Executive Interview: Mohammad Shakouri, CEO and Co-Founder, and Doug Gray, Marketing Director of Microsanj
1. Describe the scope of the Microsanj business.
Microsanj is a world leader in the business of providing submicron ultrafast thermal imaging solutions for the semiconductor industry. Microsanj solutions are in the form of advanced, turnkey thermal analysis systems for purchase or testing and consulting services. The Microsanj field-proven thermal imaging solution supports integration to an existing RF or mmWave test environment or available as a complete self-contained solution.
In either case, whether equipment or testing services, our intent is to offer capabilities that meet the thermal analysis challeges faced by designers and maufactuerers of today’s advanced semiconductor devices.
2. When was the company formed and what prompted you to do so?
Microsanj was founded in 2007 with the goal of commercializing the thermoreflectance technology research taking place at the University of California at Santa Cruz, under the direction of professor Ali Shakouri. The results of this university reaearch clearly demonstrated the potential for this technique to address the growing thermal challenges that engineers were facing with the design of more and more complex devices with ever-decreasing feature sizes.
3. What types of thermal imaging applications are you addressing?
Our thermal imaging solutions are designed to address a wide range of thermal applications in research and development, thermal modeling, manufacturing process validation, quality assurance and failure analysis. Our key focus is to meet the spatial, temporal and thermal resolution necessary for one to gain a full understanding of device thermal behavior.
A sampling of specific devices and components that have been analyzed with our systems include: GaN HEMTs, Si MOSFETs, Si and InP photonics devices, electrostatic discharge devices, 3DIC structures and flip-chip mounted devices.
4. Give us a brief history of thermal imaging technology and what differentiates your approach using thermoreflectance.
Several approaches are and have been commercially available to designers and reliability engineers for electronic and optoelectronic characterization: infrared (IR) microscopy, emission microscopy (EMMI), optical beam induced resistance change (OBIRCH) and MicroRaman are techniques that have been commonly used over the past years and will continue to have a role in the future. These systems, however, can be costly and may not always meet all of the requirements necessary to fully understand the thermal properties of the devices being analyzed.
Of these, IR microscopy with excellent temperature resolution is the most widely used. IR, however, has relatively poor spatial and temporal resolution, and metals have very low IR emissivity unless coatings are used, which is a complication for sample preparation.
The thermoreflectance technique commercialized by Microsanj in 2009, using illumination wavelengths in the visible range, is non-invasive and has excellent spatial and temporal resolution to overcome the limitations of IR. In 2018, we offered dual-mode capability with our systems to combine the thermal resolution feature of IR with the spatial and temporal resolution benefits of thermoreflectance.
5. Describe your product line and the use cases it serves.
The Microsanj SanjSCOPE product line can be grouped into three categories using transient response or temporal resolution as the primary differentiator.
The EZ-THERM product series is available with a 5 µs transient response and is designed to meet requirements for general purpose top-side or through-the-substrate thermal imaging applications and failure analysis. The EZ-THERM system is portable to enable easy trasportability from bench to bench and it can be integrated with an existing semiconductor test station for added economy.
The NANO-THERM series supports a transient response to 50 ns to address the requirements for more advanced thermal analysis of devices with submicron device features. With smaller features, thermal events can occur more rapidly and would go unnoticed without transient resolution in the nanosecond range.
The PICO-THERM series thermal analyzers can support a transient response of 800 ps. Configured with a picosecond pulsed diode laser illumination source, the system supports the scientific studies of submicron heat transport in devices. With transient full-field thermal imaging for top-side imaging down to 800 ps, the PICO-THERM series enables the study of heat propagation inside devices or multi-layers with hundreds of nanometer feature sizes or layer thicknesses. It can be used to extract interface thermal resistances inside a device, as well as non-Fourier heat transport due to quasi-ballistic or hydrodynamic phonon propagation.
All of our systems support lock-in for enhanced sensitivity, submicron spatial resolution and can be configured to ensure an optimal match to application-specific requirements; and they include our SanjVIEW software for system management, data acquisition and data analysis. Our goal with all of our systems is to make thermal characterization and analysis as easy as measuring voltage or current.
6. As the temperature of a device affects its performance parameters and reliability, temperature is an important variable in device modeling and circuit design. How do your instruments support simulation and the design process?
Our thermal imaging systems enable designers to non-invasively characterize, with full-field imaging, the thermal behavior of their designs under a range of operating conditions, to gain a full undertanding of time-dependent and static thermal events. Additionally, with submicron spatial resolution, designers are given the ability to pinpoint the location of small hotspots that could potentially lead to early failures, and the fast temporal resolution can capture thermal events that can occur on a nanosecond scale with submicron feature sizes. With this knowledge, designers are able to optimize their designs with appropriate trade-offs between performance and long term reliability.
7. What semiconductor technologies or devices are proving to be the greatest challenge for thermal measurement—and perhaps the best opportunity for you?
The applications that are driving today’s device designs, such as 5G, automotive electronics, defense radar systems, artificial intelligence, are pushing performance to higher operating powers, higher frequencies and faster switching speeds. These performace goals are leading to smaller and smaller device features, more complex multi-layer structures and many different and new materials. Along with aggressive performance requirements, these devices are also expected to be highly reliable, consistent with the mission-critical applications for which they are being designed.
8. You mentioned earlier that you offer testing and consulting services, in addition to selling equipment. Describe what those services entail.
Testing and consulting service have and will continue play an important role in our business. We can do failure analysis, temperature profiling, validate thermal models and do static as well as transient characterization.
Offering this service has two key benefits: First of all, it gives us an opportunity to stay abreast of the thermal analysis challemges that enginners and technicians are facing. Obviously, when someone approaches us for these services, it’s generally because they have encountered a thermal anamoly they cannot analyze or cannot explain. If we can resolve their problem, we have a satisfied customer that may go to the next step and purchase one of our systems.
Secondly a try before buy approach enables potential customers to gain the assurance that a Microsanj thermal imaging system can indeed meet their specific requirements for thermal analysis before committing the funds to purchase a system of their own.
9. What are your goals for Microsanj?
Our primary goal is quite simple, and that is: get to a point where every microwave and semiconductor engineer has a Microsanj thermal analysis system on their workbench. To achieve this goal, we want to develop and offer simple to use thermal imaging systems with the spatial, temporal and thermal resolution required to meet the thermal analysis challenges presented by today’s and tomorrow’s most advanced semiconductor and optoelectronic devices.
The thermoreflectance technique is a key thermal imaging approach embedded in all of our thermal imaging systems. This approach provides the spatial resolution necessary to address the requirements for analyzing devices with ever-decreasing feature sizes. With smaller features, thermal events occur more rapidly, thus requiring very fast transient response, also supported by the thermoreflectance technique.
Our solutions can support IR emission thermography as well, to take advantage of its thermal sensitivity, an attribute essential for detecting very low power hot spots or other circuit-induced thermal anomalies that may contribute to an early device failure. With further development in these areas and continued focus on advanced software algorithms and ease-of-use, we hope to achieve our goal.
10. Tell us about your backgrounds and the paths that led you to Microsanj.
Mo: With a Ph.D. in physics and electrical engineering, I was lucky to get introduced to high quality leadership in test and measurement early, being at HP/Keysight, and with a Stanford and Silicon Valley bug, explored building innovative businesses to make an impact in daily life. Microsanj was a vision by my mentor (Dad) to partner with my brother Ali and take his technology vision to a market reality.
Doug: My EE background includes several years of experience in the developement and management of microwave devices, components and systems for the Hewlett Packard/Keysight Microwave Instruments group, This was followed by working on broadband wireless access systems with Hewlett Packard, Lucent Technologies and Ensemble Communications. Mo and I initially paired up in this area at Hewlett Packard and again at Lucent, in the mid to late 90s, so we have many years working together. I began working at Microsanj in 2012. With my extensive background in the microwave area, I was quickly able to recognize how thermoreflectance-based thermal imaging technology being developed and commercialized at Microsanj would be beneficial for the microelectronics industry.