Build Tall

The power of computer processors increases every two years. But so do the costs of development and production. That’s why IBM and 3M are challenging Moore’s Law. In an interview, 3M’s Jim Ehle explains how.

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What does your goal of “More than Moore” mean?

Moore’s Law predicts that the number of transistors on a computer chip will double every two years. This gives the chips more computing speed. It’s held true for over 40 years.

Today, you can put 1 billion transistors on a ½-inch square chip. It’s why we can do so much with our mobile phones now! What we’re doing is seeing if there is a less expensive way to increase computing speed in a small form factor.

What answers has your team come up with?

IBM was exploring 3D integrated circuits. They stack multiple chips in one integrated package. Using hundreds of thousands of vertical connections, chips like these could be 1,000 times faster than those in use today.

Why don’t I have these chips in my laptop right now?

Heat is one technical challenge. Even today, certain chips produce enough heat to need fans to cool them. But how can a fan reach a chip in the middle of a stack? IBM is looking to us to help solve that problem.

We are developing a new adhesive that glues the chips together. And we thought, well, maybe a fan can never reach the centre of these stacks. But the adhesive is there already. Maybe it could be engineered to cool, too.

The new material, called “thermally enhanced underfill”, has a high degree of thermal conductivity, but no electrical conductivity at all. It removes the heat without damaging the sensitive electronics in the chips.

What makes these chips faster?

Proximity. It gives you a huge increase in computing power in the same space. IBM is looking at making processors this way, and even computer memory chips, DRAM. You can get huge amounts of memory in one space. And it works faster because the connection points are closer together.

How are the chips made?

This is where IBM’s world-class packaging capabilities come in. Building off 3M’s particle technology, the adhesive will be applied precisely to an entire wafer, rather than a single chip.

That’s remarkable. What’s on the horizon?

This technology will open doors to even greater computing speed in the future. Imagine smartphones that can edit HD video on the go! We’ll be able to keep up the performance gains at even less development and manufacturing expense.


Meet James Ehle

Jim is a global business manager in 3M’s Electro Materials and Markets Division. He’s responsible for 7 different electronic abrasive product lines used in manufacturing electronic components and parts, including semiconductors, hard-disk drives, touch-screen cover glass for mobile devices and fibre-optic connectors.