By Dylan McGrath
A group of chip companies led by Samsung and Intel have invested $11.2 million in a supplier of semiconductor manufacturing process control systems.
The series C venture round was led by Samsung Venture Investment Corp., the VC arm of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics. Samsung was joined in the funding round by Hitachi High-Tech, sk Hynix and existing investors Intel Capital, Lam Research and MKS Instruments, according to Reno Sub-Systems (Sparks, Nev.).
Reno Sub-Systems was founded in 2014 by a group of semiconductor industry veterans with backgrounds in the manufacturing equipment and process control space. The company offers two principal technologies — flow control for gases used in the chip making and RF power generation and matching for impedance matching of electrical loads used in the process.
According to Chris Davis, a Reno Sub-Systems co-founder and who is also the firm’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, Reno Sub-Systems has found willing investors in chip vendors and capital equipment suppliers because the company’s technology is “radically better” than what has been used in the semiconductor manufacturing process for decades.
RF matching networks currently used in the manufacturing process, for example, are based on a vacuum variable capacitor (VVC) technology that was originally patented by Nikola Tesla in 1896, Davis said. Reno Sub-Systems’ products are based on an electronically variable capacitor (EVC) matching network technology and can achieve RF matching in a matter of microseconds, dramatically faster than the one to three seconds required for today’s state-of-the-art VVC technology, he said.
Reno Sub-Systems says its electronically variable capacitor RF matching technology offers significantly reduced tune time, enhanced plasma stability and elimination of plasma resonances.
“The industry has been asking for improvements in the matching network for many years,” Davis said in an interview with EE Times.
Prior to founding the company, Davis and his co-founders, including Chief Technology Officers Imran Bhutta and Daniel Mudd, approached several chip makers and equipment suppliers to gauge their interest in the technology. Their enthusiast reaction convinced the group that it had technologies that the market was hungry for.
“We are old enough that we did our own due diligence before we tried to do a startup in this crazy industry,” Davis said.
Reno Sub-Systems has now raised more than $35 million in three rounds of funding from strategic investors, including the venture arms of three of the top five semiconductor vendors and two of the four largest suppliers of etch process tools, as well as a key subsystem supplier — Shanghai’s Xipu Hanxin Electronics. Davis said the company plans to use the new funding to support continued development of its technology.
Investors see the value in Reno Sub-Systems’ technology for helping them migrate to more advanced technology nodes through greater precision and process repeatability. While Davis said the company is engaged with customers and potential customers at various levels of the chip making spectrum, the list of backers makes it clear that leading edge chipmakers are the most eager to nurture and secure access to the company’s technology.
“We saw high value in Reno’s technology, so it only made sense for us to pursue an investment,” said Dong-Su Kim, vice president of Samsung Venture Investment, in a press statement.
Dylan McGrath is the editor-in-chief of EE Times.