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 user 2007-11-16 at 11:45:00 am Views: 42
  • #20980

    In New Advance, Ink Used in Chips
    November 2007A Silicon Valley start-up is claiming a breakthrough in producing simple semiconductors by using a printing process, a goal for many companies hoping to drive down the cost of electronic products.Kovio, whose backers include widely known venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, says it has developed a kind of silicon ink that can be sprayed on flexible surfaces using commercial printing systems. Where some companies have developed circuit-printing approaches with various organic and inorganic materials, Kovio says it has used its silicon-based process to build unusually fast devices called thin-filmed transistors.”They look like they can be as cheap if not cheaper than those working with organic materials,” says Raghu Das, an analyst at IDTechEx, a market-research firm in Cambridge, England. “But the performance of their devices is much higher.”

    Closely held Kovio, of Sunnyvale, Calif., hopes to apply its technology initially to RFID, or radio frequency identification tags, a field where low cost is paramount.
    The race to apply printing techniques to electronics has interested many large and small companies. Conventional computer chips are fabricated by tracing circuit patterns on silicon wafers, building and connecting transistors by adding and removing materials. Companies such as Intel Corp. routinely spend $3 billion on a chip factory, yet spraying on circuitry with inkjet-style printers could create usable products for a fraction of the cost, backers of the concept say.

    Not that printing technology is expected to catch the capabilities of chip makers, which now build hundreds of millions of transistors on each product. But Kovio is confident that by the end of next year it will make devices with less than a thousand transistors that are sophisticated enough for many RFID applications, such as identifying medicine bottles.”Intel’s claiming that they can put 30 million transistors on the head of a pin,” says Amir Mashkoori, Kovio’s chairman and chief executive. “All we’re trying to do is put a few hundred transistors on a bottle.”

    The company’s claims about the benefits of its manufacturing process are likely to be closely scrutinized, because rivals in markets such as RFID are rapidly driving down the cost of products based on extremely tiny chips. Kovio has “a promising technology,” said Victor Vega, director of technical marketing at Alien Technology Corp., a specialist in the field. “But it’s very premature still.”Kovio’s data shows that electrons move through its printed transistors at about a fifth the speed of transistors in a typical Intel chip but are about 100 times the speed of simpler semiconductors used in computer displays, said Vivek Subramanian, a company advisor who is an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley.The company’s plans have attracted a unit of Cubic Corp. that makes automated fare-collection systems used in subways and other transportation systems. Walt Bonneau, a Cubic senior vice president and general manager, says he believes Kovio’s technology can help reduce the cost of tags on new RFID-based fare cards that riders pass near a wireless reader — replacing paper versions with magnetic stripes that are slid through turnstiles.