Xerox Poised to Revolutionize Electronic Chip Manufacturing

Ron Gilboa
Apr 15, 2013

A science article in the New York Times by John Markoff last week detailed an innovation from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) that could revolutionize the world of chip manufacturing.  In a new manufacturing process from Xerox PARC, slivers of silicone called “chiplets” are immersed in a carrier liquid and are then “printed” onto a solid carrier material, much as toner particles are managed today in laser printing via Fluidic Self Assembly (FSA). Following Xerox’s rich heritage of innovation from the 1970s such as laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer, graphical user interface (GUI), object-oriented programming, ubiquitous computing, amorphous silicon (a-Si) applications, and advancing very-large-scale-integration (VLSI) for semiconductors, printed chiplets  could possibly surpass these. Chiplet technology has the potential to revolutionize conventional manufacturing of chips and other microelectronic components, a change that will give benefits in flexibility, timeliness, and efficiency for companies that make such products.

The image below provides an enlarged view of the chiplets, each no larger than a grain of sand. Using systems that are essentially laser printer, Xerox’s PARC may one day be able to create desktop manufacturing plants that use chiplets to “print” the circuitry for a wide array of electronic devices.

Source:  Amy Sullivan/PARC
An enlarged view of small slivers of silicon, each no larger than a grain of sand, called chiplets. Using laser printers, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center may one day be able to create desktop manufacturing plants that use chiplets to “print” the circuitry for a wide array of electronic devices.

 

Chips and other microelectronic components are currently manufactured on silicon wafers where millions of transistors are put together in a small space. These wafers are then sliced into smaller units and assembled into electronic devices such as cell phones and computers. The Xerox chiplet-based process takes a different approach, one that enables the nano-electronic particles to be placed on a larger surface, Notably, this surface can be flexible and conform to the shape of the device it will be connected to, resulting in a more flexible and durable device.

The Xerox PARC model of microelectronics development is supported with financing from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It can have far-reaching implications for chip manufacturing and change the economic balance between the countries that are now leading the charge in silicon wafer manufacturing.

InfoTrends’ team is exploring the evolving markets for printed technologies, and this Xerox PARC innovation is a tell-tale sign of what the future may hold. In the past few years, sophisticated deposition technologies such as inkjet and electrophotography (laser) have made great inroads into new markets and applications in decorative, functional, and 3D printing. The growing demand for shorter turnaround, improved efficiencies, and customization are enabling a myriad of new print applications for inert products such as textiles, ceramics, glass, and metals, as well as the functional products that are created using 3D printers. As described above, Xerox’s announcement of its chiplet-and-laser technology is an important development in a key “functional” printing category, the digital printing of electronics.

InfoTrends is tracking key industries that will benefit from innovations such as Xerox’s laser driven chip manufacturing and related technologies, and we see great opportunities in the areas we are tracking. These include the fast-growing 3D printing market, which is expected to double in value by 2015, and adjacent markets such as textiles and ceramics. All can all benefit from the introduction of digital manufacturing as a means to introduce innovative products, meet customer demand for real-time connectivity, and naturally improve operational efficiency and profitability.

InfoTrends’ team will continue to monitor the advancements in the Functional & Decorative Printing markets. Stay tuned to learn more!

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