New Foundry System Claimed to Half IC Prices and Slash Lead Times

December 05, 2022 by Chantelle Dubois

Search for the Next's new Infrastructure Time Machines are designed to “turn Moore’s clock back by 10 years."

U.K. company Search for the Next (SFN) recently announced the availability of its Infrastructure Time Machines (ITM) to fabricate chips using next-generation CMOS fabrication equipment. 


SFN’s infrastructure time machine

SFN’s infrastructure time machine. Image used courtesy of Search for the Next


SFN claims its patent-pending Bizen wafer process allows them to use already existing photolithographic fabrication facilities for silicon geometries 1 μm, 180 nm, 28 nm, and 3 nm to produce chips that are equivalent to 180 nm, 35 nm, 5 nm, and sub-nm chips, respectively. Each process is labeled accordingly as ITM180, ITM35, ITM5, and ITMSubnm.

The name “Infrastructure Time Machine” is inspired by the idea that this process would “turn Moore’s clock back by 10 years”. 


A Fast Track Through the Chip Supply Chain

SFN previously worked with Semefab, a semiconductor fabricator based in Scotland, in 2019. When announcing this collaboration, SFN claimed its process could bring down lead times from a few months to just a few weeks.

SFN uses existing facilities in the U.K., putting the company at a competitive advantage since it doesn't require investments in new complex chip fabs. Even at these legacy facilities, SFN claims to produce silicon that has comparable performance to state-of-the-art CMOS. Additionally, the Bizen process does not rely on neon gas, which is sensitive to supply chain issues.

The Bizen wafer process is an interesting proposition in the face of a market that is largely dominated by companies such as TSMC and Samsung, which both have a head start in next-generation chip fabrication. 


Zpolar, Zpolar Tunnel Logic, and Quantum Mechanics

The Bizen wafer process is made possible by SFN’s Zpolar transistors based on Zpolar tunnel logic. The name Zpolar is inspired by the combination of Zener and bipolar. The Zpolar transistor uses quantum mechanics that support a quantum tunnel terminal. Additionally, instead of collectors, drains, emitters, or sources, the transistor instead comprises two anodes, Anode 1 and Anode 2, which both have the same forward and reverse characteristics. 


Zpolar transistor

Zpolar transistor. Image used courtesy of Search for the Next


Using quantum tunneling at the terminal eliminates the need for other circuitry, such as a resistor, which contributes to the ability to reduce the overall footprint of the Zpolar transistor.

Another advantage of the transistor is the reported resistance to irradiation due to Zener mechanics. The transistor also doesn't have logic structures that are susceptible to latch-up. According to SFN’s discussion forums, more than one Zpolar transistor configuration is under development, including one with multiple terminal tunnels. 

CEO David Summerland is listed as the inventor on several patents relating to transistor and power adaptor inventions. Presumably, SFN's patent publication titled "A Circuit and Device Including a Transistor and Diode" is related to the Zpolar transistor and describes the quantum tunnel effect enabling current flow in sufficiently doped diodes.


Early Adoption in Progress

Further details on accessing Zpolar are not explicitly provided, although Bizen appears to be responding to questions on the company’s website. SFN urges those interested in early adoption to reach out for access to SFN’s Process Development Kit, which includes early Cadence models. A precise date for general availability has yet to be unannounced.