Japan-US Business Report Logo

No. 352, January 1999

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American Companies in Japan


COMIT SYSTEMS, INC. hopes to capitalize on what it sees as growing interest among semiconductor manufacturers in outsourcing hardware and software design and development services. To do that, the Santa Clara, California business, which provides design and development engineering services not only to build chips but also boards and systems, opened an electronics design center in the Kanagawa Science Park in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture.

A complete three-channel signal processor for CCD or CIS (contact image sensor) color scanners, faxes and multifunctional machines, and industrial and medical imaging systems is on the market from BURR-BROWN CORP.'s subsidiary. The VSP3000 is priced at $13 per part in quantities of 100.

Year-old POWERSMART, INC., a Shelton, Connecticut spin-off from DURACELL INTERNATIONAL INC., believes that Japan will start off as a $1.7 million annual market for its energy-regulating chips and develop into a $8.5-million- a-year market from April 2001. Achievement of those goals will be in the hands of distributor TOMEN ELECTRONICS CORP. Marketing will begin this spring. The launch PowerSmart product will be an energy controller chip for lithium-ion and nickel-metal-hydride battery packs used in notebook PCs and mobile telephones. It is expected to be priced around $3.90. .....NATIONAL SEMICONDUCTOR CORP.'s subsidiary is sampling a DC/DC switching regulator that takes up only half the space of competing products. The part, which has an output current of 1 ampere, also is targeted at notebook PCs, mobile phones and similar applications. The samples cost $3.40 each in quantities of 250.

The first desktop PC family incorporating an all-digital video interface has been released in Japan. The enabling technology in the four-model HITACHI, LTD. line is provided by SILICON IMAGE, INC.'s PanelLink protocol. Each computer incorporates a PanelLink transmitter chip that originates a digital video signal. The signal then is sent over a low-cost cable to the digital flat panel display, which has a companion PanelLink receiver chip. Cupertino, California-based Silicon Image expects other PC manufacturers, both Japanese and American, to release PanelLink digital-equipped PCs as well as stand-alone flat panel displays in Japan in 1999.

OAK TECHNOLOGY, INC. has licensed MATSUSHITA ELECTRONICS CORP. to use on a royalty-paying basis its OTI-9150 CD-ROM controller core, device drivers and firmware. MEC is using the Sunnyvale, California firm's intellectual property to develop highly integrated, low-cost CD-ROM drive controllers.

In the first phase of a long-term contract, CADENCE DESIGN SYSTEMS, INC. will adapt what SHARP CORP. calls a data-driven media processor for system-on-a-chip applications. The San Jose, California company, the world's top electronic design automation specialist, will "socketize" the DDMP core to comply with Virtual Socket Interface Alliance standards, thereby making the asynchronous media processor adaptable to a variety of handheld and other consumer electronic products. The new partners see a big market for Sharp's DDMP, given its high-performance, high-throughput capabilities -- it is said to process data roughly 10 times faster than comparable parts -- and low power requirements.

In back-to-back announcements, SILICON GENESIS CORP. disclosed that it had won a contract from wafer manufacturer KOMATSU ELECTRONIC METALS CO., LTD. for a plasma implant system and that the two companies had signed a research agreement. Campbell, California SiGen expects to deliver its PIII (plasma immersion ion implantation) system to a Komatsu Electronic R&D facility by mid-1999. The system will be used for production qualification work for silicon-on-insulator wafer manufacturing. SiGen claims that its technology enables the implantation of ions into a silicon wafer more efficiently and more quickly than alternative implant processes. Under the research agreement, the new partners will evaluate the application of PIII technology to the implantation of oxygen into silicon. That is a key step in the SPIMOX (separation by plasma implantation of oxygen) oxygen implantation process, which has considerable potential for making cutting- edge SOI wafers cost-effective to produce.

LAM RESEARCH CORP. is targeting annual sales of five of its Teres chemical mechanical planarization systems in Japan. The Fremont, California manufacturer's next-generation system, used to polish the surfaces of wafers to a flat, uniform finish during the photolithographic process, features several innovations. For starters, Teres incorporates a high-speed linear belt rather than the typical rotating table. The belt travels linearly across the wafer's surface using higher pad speed and lower surface pressure than competing CMP systems. According to Lam, that yields higher material removal rates and more uniform wafer planarization. In addition, the system cleans the wafer's surface after it is planarized. The Teres CMP system costs about $2.6 million.

Rapid thermal processing equipment could shape up to be as big a product for MATTSON TECHNOLOGY INC. as its photoresist strip equipment, judging by the orders for five of the Fremont, California manufacturer's Aspen RTP systems that its distributor, MARUBENI SOLUTIONS CORP., placed. The Aspen system is designed for rapid thermal processing on current and next- generation DRAM, static RAM and flash memories as well as microprocessors and other logic devices. Shipments of the Japan orders were to have started in December.

With yield problems multiplying as chip designs become ever more complex, FEI CO. expects strong demand for its XL860 DualBeam defect- characterization system. A dual-column system like the XL860 integrates the analytical capabilities of a focused ion beam system and a scanning electron microscope. That combination, the Hillsboro, Oregon company says, helps to reduce the time required to solve difficult yield problems. FEI's wholly owned subsidiary, in business since 1996, hopes to sell 50 systems in 1999, with most being the XL860 and the rest the previous-generation XL830.

The semiconductor industry's first wafer-level back-end process, dubbed WOW, short for wafer on wafer, is the ambitious goal of a partnership between FORMFACTOR, INC. and SHINKO ELECTRIC INDUSTRIES CO., LTD., a manufacturer of leadframes and semiconductor packages. WOW technology spans sort, burn-in, low-speed test and high-speed test functions, all performed on a complete wafer. At the heart of the WOW process is FormFactor's MicroSpring contact, which, attached directly to the wafer, created an integrated die contact eliminating conventional device packaging. The Livermore, California firm and Shinko initially are developing the WOW process to support RAMBUS INC.'s Direct RDRAM and synchronous DRAM memory modules, although in the future, they plan to extend the technology to other products like flash memories. FormFactor licensed its WOW process technology to Shinko, which expects to have capacity for volume production in late 1999. In the meantime, the partners will build sample quantities of customer devices using the WOW process.

The QuickSilver line of automated inspection equipment has been introduced by the subsidiary of manufacturer ELECTROGLAS, INC. The four products are designed to replace optical inspection of wafers for defects by human operators -- an increasingly error-prone, slow and expensive process. Santa Clara, California Electroglas says that one of its QuickSilver systems can achieve the same throughput as six or more optical inspection stations at up to a 40 percent lower total cost of ownership. The system can identify, measure and classify such wafer defects as residue and pinholes as well as pattern variations. It also can perform critical dimension measurements to locate and quantify photomask or development defects. In addition, QuickSilver equipment can handle flip-chip packaging with its small conductive bumps of solder. Pricing of the automated inspection line starts at $600,000.

The Automated Test Equipment unit of SCHLUMBERGER LTD. has released in Japan the ETC 1000 thermal control system. Designed to provide both die and transistor-junction temperature control, the $153,800 system is said to be particularly suited to such high-power devices as microprocessors and system-on-a-chip ASICs. One advantage of the ETC 1000 is that the operator does not need to attach a heat sink or a slug to a device for testing.

Minneapolis-headquartered MICRO CONTROL CO. has moved into the Japanese market, tapping IWATANI INTERNATIONAL CORP. as the exclusive distributor of its bench-top automatic test equipment for testing memory boards and devices. Osaka-based Iwantani, which specializes in industrial gases, expects to sell 15 of Micro Control's systems in 1999. If it achieves that target, revenues will amount to about $6 million.

An exchange rate of ¥117=$1.00 was used in this report. aaaaaa

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