The University Record, November 6, 1995

New lab will help perfect semiconductors
for flat panel display technology

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

 While most U-M faculty members concentrate on improving the intelligence of their students, researchers at the U-M's new Electronics Manufacturing Laboratory (EML) are trying to make smarter machines.

Part of the College of Engineering's Center for Display Technology & Manufacturing (CDTM), the new lab contains the same sophisticated semiconductor manufacturing equipment used in private industry. Fu nded by 15 industrial affiliates, EML researchers will develop new sensors and specialized computer software to allow the equipment to "self-correct" or adapt to changing manufacturing conditions.

"Our goal is to help manufacturers improve the uniformity of the semiconductors they produce," said Mike Elta, CDTM technical director, at an open house for media held last week at the lab. "The software controllers and sensors developed here will tell the machine how to respond and compensate for varying conditions that affect the quality of the finished product."

Quality and consistency are vital to the CDTM's industrial affiliates, because they directly affect profitability and economic competitiveness. Most of these corporations produce flat panel displays for use as display screens in laptop computers and military or commercial aircraft. The potential worldwide market for flat panel displays is enormous, especially if the technology can be adapted for use in consumer electronics products like high-definition television sets and miniature computers.

Most current high-definition flat panel displays use active matrix liquid crystal displays, instead of cathode ray tubes, which are used in today's personal computer monitors and television sets. These extremely thin displays produce full-color i mages that are much sharper, clearer and brighter than images generated by tubes.

"A flat panel display is basically one big integrated circuit with hundreds of individual transistors," Elta said. "Every step in the manufacturing process must be perfect and precise. Particles as small as 100 angstroms [more than 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair] can ruin a transistor."

To carve a niche into the worldwide market for flat panel displays---currently dominated by Japanese companies---U.S. manufacturers must develop more efficient manufacturing processing methods to produce displays of consistently high quality.

According to Samuel Musa, executive director of the CDTM, this is the Center's ultimate goal. "We have an innovative partnership of industry, university and government in this Center focused on the technology for producing low-cost, high-quality displays."

One of the Center's original industrial affiliates is Optical Imaging Systems, Inc. (OIS) of Northville. OIS is the only large-volume U.S. manufacturer of color AMLCDs for commercial and military aircraft.