Born in Tokyo, Japan. Received Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1966. Appointed Professor of the Department of Electronics Engineering, School of Engineering, Tohoku University in 1985. Appointed Professor of New Industry Creation Hatchery Center (NICHe) in 1998. Appointed Professor Emeritus of Tohoku University (Guest Processor of NICHe) in 2002. Received Best Collaboration Award (Prime Minister's Award) in 2003. Also received the Inoue Harushige Award, the Ichimura Award, the Okouchi Memorial Technology Prize, the IEICE Achievement Award, and many other awards.
It is said that historians of future generations will characterize the 20th century as a century which created the computer. The 21st century is now set to become an era of even more advanced computers. However, some microelectronics technologies developed in the 20th century remain in their infancy. The higher the performance a computer achieved, the more its users were forced to learn how to use increasingly complex functions. In other words, the microelectronics technologies of the last century required people to make a conscious effort to overcome the hurdle of their complexity. It was only a limited number of well-trained people, therefore, who could directly enjoy the benefits of the computer world, which consequently restricted the growth of the electronics industry and the information and communications industry. It is clear what needs to be done in order to overcome this restriction. We must develop and shift to a new series of microelectronics technologies capable of creating a computer with which we can talk naturally in our spoken language.This is exactly what the DIIN (New Intelligence for IC Differentiation) project led by Prof. Tadahiro Ohmi is exploring.
In order to support the small-volume production of the diversified products that will be essential to meet the rapidly-changing needs of the emerging system LSI market, the DIIN project has developed a system to design and manufacture what customers demand in an almost instantaneous manner. The Fluctuation-Free Facility for Information Industry is a core site of this R&D project. It is a six-story building with one basement floor. Two cleanrooms (about 600 m2 and 700 m2) are constructed from the basement floor through the fourth floor. On the fifth floor are the Director's office, Professors'offices, and conference rooms. VDEC Tohoku University Sub-Center (Research and Education Center for Large-scale Integrated System Design in the Tohoku Region), a laboratory and a metrology room are on the sixth floor. The goal of this project is to "develop a new manufacturing system for instantaneous productization to meet the needs of 21st-century customers." To put it simply, the DIIN project aims at drastically reducing time-to-market: the time from when an order is placed for a new component for a new product development to when a new manufacturing line for the component starts up for commercial production. The highly-integrated system for design and manufacturing processes developed in the DIIN project has successfully reduced the time-to-market from a couple of years to a couple of weeks. The term "instantaneous" is no exaggeration at all.
Prof. Ohmi is also supervising a project to develop a "next-generation flat panel display,"which, when completed, is expected to totally change TV sets throughout the world. "At present, consumers just purchase and use home appliances made by manufacturers. They are passive consumers as they are allowed to use only what is available in the market," Prof. Ohmi says."By contrast, emerging digital home appliances will be designed to enable each consumer to use them in any way they wish. Digital home appliances with all relevant enabling technologies integrated within them must be capable of customizing themselves by incorporating each user's requirements." Prof. Ohmi believes that current digital home appliance technologies are still under development and that they will be truly completed only when human sensibility, which is crucial for home appliances, is successfully built in. The new-generation flat panel display project is being promoted through the joint efforts of numerous companies and it is Prof. Ohmi who is at the center of this extensive business alliance.
Cleanroom in the Fluctuation-Free Facility for Information Industry, where a high-efficiency manufacturing line is being developed
One project that Prof. Ohmi worked on with Intel in the U.S.A. in 1989 was a prototype of the DIIN project. "An additional investment of 56 million dollars on top of the initial budget of 113 million dollars must have been no easy decision for Intel to make, then in the depths of a management crisis, based upon a proposal from a Japanese university professor," Prof. Ohmi says.
In this project, Prof. Ohmi worked from morning through midnight for a whole week, giving instructions and training Intel engineers. He recalls that he clearly noticed the eyes of the Intel engineers started to sparkle from the third day on.
"At that time, anything could happen on a semiconductor manufacturing line. Nothing was predictable. There was no way to plan or estimate a yield. I proposed ultra-clean technology to achieve a yield of 100% when it was considered quite common that yield during the ramp-up stage remained as low as 30-40%. Building a manufacturing line based on such ultra-clean technology, however, required an investment of 173 million dollars. On the final day, I negotiated with Mr. C. Barrett, the then Vice President in charge of finance, and succeeded in gaining his approval, endorsed by Mr. G. Moore, the then Chairman of Intel, for an additional investment of 56 million dollars. It was some time later that Intel actually appreciated the value of our work. Their manufacturing line enjoyed a yield of almost 100%, as promised, right after its start up. It has continued operating perfectly with maximal efficiency."It was in 1992 when Intel was ranked as No.1 IC vendor in the global market for the first time. Behind the breathtaking growth of Intel in climbing the ladder to the top in a few short years was Prof. Ohmi's philosophy.
The Japanese researchers and engineers in the field of microelectronics must learn a lesson from Intel's success story. Now is the time for them to work hard with all their strength as Intel did in the early 1990s and to make every effort toward a correct goal with a correct means in order to reinvigorate Japan as "the kingdom of semiconductor.""The most significant message that I conveyed to American engineers was Science-Based Manufacturing," Prof. Ohmi says with a smile.
Mirror-polished inner surface of a welding gas cylinder, essential for realizing a manufacturing line totally free from impurities. This is the very essence of ultra-clean technology.
Traditionally, to create new science and technology was the common mission of the universities. What is unique to Tohoku University is that it has set up an innovative mission to create a new industry based on the rich assets of science and technology that it has accumulated. Founding the New Industry Creation Hatchery Center (NICHe) is a typical example of its achievements. In order to help and support Japanese businesses laboring through the high waves of global competition, all of us in Japanese academia must be determined to make our utmost efforts.
I would like to invite those businesses that are prepared to compete in the global market to set up a site in Tohoku and work together with us. Here you will find intellectual stimulation, an environment to enable you to win in the global competition, and friends to share your intellectual excitement. Sendai is one such ideal city. "Super Advanced Research Center for Flat Panel Display (SARF)," a research site for a large-sized flat panel display of the Independent Administration Institute: National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (IAI AIST), has just been founded in Sendai. This research center is expected to play the same role as NICHe: to create a new industry. Sendai now has the world strongest R&D sites in the fields of both semiconductors and flat panel displays. There is no other city in the world like Sendai. Sendai is full of all kinds of potential.
Piles of documents on the desk of Prof. Ohmi demonstrate how his work is attracting attention from all over the world.
Covered, Feb 2005