beginning section of the manufacturing process where the device element is formed is called the front-end (FEOL), and the latter section is called the back-end (BEOL) where the wiring is traditionally accomplished.
*6 MRAM: Magneto-resistive Random Access Memory
*7 iSyMs: Industry-University Consortium for Integrated System-Materials
*8 SRC: Semiconductor Research Corporation. An advanced research and technology consortium active in the semiconductor industry.
*9 The report that explains the potential of semiconductors over the next 10 years and the challenges that must be overcome to realize the vision.
Joint Research Selection Program with Academic Institutions
Since 2018, we have been conducting a joint research selection program with academic institutions. The aim is to discover and collaborate on advanced elemental technology research pertaining to semiconductors. Under this program, 23 themes have been selected over the past four years, and a variety of joint research projects are currently underway.
Although applicants are free to propose any research topic, we adopt proposals that (1) meet our technological needs and show original perspectives and ideas only possible in academia and (2) are expected to improve our technical and planning capabilities and contribute to the expansion of our business domain in the future.
Technical advisors selected from our development divisions, business units (BUs) and manufacturing sites in Japan are responsible for selecting the topics, with subsequent joint research activities managed by the administrative staff. The research period is up to three years but is extendable if valid results are confirmed during the regular term.
We will continue to promote the selection program in order to contribute to the development of semiconductor-related technologies and devices, as well as to the advancement of science and technologies by revitalizing research activities in academia.
Intellectual Property Management
We are promoting intellectual property (IP) management based on the fundamental principles that IP protection supports business activities and leads to an increase of corporate profits.
In order to achieve sustainable growth in the semiconductor industry, where the growth is driven by technological innovation, we are globally expanding our R&D activity including industry-academia collaborations. As well as at corporate headquarters, we have allocated IP professionals at R&D and production sites around the world to evaluate projects from various angles such as R&D and marketing perspectives, and we are striving to enhance our competitiveness through building IP portfolios aligned with our technology and product strategies.
In 2021, the number of inventions created in Japan was 1,269 and 225 in other countries. The global patent filing rate has been approximately 70% for 10 consecutive years, and the approval rate of the filed patents has reached 79% in Japan and 83% in the United States. As proven by these statistics, we maintain our competitive advantage in the IP domain at the global level. Over the last two years, we have collaborated with partner companies and research institutes such as universities around the world and have succeeded in filing 43 joint patent applications together with 15 companies and 16 organizations.
As a result of these activities, we were selected as one of the "Clarivate Top 100 Global Innovators 2022." In this award, Clarivate, a global information service company, makes an original evaluation based on patent data, and once a year selects “companies or institutions providing new value to the world with capabilities, consistency, incredible creativity, and new thinking.”