Founded in 1967, California-headquartered Applied Materials Inc. is one of the world’s leading semiconductor products and services providers. The company has offices in multiple locations including Europe, Japan, North America, Israel, China, Italy, India, Korea, and Taiwan. Applied Materials established its Indian office in 2003 and since then, emerged as the second-largest resource for engineering support for its parent company.
Analytics India Magazine caught up with Dr Suraj Rengarajan, CTO, Applied Materials India to understand more about the inner workings of the company.
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AIM: Tell us about your major products & services
Dr Rengarajan: Applied Materials is one of the largest providers of semiconductor and display manufacturing equipment. Our materials engineering solutions are used to produce virtually every new chip and advanced display in the world. We also have a robust services business that helps our customers optimise system performance, improve yield and increase output.
Applied has among the broadest product portfolio of any company in the chip equipment industry. This allows us to combine technologies in unique ways that improve chip performance, power, area, cost and time to market (PPACt) needed to enable the AI era of computing.
In India, we are a strategic partner and an enabler of India’s semiconductor, display and solar ecosystems and are the second-largest resource for engineering support for Applied Materials globally. We provide the organisation with engineering design, support services and cutting-edge innovation in materials science and engineering. We also play a key role in our global Information Technology (IT) infrastructure by offering solutions and services and hosting the company’s second-largest data centre.
AIM: What is your latest offering for DRAM scaling?
Dr Rengaranjan: Applied recently introduced three materials engineering solutions for DRAM scaling that create new ways to shrink as well as improve performance and power:
- Draco™: A new hard mask material that helps increase yield by improving uniformity and reducing defects
- Black Diamond®: A new low-k dielectric material that improves interconnect performance and lowers power consumption
- High-k Metal Gate Transistors (HKMG): Applied is helping enable the adoption of HKMG transistors in advanced DRAM designs to improve performance, power, area and cost
AIM: What are your major R&D partnerships?
Dr Rengarajan: We have made an overall R&D investment of over INR 85 crore across universities.
We have three labs in India working on concept and feasibility, reliability, and materials and chemistry research. We recently celebrated 15-years of collaboration with IIT Bombay in semiconductor and nanoelectronics research. A lot of our advanced research is conducted at our Exploration Center located in the IIT Bombay campus. About 50 Applied Materials India employees with advanced degrees work in this lab in close collaboration with the professors at IIT Bombay in many of our core and adjacent areas. Applied Materials India became the anchor client at IIT Bombay’s Research Park, which is set up to enable technology-focused companies to co-locate R&D assets at the institution.
In addition, we have strong academic partnerships with IIT Madras, IIT Delhi, IIT Kanpur, CECRI and IISc that span a broad range of areas from life sciences, AI and Big Data, high-performance computing, flexible electronics, energy storage, speciality coatings and materials engineering.
AIM: What is the ASTRA startup accelerator program?
Dr Rengarajan: India is the second-largest startup ecosystem in the world. In the past few years, the number of deep-tech startups has grown significantly in India. This makes it an attractive market for companies to look at for innovative ideas for emerging technology applications and new business models in these areas.
Applied Ventures, LLC, the venture capital arm of Applied Materials, Inc., boosts promising deep-tech startups in India through mentorship and collaboration as a part of the ASTRA (Applied Start-up Technology and Research Accelerator) program. We launched ASTRA in 2019 to support and nurture these deep-tech startups. We have held two events so far, and some of the startups we are now mentoring include Ships Sciences, Morphle Labs, LightSpeedAI, and Multi Nano Sense Technologies (MNST).
Startups selected for ASTRA are assessed based on their technology capabilities, high-value problems addressed, differentiation from existing market solutions and the potential market size. The selected startups will also have opportunities to connect with Applied Ventures’ network of experts and co-investors across leading financial and corporate venture capital firms. Focus areas for ASTRA 2020 included IoT, MEMS, Sensors, Robotics, Optics, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, Life Science, Advanced Analytics and Industry 4.0.
Applied Materials India has been actively collaborating with Zinnov and C-CAMP as a Knowledge Partner and academic institutes like the IITs to engage with and mentor the startup ecosystem in India. We partner with Endiya Partners to hold an Accelerator event this year and plan to hold ASTRA 2021 later this year.
AIM: What are your views on the government’s recent initiatives to promote semiconductor manufacturing in India?
Dr Rengarajan: India consumes a lot of electronics, which will only continue to grow. We need to make sure we are in the high value-add portion of this ecosystem, which is the manufacturing segment. We are encouraged to see the Indian government taking steps to develop the country’s semiconductor and high-tech manufacturing ecosystem.
The semiconductor industry is highly capital intensive. Like any big industry, a chip plant needs a range of ancillary units nearby to supply parts and service, which are also very high-tech and capital intensive. The government must come up with incentives so that there is a sufficient secondary industry to provide critical services to chip factories. Government support and robust supporting sectors are required to encourage major players to set up chip factories.
AIM: What are your thoughts on the global chip shortage?
Dr Rengarajan: As the world starts transitioning to the post-pandemic economy, demand for semiconductors continues to grow. The pandemic accelerated key technology trends that make semiconductors more pervasive and indispensable in people’s lives. There is a clear desire for the chip industry to build more resilient and flexible supply, including more regionally distributed capacity as the strategic importance of the semiconductor supply chain is increasingly acknowledged at a national level.
AIM: What’s next for Applied Materials?
Dr Rengarajan: As mentioned previously, semiconductors are more strategically important to the global economy than at any time in history, driving new waves of silicon consumption. Companies are re-thinking and re-engineering the way they operate; consumers are making different choices about how they spend their time and the products and services they buy. We believe these trends are irreversible.
As the industry grows, we must keep an increased focus on ensuring that the growth is sustainable and responsible. Last summer, we announced our new 10-year sustainability roadmap. We’ve taken a holistic approach to sustainability that considers our own operations, our relationships with customers and suppliers, and developing technology that can be used to advance sustainability on a global scale.