May 12-18, 2000
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Photo courtesy of Dominion Semiconductor
Shown here is an 8-inch silicon wafer manufactured by Dominion Semi-conductor in its Manassas facility. Each wafer contains several hundred 128-megabit DRAM memory chips used to power laptops and a broad array of other computer equipment.

Engineering collaborates on semiconductor manufacturing

Staff Report

The University, in partnership with Dominion Semiconductor Co. and Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, has launched a new Semiconductor Manufacturing Information Technology Center.

The first-of-its-kind collaboration will use advanced data mining and warehousing techniques in a complex, high-tech manufacturing environment. The center is located at Dominion's state-of-the-art chip fabrication facility in Manassas, and will also have a companion laboratory at U.Va.; both will be staffed by University students and researchers. The goal of the collaboration is to improve productivity at the Dominion facility while giving students hands-on experience with actual manufacturing data. CIT helped launch the center with a grant of $35,000 as part of its mission to strengthen the competitiveness of Virginia technology companies.

The center's classroom will use advanced data mining and warehousing software to analyze real-time data from Dominion's manufacturing process, as well as identify potential production problems. Dominion has hundreds of variables in its complex fabrication process that can affect the number of working chips created on an 8-inch silicon wafer. Research has demonstrated that introduction of data mining and warehousing techniques can increase the number of parameters that can be examined in the effort to increase manufacturing output, but their use is new in complex processes such as semiconductor fabrication.

Data mining software seeks to identify useful patterns within huge amounts of data. The data mining tools have the potential to speed Dominion's responsiveness to manufacturing changes and expand its understanding of potential manufacturing problems, an issue that is becoming increasingly important as Dominion's memory chips become smaller and their designs more complex.

In addition to analysis of manufacturing and test data, the center will be able to employ advanced data modeling techniques and "what if˛ operational analysis, applying the latest advances in factory modeling and simulation. The center will also provide feedback to creators of the data mining software tools to improve future versions while at the same time serving as a research laboratory for U.Va.'s Institute for Microelectronics. The facilities at Dominion and at U.Va will be linked over the Internet.

"We're excited about the center's potential to help us speed refinements to an increasingly complex manufacturing process,˛ Dominion president and general manager Alex Graham said. "In the marketplace in which we participate, competition rewards those who can constantly improve and do it quickly."

Richard W. Miksad, dean of U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science, participated in a ceremony at Dominion's plant in Manassas April 21, marking the opening of the center.

"By using the Internet to connect this database facility at Dominion Semiconductor in Manassas with a mirror facility at U.Va. in Charlottesville, we are creating a truly special opportunity for Dominion employees and our students to learn, interact and contribute in today's world of high-tech manufacturing," Miksad said.

"The Semiconductor Manufacturing Information Technology Center is a ground-breaking research and development initiative," said Virginia Secretary of Technology Donald W. Upson. "This collaboration is an excellent example of Virginia's educational institutions and private industry partnering to research for future growth."

Dominion Semiconductor, which began as a joint venture between IBM and Toshiba, manufactures 128-megabit dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips and will begin production of flash memory chips by the end of the year, when it becomes a wholly-owned Toshiba subsidiary.


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