Interview with Alexey Alekseyev, Director General of the SemiTEq JSC, Ph.D.
SemiTEq JSC since 2001 working on the Russian market of special technological equipment (STE) for production of electronic components. In a difficult market environment SemiTEq successfully develops its business and constantly improves the range of manufactured equipment. About new developments, participation of the company in the preparation of government program to stimulate the development of STE and prospects of the import substitution policy spoke Alexey Alekseyev, General Director at SemiTEq.
Mr. Alekseyev, your company has been in the market for almost 15 years, what are the achievements during this period?
Indeed, next year SemiTEq will celebrate the 15th anniversary. Over the years, we have been able to create a strong company that successfully develops in a complex market of STE. The most important thing is that we have managed to assemble a great team of professionals. Our employees are the face of the company and enable us to successfully work on technically challenging and interesting projects.
Our company started its work in 2001 with the modernization of the molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) systems produced in the USSR. Gradually developing competencies, we started our own unique production under the SemiTEq brand. The company’s key competence, as 15 years ago, remains the development and manufacture of ultrahigh vacuum MBE systems for А3N, A3B5 and wide gap A2B6 semiconductors. The company has successfully implemented more than 20 projects in the field of delivery and technological starting-up of MBE systems. The Russian market remains a priority for our products, however, our MBE systems are also in demand in the leading laboratories of Canada, India and other countries.
A strong point of SemiTEq is an integrated approach to the design and supply of equipment along with basic technological processes, which allows quick production start. In this issue of new systems, including know-how, followed by obtaining patents. Thus, the release of new systems that include know-how of the company is accompanied by the obtaining of patents.
Since 2006, our product portfolio also includes several ranges of equipment for thin film deposition for semiconductor devices, which we are constantly expanding, including electron-beam deposition and magnetron sputtering systems, rapid thermal annealing and rapid thermal processing systems, plasma etching and plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition systems.
We regularly develop new models of equipment, as well as invest in the improvement of our systems. The new development is a long, laborious and costly project, which requires full understanding of the customer’s tasks, taking into account its positive or even negative experience with similar equipment. I am convinced that each project allows us to get a unique experience and to make the next step forward in the development of our company.
Please tell us more about your latest developments.
In April 2015, our company has released an improved STE35 MBE system. Basic configuration of STE35 for growth A3B5 materials on substrates with a diameter up to 100 mm has been developed and introduced in 2007. Now several systems of this configuration have been successfully used for new developments in Russian research centers and enterprises of electronic industry. Long-term operation testing in different conditions, as well as close cooperation with end-users, allowed our experts to create a new improved system design. The basis of the updated system is a fundamentally new growth chamber that optimize the use of liquid nitrogen for cooling of cryopanels, increase the number of ports to install sources of materials to 10, as well as realize the possibility of complete visual control over the sources of materials and shutters.
Our experts believe that an important aspect of the MBE is the possibility to implement a number of technological operations for the deposition of functional layers on the heterostructure immediately after its growing. An example of this approach is the development of technology for deposition of high-quality dielectric (SiNx) on the heterostructure of HEMT transistor based on gallium nitride. Our partners from NRC "Kurchatov Institute" (where in 2009 has been installed MBE system STE3N3) and Institute of Ultra-High Frequency Semiconductor Electronics of RAS among the first began to use this technology, which opens new opportunities for the development and manufacture of microwave transistors and MMIC. Another important aspect of the development of the MBE equipment is to increase the level of localization in a number of important components, such as nitrogen-plasma sources and valve sources of V-th group. Development of production-oriented MBE system built on domestic key functional units with a high level of automation and additional technological capabilities, is one of the most urgent tasks, the solution of which is important for technological security of the Russian Federation in the near future.
In June 2015 we are introduced to the market an upgraded e-Beam evaporation system STE EB71. Basic version of the system for processing of 3 Ч 3 inches and 6 Ч 2 inches wafers in the same process with the implementation of lift-off technology was released in 2008. A number of installations for the last 7 years has demonstrated the effectiveness of this ultra-high vacuum e-Beam evaporation system for tasks that require high preprocessing vacuum. A number of design modifications that take into account operating experience, allowed to expand the technological capabilities of STE EB71, and also significantly improve the ergonomics and ease of maintenance. In particular, the maximum distance from the target to the substrate have been increased up to 500 mm to reduce the impact on the electron resist, the working height have been reduced by 180 mm for the better ergonomic as well as for providing of better access for easy installation and maintenance of the ion source, and have been expanded software features for automatic control of technological process.
Besides the already presented systems, in 2015, we announced the release of the upgraded e-Beam evaporation system STE EB65 for batch processing of 20 Ч 3 inches and 12 Ч4 inches wafers in the same process with the implementation of lift-off technology.
I hope that we demonstrate the possibility of development of domestic STE. We are interested in the development of the Russian production of standard key elements of vacuum systems: vacuum pumping systems, high-vacuum measurement devices, vacuum valves, etc.
How, in your opinion, has changed the market of STE over the past year?
The situation can be assessed differently. Quite a large number of organizations that complete the technical upgrade or have the appropriate financial capacity, continue to buy foreign machinery, which supplies from the USA and EU may be restricted or totally prohibited at any time, such precedents are already known. However, if equipment is needed for the electronic industries today, such a decision can be called reasonable, as often there are no domestic solutions that can compare in performance and productivity with foreign models. However, in the current difficult political situation poses serious risks for the development of the domestic electronics industry. In other respects, we can say that the market is mostly waiting for the start of many new projects and state programs, which are planned until next year. The focus on import substitution in the segment of the STE would largely depends on the political will of the state, if this happens, then the market in the coming years will change dramatically, including accelerating the development and growth of competition between domestic manufacturers of STE.
Is there a real trend towards import substitution today?
Yes, some changes can be noted. Consumers are concerned about the risks associated with the purchase and, more importantly, maintenance of imported STE.
Today Russia faces major challenges to increase the production of electronic components for the critically important technologies of civil, special and dual purpose. The production of modern electronic components is based on constantly developing technologies, which, in turn, are inextricably linked with the functionality of the corresponding STE. Import substitution in Russia should be considered not only as the development of analogues of specific electronic components, but also as the creation of a technological basis that allows to design and to produce electronic components with specified technical and operational characteristics. All market players are aware that this task requires the development of domestic production of technological equipment.
It should be understood that the market requires dozens of new developments of equipment and their subsequent replication. In order to provide serial production a certain guarantee of stable demand in the long term is necessary. It’s not only about measures of support of producers, but primarily about stimulating demand for STE in Russian electronic industry, which for the most part is controlled by state corporations and holdings. Only serial production of the equipment will improve its technical and operational characteristics to the world level in a short time.
What should be done for the development of the industry and what support can offer the state?
The government today is more than ever interested in the effective development of the electronics, and hence of the STE sector. In 2014, for the first time after a long absence of systematic measures of state support, STE was included by the Department of radio-electronic industry of Ministry of industry and trade of the Russian Federation in the list of priorities for state support under the State program "Development of Electronics and Radio-Electronics industry in 2013-2025". SemiTEq was involved as a representative of domestic STE manufacturers and expert in the preparation of analytical reports and proposals for the roadmap. Based on this roadmap, the Ministry of industry and trade has drawn up the project of the subprogram "Development of electronic component base and radio-electronics in the field of creation of special technological equipment for the period up to 2025" aimed at supporting cost-effective investment projects. We hope that it will be launched in 2016.
How do you assess the possible result of the start of the subprogram? How it can change the market and your business in particular?
The state program, and subprogram in particular, cover the period up to 2025. In the case of its launch in 2016, the first significant results will appear after 2-3 years with the end of the first R&D and introduction of new products to market. It is very important that we are talking about the implementation of the project approach to the development of new types of STE, including launch of serial production and the expansion of production capacity. To get support, the contractor should not only have the appropriate scientific and technical potential in a certain area, but also to prove that this product is demanded for years to come. I very much hope that this approach will enable companies like ours to win a place in the market in competition with foreign companies.
In my opinion, the priority projects for support should be selected in accordance with the concept of gradual building of production chains, capable to replace critical positions of technological routes with consideration of the peculiarities of domestic electronics. It is expected that the implementation of the subprogram allows to replace significant share of critical types of equipment by domestic systems, which undoubtedly will increase the technological independence of the Russian electronics and the state as a whole. This should modify the domestic market. Important is the integrated approach of the state, including various measures of non-financial support to both producers and consumers. It is expected that Russian producers will beable to increase its market share up to 30% by 2025, and the market of STE will grow by 20% annually.
As I mentioned earlier, SemiTEq never stopped their own developments. Throughout the 15 years we have been investing in R&D to create new models of equipment, which are demanded by our customers and partners. Nevertheless, we had enough resources only for creation of systems for pilot production of electronic components, we were not sure of the demand for higher performance equipment, because it was covered by foreign manufacturers with great experience in this segment. Today, the situation may change in favor of the Russian enterprises. For our business this means, primarily, a great responsibility to ourselves, government and our customers. SemiTEq plans to expand production, which of course will lead to the creation of new jobs. I think we have a good experience and the technological capacity to implement such projects in the near future.
I am confident that the implementation of our efforts and the efforts of our colleagues, with the support of the state will inevitably lead to change of a conjuncture of the Russian market of STE and will have a positive impact on the development of the domestic electronics in general. It is also important that own competencies to create competitive STE for production of electronic components is an element of the image of the most technologically advanced world economies.