Q&A With David & Ken

Featured commentary from Dr. David K. Lam (Chairman & CEO) and Dr. Ken MacWilliams (President)

It was a thrill to be featured last summer in Chip Scale Review. As the leading publication focused on advanced packaging technologies, it was an ideal platform for David and Ken to describe how Multibeam is re-innovating e-beam lithography (EBL) with ultra-high productivity advantages to address this high-growth application.

The feedback from our industry friends was gratifying. It reinforced the soaring importance of advanced packaging technologies to the future of semiconductors, while highlighting the need for new manufacturing technologies that combine enabling innovation with cost-of-ownership advantages. This theme was amplified again when the Biden Administration announced $3 billion in funding for the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program to drive U.S. leadership in the space.

Some asked why advanced packaging tops our list of target applications; others wanted to hear more about our company and additional applications on our radar. So, our Multibeam Marketing Staffer (MMS) sat down with Chairman David Lam and President Ken MacWilliams (D&K) to address some of the questions that came our way. Here’s their take. Enjoy the read!

MMS: David, you are best known as the Founder of Lam Research. What drew you to Lithography?

David: Revolutionizing semiconductor manufacturing has been a life-long passion. I began with etch and after that, as a board member and advisor, I helped many emerging tech companies establish market success for novel products.

At heart, I am a technology entrepreneur, perpetually curious about the Next Big Thing and relentlessly driven to find novel solutions for complex problems. I was always intrigued by lithography. As the single biggest driver of Moore’s law, it is the Fab Diva. And while EUV invariably pops to mind when we hear “advanced lithography”, I was irresistibly drawn to the challenge of re-innovating an early lithography technology to address many of the industry’s challenges and bolster emerging applications.

At Multibeam, I found a diamond in the rough. I knew instinctively that with the right team of process innovators, tool experts and productization leaders we could fulfill the vision of super-empowering EBL for high productivity in mass-production fabs. As Multibeam’s President, Ken is helping to lead the charge. 

MMS: Good segue to Ken. Ken, what’s your background?

Ken: I thrive on bringing complex products to market and building success for companies. I’ve done this at Novellus Systems, Applied Materials, VEECO, and start-ups where I’ve worked closely with customers to help them meet their roadmap goals.

The best opportunities are when the market need is intense, and you have eyes on the ideal solution and an expert team to build it. That’s what we have at Multibeam where we’re re-innovating a proven technology that was previously limited to the lab and giving it new life in a mass-production fab. It’s an exciting role.

MMS: Since this Q&A stems from the CSR article, explain why advanced packaging is an important area for Multibeam?

D&K: Advanced packaging has emerged as a new driver of IC innovation, especially with the limitations of Moore’s Law becoming increasingly obvious. While this trend influenced our product development strategy, it’s not the only application on our target list. Nevertheless, we became convinced that a maskless lithography solution could be a game-changing technical and economic enabler at the back end for designers of next-gen ICs.

Take AI for example. Nearly every day we hear of a new AI chip start-up. These fabless companies are staffed by IC designers working relentlessly to prototype, then build the chips and beat competitors to market, all at a reasonable cost. Before now, the standard approach was to engage with a fab partner at the leading edge. But this requires large designs teams, as well as time and money to create the masks. What’s more, not all IC designs call for an advanced-node production approach. Consequently, with lean resources and ultra-tight market windows, such companies are increasingly seeking a faster and less expensive way to produce their ICs.

Advanced packaging offers a powerful manufacturing alternative. With Multibeam market-leading maskless litho, start-ups and established chip makers can design their ICs in a way that utilizes next-gen integration technologies and benefit from the best of all worlds: the manufacturing firepower they need but with fewer risks, much faster turnaround and at a fraction of conventional costs. When you add faster time-to-market to the benefits matrix, the value of advanced packaging for the AI IC start-up increases exponentially.

MMS: Are there additional applications on Multibeam’s roadmap?

D&K: Yes, there are several. Rapid prototyping/high-mix production is a big one. Also, photonics applications for specialty use like medical diagnostics, optical biotech sensing, and more. One application that’s drawing interest is secure chip ID to combat counterfeits. MEBL is capable of seamlessly hard-coding unique information during routine wafer fabrication flows. Physically patterning IDs that are buried deep within the processing is enabling a new class of system-level security. Chip provenance is becoming a big deal.

That said, while the potential is exciting and we’re often asked by customers about emerging applications for which Multibeam could be a natural fit, our strategic focus is to complete development and ship our first tool for mass production. 

MMS:  Will the tools be made in the US?

D&K: Yes. We will manufacture at our US HQ in Santa Clara – the heart of the silicon valley. Our manufacturing approach allows us to rapidly ramp from initial technology buys to high-volume capacity buys. This location is also home to engineering, product development, R&D, and our new advanced demo lab.

MMS: What is Multibeam’s headcount?

D&K: We recently celebrated our 50-employee milestone. Being in the heart of Silicon Valley gives us access to the best and brightest technologists, engineers, and partners. Of course, it means that we must compete with much larger companies in an often-tight hiring environment. Nevertheless, we find that a lean, small-company vibe can be a talent magnet as well as a differentiator. We also discovered that being the only U.S.-based advanced lithography company heightens the appeal for partners and enthusiastic engineers who see the exciting growth for Multibeam in the U.S. thanks in part to landmark legislation like the CHIPS and Science Act. Our exciting growth trajectory is catalyzed by a perfect storm of positive convergences. Demand for chips and AI continues to grow exponentially –  driving a renaissance of semiconductor manufacturing and increasing the significance of advanced litho patterning. Now more than ever, there is a growing need for faster time to market, rapid prototyping, high mix short-run manufacturing – all of which are further enabled with Multibeam’s next-generation advanced integration capabilities.

How many patents does Multibeam hold?

D&K: Our robust IP portfolio of nearly 50 patents covers the hardware, software, and process innovations embedded in our platform. Not surprisingly, as we focused our R&D on application-specific innovations, our portfolio expanded at a rapid clip. Our IP doesn’t just distinguish our technology from legacy EBL technologies; it is the foundation of our platform’s inherent enabling value for customers.  

MMS: What’s next for Multibeam?

D&K: Complete and ship our first mass-production tool and continue to ramp our various customer engagements, helping them bring higher value products to market faster. 2024 will be a busy year for Team Multibeam. The world’s first high-productivity e-beam lithography systems are here! Watch this space!

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