IBM, its Research Alliance partners GLOBALFOUNDRIES and Samsung, and equipment suppliers have developed an industry-first process to build silicon nanosheet transistors that will enable 5 nanometer (nm) chips. The details of the process will be presented at the 2017 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits conference in Kyoto, Japan. In less than two years since developing a 7nm test node chip with 20 billion transistors, scientists have paved the way for 30 billion switches on a fingernail-sized chip.
The resulting increase in performance will help accelerate cognitive computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other data-intensive applications delivered in the cloud. The power savings could also mean that the batteries in smartphones and other mobile products could last two to three times longer than today’s devices, before needing to be charged.
Scientists working as part of the IBM-led Research Alliance at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering’s NanoTech Complex in Albany, NY achieved the breakthrough by using stacks of silicon nanosheets as the device structure of the transistor, instead of the standard FinFET architecture, which is the blueprint for the semiconductor industry up through 7nm node technology.
“For business and society to meet the demands of cognitive and cloud computing in the coming years, advancement in semiconductor technology is essential,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president, Hybrid Cloud, and director, IBM Research. “That’s why IBM aggressively pursues new and different architectures and materials that push the limits of this industry, and brings them to market in technologies like mainframes and our cognitive systems.”
The silicon nanosheet transistor demonstration, as detailed in the Research Alliance paper Stacked Nanosheet Gate-All-Around Transistor to Enable Scaling Beyond FinFET, and published by VLSI, proves that 5nm chips are possible, more powerful, and not too far off in the future.
Compared to the leading edge 10nm technology available in the market, a nanosheet-based 5nm technology can deliver 40 percent performance enhancement at fixed power, or 75 percent power savings at matched performance. This improvement enables a significant boost to meeting the future demands of artificial intelligence (AI) systems, virtual reality and mobile devices.
“This announcement is the latest example of the world-class research that continues to emerge from our groundbreaking public-private partnership in New York,” said Gary Patton, CTO and Head of Worldwide R&D at GLOBALFOUNDRIES. “As we make progress toward commercializing 7nm in 2018 at our Fab 8 manufacturing facility, we are actively pursuing next-generation technologies at 5nm and beyond to maintain technology leadership and enable our customers to produce a smaller, faster, and more cost efficient generation of semiconductors.”
IBM Research has explored nanosheet semiconductor technology for more than 10 years. This work is the first in the industry to demonstrate the feasibility to design and fabricate stacked nanosheet devices with electrical properties superior to FinFET architecture.
This same Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography approach used to produce the 7nm test node and its 20 billion transistors was applied to the nanosheet transistor architecture. Using EUV lithography, the width of the nanosheets can be adjusted continuously, all within a single manufacturing process or chip design. This adjustability permits the fine-tuning of performance and power for specific circuits – something not possible with today’s FinFET transistor architecture production, which is limited by its current-carrying fin height. Therefore, while FinFET chips can scale to 5nm, simply reducing the amount of space between fins does not provide increased current flow for additional performance.
“Today’s announcement continues the public-private model collaboration with IBM that is energizing SUNY-Polytechnic’s, Albany’s, and New York State’s leadership and innovation in developing next generation technologies,” said Dr. Bahgat Sammakia, Interim President, SUNY Polytechnic Institute. “We believe that enabling the first 5nm transistor is a significant milestone for the entire semiconductor industry as we continue to push beyond the limitations of our current capabilities. SUNY Poly’s partnership with IBM and Empire State Development is a perfect example of how Industry, Government and Academia can successfully collaborate and have a broad and positive impact on society.”
The key question for business is, can we systematically continue to deliver the core business while creating an environment that fosters innovation? this is the tricky balance at the heart of businesses seeking more innovative practices. Leaders need to find a way to continually deliver systematic and methodical results for their business whilst generating new ideas.
There are real challenges here for business leaders as the Bi-Polar Challenge. Businesses have to focus on the key drivers of scale; efficiency, repetition, process, and hierarchy while also getting comfortable with wasted efforts associated with searching for new ideas and taking risks. Embedding innovation can be seen as a process of self-destruction with self-undermining results, meaning a company needs to commit time and resources to self-reflection, playing with new ideas and taking risks. It’s here where business can become unstuck, but it’s also where businesses can learn a lot from the research and those who’ve successfully juggled the demands of scale, stability, and innovation.
The first step towards success is to create a dedicated innovation function with a framework that fosters new ideas and innovation. There is not a one size fits all framework here, rather a group of principals from which business can build their own framework that suits their business model and culture. One such principal is the need to build a network that transfers and shares information openly within an organization. Networks within businesses are pivotal to the sharing of ideas but are also crucial when it comes to picking the good ideas and investing in them. Ideas are like signals and signals can get weakened or strengthened within a network.
There’s a powerful message here for senior leaders as the success of these networks largely comes down to how they are managed. If senior managers are effective at identifying ideas and exploring them then innovation will start to blossom, but if the opposite is true and managers either don’t have the time, inclination or ability to support the network then the innovation project will quickly wither on the vine. So a couple of starting questions for any senior leader looking to innovate should be how healthy are your information networks and how good are you at picking up the signals.
Big data and the Internet of Things is set to transform industrial processes, but it’s an open question which companies will ride that wave. Across the globe, industry is about to change. Big data and the Internet of Things are going to transform industrial processes over the coming decade in the same way that the consumer world was transformed by the internet over the past decade. In this process, there will be leaders and then there will be followers.
There are already concerns that Europe will miss the boat on the industrial internet, in the same way it missed the boat for the consumer internet, because of imperfect regulation on this continent. The industrial internet is set to transform sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, energy, health care and transport. But if Europe doesn’t strike the right regulatory balance, those innovations will be developed not here but in North America and Asia.
One of the biggest regulatory concerns in Europe is about the portability of data, and the barriers that exist in this still fractured digital market.
When we are talking about the Internet of Things, we are talking about machines that will be able to communicate with each other and perform some activities through this communication. In this process, when we cross the borders of a country, we expect all the digital services we were receiving in one country, we should receive in the other. Europe should be able to guarantee the continued provision of services, without any dependence on location.
European legislators are hearing this complaint a lot from companies. Ensuring the free flow of data in the EU is crucial if we want to keep pace with Asia and North America. Data localization rules in different member states inhibit growth and are a barrier to the much-needed investment in infrastructure and innovative products and services.
Data protection is another thorny issue of EU legislation that could hold back innovation in this field. EU’s increasing data privacy legislation runs the risk of stymieing growth. We don’t buy the premise that legislation drives companies to innovate. We see legislation doing the opposite. The first thing we need to do is legislate less. We need a less complex general data protection regulation, one that ensures more certainty about data flows. That data needs to come freely within the EU and into the EU, so that companies aren’t told where they can keep their data centers.
Data security is a real concern. Data portability is an important issue, but so is data privacy. The question is, how can we harmonize these tools so that we have the confidence to feel safe.
When it comes to digitalization, there is much fear among the public that it will lead to a loss of jobs – especially in sensitive industrial areas. Worker protection is another legislative area in the EU that companies are concerned could hold back innovation and actually end up killing jobs.
The risk of losing jobs is there, and it is serious, because robots can replace people. But it depends how we are defining a job. Technology brings new opportunities for employment, and in the first preliminary steps in this era we have already seen a lot of new forms for getting income.
Some job losses may be inevitable, but can be replaced by new opportunities. digitalization is an opportunity rather than a threat. We have gone through changes before – look at the rise of information technology in the 1980s and 1990s. These have been for the better in the long run in terms of job creation. Maybe some low-skilled jobs will become replaceable, but there will be different jobs in their place.
The government’s role then is to make sure that workers are appropriately skilled up to be ready to slot into those new jobs. One of the key things we need to do legislatively at member state level is make sure there’s proper training at schools, so that everyone who enters the work market is skilled up.
European legislators will continue to grapple with the thorny issues of data portability, data privacy and worker protection. But it is important that they get it right quickly. Because if the legislative playing field in Europe is not prepared for the coming industrial internet revolution, Europe could miss the boat once again.
Part of IBM’s $3 billion, five-year investment in chip R&D (announced in 2014), the proof of nanosheet architecture scaling to a 5nm node continues IBM’s legacy of historic contributions to silicon and semiconductor innovation. They include the invention or first implementation of the single cell DRAM, the Dennard Scaling Laws, chemically amplified photoresists, copper interconnect wiring, Silicon on Insulator, strained engineering, multi core microprocessors, immersion lithography, high speed SiGe, High-k gate dielectrics, embedded DRAM, 3D chip stacking and Air gap insulators.
For more than seven decades, IBM Research has defined the future of information technology with more than 3,000 researchers in 12 labs located across six continents. Scientists from IBM Research have produced six Nobel Laureates, a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, 10 U.S. National Medals of Technology, five U.S. National Medals of Science, six Turing Awards, 19 inductees in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 20 inductees into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame.