Computerized laser swiftly carves circuits for microchips
Bedford, Mass. — If Lincoln's Gettysburg address can ever be etched on the head of a pin, it will likely be done by one of the hottest high- technology companies in Massachusetts.
GCA Corporation, whose stock sometimes gyrates on Wall Street like a cat's tail in a roomful of rocking chairs, makes the machines that make the microchips that make computers run.
This task entails GCA's new DSW Wafer Stepper device, using a Hewlett-Packard laser and a Zeiss lens, to mark fineline, itsy-bitsy electronic circuit designs on four-inch silicon wafers, which then are sawed out as tiny integrated circuits (ICs) for the booming semiconductor industry.
What makes the DSW so attractive to IC makers, including IBM, is the increased miniaturization -- down to about 200 millionths of an inch. This allows up to 16,000 individual electronic components, such as transitors, to be placed on one chip, or a density of 64K RAM (random access memory) in the industry term.
"There seems to be no end to the need for miniaturization," says Warren R. Davidson, head of GCA's corporate relations, pointing out that increasing integrated circuit shrinkage lowers prices and opens new markets.
Over 200 DSWs at over half-a-million dollars each already take up over 90 percent of the emerging 64K RAM market -- the next step after the present predominantly 16K RAM production. By 1984 GCA expects to win a slightly smaller share of a worldwide market of 2,100 machines.
This dominance explains why GCA's New York Stock Exchange share price jumped from 37 to 84 last year. The stock dropped 13 points one day in January, however, whn an analyst noted a slight reduction in DSW back orders -- ironically on the same day that the firm announced a 145 percent hike in revenues for 1980.
GCA's long-range promise rests in large part on a research budget increase from 4.8 percent to 6.8 percent of sales in the the last three years -- chiefly to develop the next generation of integrated circuit manufacturing.
The new frontier in silicon-chip making is the electron beam lithography machine. Still in the laboratory at GCA, IBM, Texas Instruments, and a few other firms, the "E- beam" breakthrough would allow finer design and production, cramming 264K RAM onto silicon wafers. GCA, which hopes to take over half of the expected $1 million E-beam market, estimates just one machine will cost at least $2 million -- compared with $600,000 for the DSW. Even sharper etching by X-ray is expected to emerge from the lab in the 1990s.
Headed by ex-wartime meteorologist and cofounder Milton Greenberg, GCA began in 1958 as the Geophysics Corporation of America, which used its sophisticated measurement techniques in lunar and arth mapping to branch out into successful "productivity enhancing" activities ranging from vacuum furnaces to environmental monitoring. "We are automation people" says financial vice-president Ephraim Radner.
DSW's present "golde n goose," however, is the DSW.