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Fowler Associates Labs



Static Fire Stories Articles & Technical Papers Current News

Electrostatic Discharge (ESD): Where are We Heading ?


By Steven H. Voldman
EOS/ESD Symposium Chairman
ESD Association Board of Director


As we entered this millennium, many questions of the direction of the electrostatic discharge (ESD) industry have been raised. With the transitions that are occurring in the semiconductor industry, international growth, and cyclical economic climate, the question that keeps rising its head is a simple question - ESD: Where are We Heading? Are we as an industry shrinking or growing? Is there a future in ESD work and products or is the party over ? No one wants to be the last one to turn off the lights. There are not always simple answers to a simple question. But, it is possible to shed some light (and keep the light on a little longer) on the directions and patterns. In this article we begin to look at the question.

One variable to look at is technical vitality. Technical vitality can be addressed by looking at the cumulative growth, and growth rate of the number of technical journals, technical publications, tutorials, curriculums, patents, and WEB sites. That will provide a measure of the growth and growth rate. Secondly, what is coming down the road ? For fun, let's look back a little to provide a little perspective.

Electrostatic Discharge - How old is this tradition ?

The first scientific documentation was clearly accredited to Thales of Miletus. Thales of Miletus, born in 632 B.C. in Asia Minor, was one of the "Seven Sages" of the Greek empire. Thales has been noted as the first philosopher to note the electrostatic attraction of hay and amber. The word "electron" was coined, beginning the electronic age. Additionally, the magneticians in the magnetic recording industry should note, that the same individual was interested in lodestones and its magnetic attraction.

In the 1700's, interest in elecrostatics increased. Coulomb quantified the relationship of interaction between charges, and spatial distance. Franklin established a distinguished the type of charge, defining "positive" and "negative" charge. From this time forward, electrostatics education, discovery and learning began to grow at a faster rate. The fathers of the field began to rise - Gauss, Helmholtz, Oersted, Maxwell, Michelson, Bohr, and Einstein and others, began to assemble the understanding of electrical, magnetic, atoms, and materials. Electrostatics and solid state physics began to shape our world.

The Electronic Era

As we turned the corner from single component vacuum tubes to solid state transistors, the focus shifted to minuturization, reliability, integration and portability. Jack Kilby, who recently spoke at the International Reliability Physics Symposium (IRPS 2002) in Dallas, Texas stated that a key focus on reliability came in place as we began semiconductor integration. With the focus on semiconductor reliability, the focus on reliability from ESD events became one of the outgrowths of this industry. In today's economic climate, with a focus on quality, cost, schedules, and first-design-pass success, an increase in interest in the ESD world has increased.

ESD has been one of the late bloomers in the semiconductor industry in its maturity compared to the acceleration that has occurred in comparison to other semiconductor reliability disciplines. Although ESD is one of the oldest known phenomena, other reliability disciplines, such as hot electrons, latchup, leakage mechanisms, burn-in, and dielectrics were regarded more critical to the industry growth and to maintain the Moore's law. In many of these semiconductor disciplines, rapid growth was followed by a slowing down and incremental improvements. So what is the ESD growth? I think trends show that we are still on the growth curve with still increasing interest. Let's look at some statistics from the EOS/ESD Symposium. At this year's Symposium, the Opening Symposium Session showed the following trends:

Figure 1. Number of ESD publications published at the EOS/ESD Symposium.

A metric to measure the growth in the ESD industry is the growth of the technical vitality of the ESD Symposium. The plot shows in the early 1980's the number of publications typically were approximately 30 publications annually. In the 1990's when ESD became a larger issue with the increased rate of device shrinking and focus on customers, quality and reliability, an increase in the publication growth continued where today's trend showed a peak of 60 publications. This demonstrates a sustained growth with a 2X increase compared to earlier periods.

Figure 2 shows the growth in the number of technical authors contributing to the publications. This trend shows the number of contributions increased from 50 to 230 technical contributors from 1979 to 2002. This trend can be understood in that in the 1970's a number of the contributions were individuals working on ESD. For many, ESD was a part time job. As we entered the 1990's the number of individuals working on ESD increased as a result of the increased importance to this discipline. Many part time ESD engineers began working full time on the ESD responsibilities. Many corporations historically would not justify more than one individual to work on ESD whereas today ESD work requires more support and the growth of ESD teams to accomplish the technical work. Additionally, more corporations are involved in ESD research and development. Early work was typically supported by military or government research or large semiconductor corporations. With the growth of the industry, smaller corporations also developed their own ESD development, research, design and strategies to fulfill their requirements. Additionally, with the international global growth of the semiconductor industry, and growth of silicon foundries, more development and research in ESD is occurring with international ESD teams across continents, between research centers and satellite facilities. Additionally, the growth is a measure of an increase in university publications, Semiconductor Research Council (SRC) industry-university collaboration, university publications (e.g. student papers). Growth has been evident in student publications, leading to initiation of the ESD Association Student Paper Award.

· Intra-Corporation International ESD Teams
· Inter-Corporation ESD Teams
· Government Funded Research Centers
· Industrial Research Centers
· Industry-Academic Collaboration


Figure 2. Number of Authors as a function of the EOS/ESD Symposium Year.

Figure 3 shows the growth of the technical proceedings. With the increase in the number of papers, and the number of authors, it is not surprising that the amount of technical materials is increasing rapidly. This is also partly due to the increase in technical depth as industrial diagnostic equipment and industrial simulation tools increase in number. With the availability of circuit and electro-thermal circuit simulators, device and electro-thermal device simulators, the modeling and simulation is available today which was not present in an earlier era. Additionally, new tools, such as atomic force microscopes, emission microscope, and magnetic measurement techniques are available to provide a better view of ESD failures. The number of technical publications has increased as a result of more technical symposia and conferences interested in ESD phenomenon. These conferences and journals include:

· International Reliability Physics Symposium (IRPS)
· International Physical and Failure Analysis (IPFA)
· Bipolar Circuit Technology Meeting (BCTM)
· International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM)
· Conference on Integrated Circuits (CICC)
· Journal of Electrostatic
· IEEE Transactions on Components, Packaging, and Manufacturing Test (CPMT)
· IEEE Solid State Circuits
· Microelectronics and Reliability
· IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices.


Figure 3. Number of Publication Pages in the EOS/ESD Symposium Proceedings.

ESD Educational Interest

A measure of interest in ESD is to look at the educational demand. The ESD tutorials offered at the ESD Symposium and outside of the ESD Symposium has been increasing at a higher rate. ESD tutorials and materials have been taught at


· International Physical and Failure Analysis (IPFA) Symposium
· International Reliability Physics Symposium (IRPS)
· Bipolar Circuit Technology Meeting (BCTM)
· International Symposium on Quality in Electronic Design (ISQED)
· ESD Symposium
· Berkeley Lecture Series

Today, very little ESD work is taught in the college level classroom, with at most a lecture or two to address ESD phenomenon. New ESD books on semiconductor and ESD design have recently been released. A growth in the tutorials, lecture series, and books is a measure of continued interest and growth.

What else? Next time we will talk what is happening with technology.


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