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Applied Materials’ new equipment could help address global chip shortage

Applied Materials on Tuesday released its first major update to some of its core semiconductor manufacturing equipment in more than decade, aiming to boost the number of chips factories can make while using less energy.

The new system, called Vistara, is a central hub inside chip factories that feeds silicon discs called wafers into sealed vacuum chambers, where metals and other materials can be either deposited or stripped away within a few atoms of precision.

Applied Materials announced the new system at a chipmaking conference in San Francisco. The United States is poised to deploy tens of billions of dollars in subsidies on chip factories and European Union lawmakers were set to enact similar legislation.

The Vistara system is the first update to Applied’s core chipmaking platform since 2010. Making advanced chips has become more complicated since then, so the new system is designed to let factories mix and match more types of vacuum chambers to avoid bottlenecks in any one part of the process, speeding up production.

The new system is also fitted with thousands of sensors that feed data into an artificial intelligence system, where factories can analyze the data to tweak manufacturing processes and cut down the use of electricity. The new system cuts energy use by about 10%, Applied said.

Mike Rice, vice president of the semiconductor products group at Applied, said the Vistara system has already shipped to more than one memory chip maker and that makers of the computing chips that form the brains of most electronic devices have also shown “interest.” Applied declined to name the customers.

“You’re trying to get more productivity, a smaller footprint, the intelligence and energy savings for those applications,” Rice said of memory chips. “It’s going to continue to grow … but for right now, it’s started out with mostly the leading memory” factories, he said. US News

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