Look at you, holding that mobile phone device or staring at the screen of a computer or a laptop – not even realizing what that piece of hardware signifies. Who would’ve thought over 8 decades the room-sized military instruments will shrink into your hands equipping you with all those features without which you can’t even think of having a life. Yes exactly, who would’ve thought – a bunch of nerds who were just there to implement their knowledge for the military to simplify invasion during World War-II, never thought of revolutionizing the consumer electronics industry.
This article unveils the events in the field of IC production which restructured the whole Semiconductor Industry. Dive right in and unfold the mystery whether it was ‘Father of Electronics’ or ‘Fathers of Electronics’!
Mayhem struck the US Military during World War-II. They reached a degree of computational load, where failure overshadowed the predicted success. The then used Boeing B-29 (1944) carried 300–1000 vacuum tubes and tens of thousands of passive components and ENIAC (1946) used more than 17,000 vacuum tubes. A deadlock in traditional electronics was witnessed with uproar in reduced reliability of devices and lengthened troubleshooting time.
Managing Vacuum Tubes in ENIAC
1947 marked the commencement of the era of ‘intelligent machines’. The transistor was invented at Bell Labs in New Jersey in 1947 by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley. The development of first commercial ICs were observed over two decades and umpteen number of scientists imparted their expertise in designing the fabrication process simplifying the requirements posed by the industry.
In 1949, a German Engineer Werner Jacobi – an employee of Siemens AG – patented an integrated-circuit-like semiconductor amplifying device with five transistors on a common substrate in a 3-stage amplifier arrangement with two transistors working “upside-down” as an impedance converter. However, this prototype was not reported to have commercial usage, yet the market saw its application in hearing aids for a short period.
A couple of years later, a British radio engineer Geoffrey Dummer put forth his vision for the electronic industry. In a public speech in Washington he quoted:
“With the advent of the transistor and the work in semiconductors generally, it seems now to be possible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block with no connecting wires. The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and amplifying materials, the electrical functions being connected by cutting out areas of the various layers.”
This made him famous as “the prophet of integrated circuits” and in 1956 he produced an IC prototype made from the melt. Though a major leap, yet the ICs were expensive and had lower parameters compared to discrete devices.
In the same year a pioneer named Sidney Darlington, who later earned fame for designing Darlington Pair, filed a patent for a framework with two or three transistors integrated onto a single chip in various configurations. Moreover, Bernard Oliver patented a method of manufacturing three electrically connected planar transistors on one semiconductor crystal.
A year later, in 1953 a method came into being, forming various electronic components – transistors, resistors, lumped and distributed capacitances – on a single chip. Harwick Johnson designed an oscillator with an integrated one-transistor. The method employed a narrow strip of a semiconductor with one end of a bipolar transistor. The strip acted as a series of resistors; the lumped condensers were formed by fusion, while reverse-biased p-n junctions acted as distributed capacitors. On the contrary, he did not produce an actual device but just a theoretical explanation for it.
Johnson’s Integrated Generator
So the decade from 1947 to 1957 was full of many pioneers experimenting and implementing their prototypes and designs independently in their labs. These early devices featured designs where several transistors could share a common active area.
While the industry witnessed the uplift in the fabrication process, some hurdles were imposed by the market’s requirement for commercial standards. The three fundamental problems were-
Integration of all components on a single piece of chip. Reliability was a major issue. This was solved by Jack Kilby in the labs of Texas Instruments in 1958. Isolation of electrical components on the chip. Unwanted interconnection caused an undesired flow of current. Heating and power loss was observed. Kurt Lehovec at Sprague Electronics and Robert Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor simultaneously provided their independent solutions. Connection of isolated components internally. The only solution is extremely expensive and time-consuming connection using gold wires. This too was deciphered by Noyce in the labs of Fairchild. The second big step in the revolution was when concurrently at Fairchild and Texas Instruments Integrated circuit was invented.
At Texas Instruments Jack Kilby patented the Principle of Integration of Hybrid IC. At Fairchild, Jean Hoerni developed the planar transistor and Robert Noyce developed the Integrated Circuit. Also, Kurt Lehovec of Sprague Electric patented the way of Electrical Isolation.
Jack Kilby with IC Designs
This clash sparked a patent war among the three. However, the US Court of Appeals ruled in the early 1960s that Noyce was the inventor of the monolithic integrated circuit chip based on adherent oxide and junction insulation technologies.
TI held a hearing with demonstrations of Kilby’s inventions, at which Lehovec proved conclusively that Kilby did not mention component isolation. His focus on the Patent for Isolation was finally recognized in April 1966.
By 1965, Fairchild’s planar technology became the industry standard that challenged its fierce competitor TI. Kilby ‘s primary patents had given little profit to Texas Instruments. TI realized that for the whole set of key IC patents, they could not claim priority, and lost interest in the patent war. Texas Instruments and Fairchild agreed in 1966 on mutual recognition of patents and on cross-licensing of key patents; Sprague joined them in 1967.
As the production took off, the technology’s large scale limited each chip to only a few transistors. As MOS technology saw an uplift, millions and billions of MOS transistors were implanted on a single chip, and good designs required thorough planning, giving rise to the field of Electronic Design Automation. The industry progressed from Small Scale Integration (1-10 transistors) to Very Large Scale Integration (millions of transistors) within 3 decades.
In 1965, Gordon Moore – an Intel R&D Engineer – observed that the number of transistors that can be packed into a given unit of space will double about every two years. This eventually came out to be known as Moore’s Law. It modified to doubling transistors within 18 months in recent years. This was the basis of uproar in the levels of integration – from SSI to VLSI.
As time passed, numerous companies emerged out in the electronics domain. It started around 1960, once semiconductor chip fabrication became a viable company. As of 2018, the annual sales of semiconductors in the industry grew to over $481 billion.
The MOSFET is the driving force of the industry, accounting for 99.9% of all transistors. Estimated total of 13 sextillions (1.3 × 1022) MOSFETs having been manufactured between 1960 and 2018.
Over the years, various companies from the USA, Taiwan, South Korea, and the European Union dominate the market.
1960 – 1985 Texas Instruments
1985 – 1995 NEC
1995 – 2017 Intel
2017 – present Samsung Electronics
Silicon MOSFET >90%
III-V Semiconductors <7%
Silicon BJT <3%
Semiconductor Market Share
How small is possible? This question keeps the engineers and researches on toes all the time. Following upon the legacy of the ‘Father’s of Electronics’, the market waits to get revolutionized once again, to give us a mesmerizing experience with the superpowers of creators unveiling the mysteries of ‘Quantum Electronics’. Ultra Large Scale Integration is the future of fabrication. As the designing process changed from manual methods to EDA, who knows what upcoming technologies like AR/VR will be capable of. Just the thought of a manufacturing process involving gestures, holograms, voice commands sends a chill through the spine, automating the industry completely.